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We have gathered here today to celebrate and thank the Lord for the fifty years of growth of the Faith in this area of Hwange Diocese. Half a century is a significant period in a life of a community. Here I am going to highlight the main events and to mention names of different people: missionaries, religious, local priests, and lay people who were instrumental in the laying of the foundations and the development of St Francis Xavier parish as we see it today. 

The Parish of St. Francis Xavier is a small portion of the diocese of Hwange We talk here about people who have worked, but being always aware the main agent in the life and development of the Church is the Holy Spirit. His intervention in every Christian and in every community cannot be measured adequately by our human standards. The inner life of the Church escapes the eye of the historian. The seed of the Faith was brought to the area by the Marianhill Missionaries. They started establishing a  number of  schools and there also Christians gathered for their religious instructions and for prayer. During those years much of the work of evangelization was centered on the schools. It was felt that the young were more receptive to new ideas, and on the other hand, the Church has always considered that education is basic for a genuine development of any human group. A lot of energy was spent in the educational field during those years.

Schools like Mabale, Siyanyanga, Ndangababi, Makwandara, Chezhou and St. Paul’s at Dete were opened by Fr. Odilo.     

            In the decade of the 50’s the work was coordinated from St. Mary’s Mission. The priest in charge of the schools would visit Jambesi, Dete, Kamativi and as far as Binga. The area covered from St. Mary´s was vast, and it had to split into new missions: Sacred Heart, Kariyangwe, Kamativi. Our turn came in 1961. With the opening of St. Francis Xavier School at Dete the new parish would serve the needs of that railway town and a number of out schools in the surrounding rural area. Dete was chosen to be the coordinating point for the missionary activities in the area, because in the decade of the sixties Dete was a significant urban centre, second to Hwange and, at the time, larger than Victoria Falls.   

            Fr. Joseph García and Brother Paschal pioneered the work at the new parish. Bro. Paschal  conducted the building of the Parish Church and the priest House. After these two buildings were completed Fr. Joseph remained alone. He then tried to improve the School buildings. The classrooms were a frail structure of Kimberley bricks  with flattened drums serving as a roof. The Ministry of Education had given a stern warning that unless the buildings were improved soon, the school would have to be  closed. He then sent a S.O.S message to different friends. And he got a positive answer from one of his country men living in Hollywood, a film actor, Raymond  Novarro, by name. He and some friends of his took interest in the project and were added to the list of Fr. García’s benefactors. The building work started at the beginning of 1962. But Fr. García’s ministry to the parish was short-lived. His health broke. It was discovered that he had a bleeding ulcer in the stomach, and an emergency replacement had to be found. Fr. Luis was asked to leave his work at St. Mary’s  and replace him immediately in order to supervise the building work at the school. This took place on the 16th July, 1962.

As the previous school building had to be demolished, the children with their teachers had to share the different corners of the Church with the subsequent disturbance of one another. The smaller ones had to go under a tree with a portable blackboard. The first lessons in the new building were imparted in January 1963. As the structures improved so did the quality of teaching. St. Francis school was outstanding for its academic performance. We think  that it was, partly, the result of gathering together pupils of different ethnic backgrounds: Nambya, Ndebele, Tonga, Nyanja, Shona… they found it practical to use the common language: English. The fact is that in 1964 St. Francis Xavier School was given the prestigious “Secretary’s Bell award”.

From 1964 Fr. Ireneo L. Tovar transferred from Hwange and shared the pastoral care of  the parish with Fr. Luis. Fr. Ireneo, being an elderly priest, took care of  the two townships, while Fr. Luis  continued ministering to the out centers and their schools.  

Looking now at the area outside Dete center:

            We should mention that a cluster of homes in the Nyagara area, finding it difficult to go for services and instructions to Makwandara, started gathering as a group in one of their homes. This is how Nyagara Christian Community started. A young catechist of those days, Mr. Patrick Gwaba, visited regularly the area and the first Baptisms in Nyagara were administered in September, 1962.  Mr. Gwaba was the chosen catechist from St. Francis to follow a full training course at the National Catechetical Centre at Sacred Heart Mission.

In 1964 a group of elders from Lutope Tin Mine, requested help for the instruction of their children, as Kamativi on one side and Ndangababi on the other, were both very far to send their children to school. A catechist was employed to help them with the basics in reading and writing and religious instruction.

  1965 saw the opening of three new schools:

            The area of Lupote  and the northern side of Jowaphe were increasingly populated, people looking for fresh land to plough. After repeated applications to the Ministry of Education, we finally got their approval and a school was opened in that year. Dopota School, the old site, was also opened on that year. Four years later when a new mine, “Gwayi Copper Mine” started operating, the people in the area were told to move and the school had to be moved with them to the present site.

