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First Priest in Swaziland to Succumb to COVID-19 “a good preacher, man of faith”: Bishop

Fr. Alwyn Zothansanga, MSFS who succumbed to COVID-19 on January 22

The first Priest to succumb to the COVID-19-related complications in the Kingdom of Swaziland has been eulogized as a good preacher, a man of faith and a gentle Priest who led people to prayer through singing.

India-born Fr. Alwyn Zothansanga, a member of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales (MSFS) succumbed to COVID-19 on January 22, at the age of 38, Bishop José Luis Ponce de León of the country’s Manzini Diocese announced the same day.

“His own community and those who met him at Mass remember him as a good preacher, who had clearly prepared what he wanted to say, helping everyone to know, understand and live their Catholic faith in Jesus,” Bishop Jose Luis said in his homily during the Priest’s Requiem Mass Thursday, January 28.

Swaziland was the late Cleric’s first missionary assignment after his Priestly ordination.

He was assigned as the first Priest in charge of the Diocese’s new Parish of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Siphofaneni in the Central part of the Southern African nation.

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“He was entrusted with the difficult task of building this new community which would gather people coming from St Philip's, St Joseph's and Good Shepherd parishes,” the Bishop, the Bishop of Swaziland’s only Diocese has recalled, adding in reference to the late Fr. Zothansanga, “He probably felt small in front of this task but he accepted it in faith.”

The Bishop who is a member of the Consolata Missionaries further told mourners gathered at St Joseph's Mission, Mzimpofu for the Requiem Mass January 28, “Everyone remembers him as a smiling, gentle priest with a lovely singing voice. He never sang to show off but to pray and to lead others in prayer.”

On Facebook, Bethusile Glory Hlophe attested to Fr. Alwyn’s singing saying, “When I first heard him sing ohhh what a voice. We had a singing Priest and we were all happy. We talked about him for days. Thank You God for the short encounter. Father Sing for the Heaven Choir.”

“I will miss his song during the launch of Baptized and Sent! You are with the angels in heaven. Amen,” Thandi Dlamini said.

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In his January 28 homily, Bishop Jose Luis reflected on the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, noting that when it started, “it was a matter of statistics” for most of the people who only felt its “strength” when the infections hit the thousand mark.

“Still, it was just a number!” he said referencing the initial 1,000 COVID-19 reported cases and added, “The second wave of the pandemic changed us. It was no longer just numbers. It became names. We know the people have been found positive and, much worse, those who died.”

The second wave of the pandemic that featured towards the end of 2020 led to more infection and more fatalities, the Argentinian-born Bishop said and recalled that with time, “Parishes began to celebrate funerals much often than before.”

No Priest had been infected with the virus by the end of 2020, the 59-year-old Bishop recalled.

However, he noted, the situation changed with the New Year as two missionaries from India tested positive, one of them being Fr. Zothansanga.

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“While Fr. Francis was out of it pretty quickly, it was clear that Fr. Alwyn (Zothansanga) had been more affected but the signs were good. We had all the support and advice we needed. We knew he was in good hands and was improving. We surrounded him and the health team with our prayers,” the Bishop further recalled.

Fr. Zothansanga’s situation “suddenly changed” and he was admitted in the hospital and even then, it was being hoped that “it was just a matter of days” and the Cleric would be back on his fit, Bishop Jose Luis recalled in his January 28 homily.

“Next – though - things changed in a short space of time and there was nothing that could be done. The Father of mercies had called Fr. Alwyn home and we were not ready,” the Bishop said and added, “We had not prepared ourselves for this possibility. We never thought it could happen.”

With Fr. Zothansanga being the first Priest to succumb to COVID-19 in the country, the Church in Swaziland “felt more vulnerable,” the Bishop of Manzini said and explained, “Now it is one of us. We had heard it happening in other countries, like in South Africa: Catholic bishops, priests, religious sisters, seminarians... but not here.”

“We also felt more vulnerable because the one called home was one of the youngest among us: in age, in ordination, in the time of his missionary service, in the time he had spent among us,” the Bishop said referencing the late Indian missionary ordained a Priest in January 2016 under the theme, “to be with him and to be sent out.”

The death of Fr. Zothansanga who arrived in Swaziland in 2018 “brought home the experience of so many people all over the world” who are unable to bury their loved ones and unable to mourn with the bereaved due to the pandemic, Bishop Jose Luis noted.

He explained, “Fr. Alwyn's family is far away (in India) and cannot be physically here today, the members of his own community are not that far as some serve in South Africa but going through a lockdown, they have been unable to cross the border and be with us today as they wished they could.”

“The one who prayed for so many at their funerals is the one who is now being prayed. Our priests who are God's tender hands of consolation to so many families, are the ones asking to be consoled,” the Bishop mourned Fr. Zothansanga.

Though “many times we count the years in our life when we are supposed to count the life of our years, his (Fr. Zothansanga) years, certainly, did not lack life!” he remarked.

“Fr. Alwyn speaks to us both with his life and in his death. We are grateful to his family who gave him to us as a missionary in our land and to the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales who appointed him to our Diocese. May the God of all consolation give you and all of us His peace!” the Bishop of Manzini implored in his homily January 28.