Also in 1965 the Primary School at the Main Camp (Hwange National Park) started operating. A total of 35 teachers worked in those years under the supervision of the priest in charge of the schools. He used to be seen going around with his motorbike with the carrier filled with exercise books. Supplying school material for the 11 schools under his care was not an easy task. 

In 1968 Fr. Luis was transferred to Sacred Heart Mission and different priests came to Dete, who continued and consolidated the work of education and evangelization: Frs: Francis Mayayo, Charles Hidalgo, Hector M. R. Fariña, Robert Ndlovu (the first local priest) from Kana Mission. 

In 1970 the construction work of a Secondary School, to be run by the Marist Brothers, started in the Farm which the Diocese had acquired shortly before. The Daughters of Calvary also opted for the building of their central house near the new school. The Minor Seminary was also meant to be taken to Dete. It was in 1972 when the Secondary School started at Chezhou area.                                                                             

            In 1970 severe and rigorous regulations were imposed by the Government of the day for the running of the schools. Consequently the Church had to hand over the administration of most schools in January 1971. It seemed the Government felt that the Church’s influence on teachers and students was dangerous for their interests.

In August 1975 Fr Johannes was sent to replace Fr. Robert Ndlovu who had been destined to do higher studies in Rome. At the beginning of 1976 Fr. Joseph Culebras joined him.

            During the difficult years of the Liberation war Dete served as a Refugee Camp for Missionaries displaced from the Missions that had to be closed. Fr. Johannes and Fr. J. Culebras were the good Samaritans for many at the time of need.  From June 1978, when the guerillas closed the Marist Bros. School, the life of the parish in the rural area was gradually reduced and nearly paralyzed on account of the harsh security situation. Very few rural communities would dare to meet on Sundays for the religious service. The catechumenate also stopped completely. The same applied to most of the rural areas of the Diocese.

            But, as a blessing in disguise, the closure of the Marist Bros, School and the Sisters Convent brought to Dete, first as “refugees”, both communities. The Daughters of Calvary were to stay for good. They acquired what is now Stand 1 to establish there, at list provisionally, their central house and run the Noviciate. This opened the way for their involvement in the activities of the Parish of Dete. Sr. Mary Busto worked until the independence in the Railways Clinic.

            With Independence a new life sprung in the Church and in our parish. The faith revived and local communities pooled their efforts together in an effort to build their own place of worship, encouraged also by the support they easily obtained from sympathisers after the Independence. Fr. Joseph Culebras saw his dream fulfilled when the Old Age Home started functioning in December 1983.  Fr. Johannes succeeded in putting up at Lupote a Church and a block with two classrooms for the Youth to carry out their projects.

            At the end of 1986 Fr. Johannes was transferred to Sacred Heart and was replaced at Dete by Fr. Edward, who continued with the building program: Mabale, Siyanyanga, Mangondoma, Cross-Dete saw their churches built up.

            Fr. Culebra’s health was deteriorating and the Missionary Daughters of Calvary took over the responsibility of the Old Age Home, Sr. Rosa being the first one to take such a responsibility. Fr. Albert Serrano, our present Bishop, replaced Fr. Culebras in 1992 until he was called to start the new Parish of St. Josephina Bakita at Victoria Falls.

Fr. Mathias Ruiz, too, after serving the Diocese as Financial Administrator for many years, came to spend the last years of his active ministry at Dete. Fr. Augustine Moreno came after him, but his health did not allow him to stay long. Fr. Luis came to share the pastoral care of the Parish with Fr. Edward until his health failed him and had to go back to Spain for treatment.
At the end of December, 2009, Fr. Xolani John Ndlovu was appointed to share the Pastoral responsibility of St. Francis Xavier Parish. 

A final word:
This has been a short historical overview of St. Francis Xavier Parish in the Diocese of Hwange. The Missionary Daughters of Calvary deserve special mention for their contribution to the development of the Parish in the different fields: Catechetical, Liturgical, Youth promotion, Women’s Clubs… Sr. Arselina after so many years is still remembered with affection by the women at the Centres she visited. 
Also, mention should be made of the many voluntary catechists, and active members of different associations.
Obviously there are many other happenings, persons, places and achievements that could have been mentioned in this paper. Future historians will give account of them.
We give thanks to God our Father for the wonders He works with us human beings and through us, his instruments. Our failures and limitations, which are many, can only make His power more manifest in history. He is the great protagonist of all history; He has the leading roll.
( Dete, 3rd December, 2011)

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