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SHORT HISTORY OF ST. JOHN’S MISSION, MAKWA

 

The rise and fall of St. Aegidius Mission, Makwa

In the late 19th century the Jesuits made an attempt to establish the first mission in what is now Hwange diocese, establishing a mission at Pandamatenga, which is on the border with present day Botswana, perhaps about 50Km from Victoria Falls. They had come from their base in Bulawayo, about 400 Km away. Their base was St. Patrick’s Parish, Mzilikazi, just three or four Kilometres from the city centre.
Their stay proved to be short lived, since several of their members died from a mysterious disease, which was later diagnosed as malaria.
Early in the twentieth century they tried again, this time setting up an outstation in Hwange Town, about 335Km from Bulawayo. By 1920 they had conducted their first baptism there, and named the outstation St. Ignatius, after their founder. This is now the cathedral parish of the diocese.
Early in the 1930’s the German Mariannhill Fathers were asked to take over the future Hwange diocese from them, and the first mission they established was in 1933 at Simangani, just 10Km from present day St. John’s Mission, Makwa. Makwa is situated about 40Km from Hwange, near the confluence of the Deka and Zambezi rivers. Simangani is now an outstation of St. John’s mission.
These fathers, together with some brothers, and a small band of Precious Blood sisters, soon realised that the Deka becomes a very swollen river in the rainy season, and so decided to cross back over to the Hwange side of the river once the water level allowed them. In 1934 they re-sited their new mission at Makwa, just about 2km from the present day site of St. John’s mission. They had a brother on the team, named Brother Aegidius, and when he died soon afterwards of malaria they decided to name the mission St. Aegidius. 
With great enthusiasm they set to work building up the mission and evangelising the people, none of whom were baptised in any church. They brought in some German precious blood sisters and established a small Catholic primary school at the fledgling mission. Initially all the buildings were built of very temporary materials, and even the chapel at the centre only had concrete for the floor. One of the great challenges for them was to get materials to the mission, since there was no road from Hwange.
They installed a pump to pump water from the Zambezi river, less than one Km away. They started a farm, bringing sheep, cattle, goats and pigs for rearing. They brought in a boat and began also visiting communities on the other side of the river, in present day Zambia.
But the venture proved very short lived. Within a year of establishing themselves a new superior decided it was just not practical to carry on developing a mission there, partly because of the low density of population and partly because of the lack of a road. They had been relying mostly on the use of a motorbike for transport. They began hunting for a new site and chose a site on the Lukosi River, at a spot which is now known as St. Mary’s Mission, just 14km on the other side of Hwange Town, on the main road that leads to Bulawayo. The move started in 1935 and was completed in 1936, at which point St. Aegidius Mission was abandoned, only about three years after it was begun.

Re-establishing contact with Makwa in the early 1950’s
In the late 1940’s the Spanish mission institute fathers and brothers were invited to take over the future Hwange diocese from the Mariannhill Fathers, who in turn had taken over the archdiocese of Bulawayo from the Jesuits. This was following a pattern that was seen all over black Africa at that time. The then pope, Pius XII, had asked for missionary congregations to send personnel into Africa to set up new dioceses.
By now St Aegidius had been reduced to being an isolated out station, with the occasional visit of a priest. In the early 1950’s Fr. Joseph Garcia made a foray into the Makwa district, re-establishing St. Aegidius and an outstation. Then followed a series of other priests who went there from time to time to offer Mass, but there was no plan to re-establish the mission at that time. In fact, Makwa was more like an orphanage, in the sense that baptisms were recorded at the mission from when the particular priest came. Thus some baptisms were recorded at Sacred Heart Mission, some at St. Mary’s mission, and some at St. Ignatius parish.

Fr. Alexander Alapont’s important contribution to the development of the mission
Bit by bit other outstations were established, especially at Simangani, Musuna Hills and Chunga. From 1957 until 1962 Fr. Alexander Alapont, who at the time was developing the new mission of Sacred Heart at Jambezi, evangelised the Makwa area. In 1976 he was appointed parish priest of St. Ignatius parish in Hwange. He was also appointed to look after these outstations, and he established them as outstations of St. Ignatius Parish, thus registering all the sacraments there. He also made it his policy to have Mass at each outstation every month.
By 1984 he had built up 12 outstations, with over 1,000 Catholics. He did much to evangelise the area and open new centres. Most of the baptisms done up to that time were performed by him. He was truly a very zealous, hard working priest. He also promoted the lay organisations, especially the Legion of Mary, in order to encourage the lay people to share in the work of evangelisation.
His pioneering work brought order into the way in which the outstations in Makwa were being looked after by the clergy.

1985 – A new era begins for Makwa

I was appointed on 1st January 1985 to take over these centres from him. As yet not brick had been laid on another in the way of building any infrastructures. I was only able at the time to spend up to six days a month in Makwa, since I was also looking after the parishes of St. Ignatius, St. Peter and Paul and St. Joachim in Hwange town.
I decided the first priority was to build a new church at the most central outstation, Makwa, where the council had already granted a site for building.
At the time I took over there were outcentres centres based at; - Makwa, with the following on the Hwange side at Shashachunda, Mashala, Makuyu, Mwemba school and Kasase. In the Binga side of Makwa the centres were at Chezya, Simangani, Musuna Hills, Dambwamukulu, Chunga and Nkandebwe. Thus geographically Makwa was the obvious site to start a new mission.
At the same time I applied to international donors for the funds needed. My family also chipped in, especially my father and my twin sister, Susan. On 10th May 1987 the big day arrived and Bishop Ignatius Prieto arrived to bless the new church at Makwa. It was a rather modest affair, 12,0 by 8,0 metres in size, with a capacity of about 100. At the back of the church were a few small rooms, for meetings and for temporary accommodation for a priest. In the meantime I had decided to rename to centre St. John, after St. John the Baptist. St. Aegidius was a little known German saint.
At the same time I started using parish registers there for the sacraments, naming the registers under “St. John’s Mission”, though as yet the mission status had not been conferred by the bishop.
By then I had also started building new churches at other outstations, including Musuna Hulls, where the new church was blessed on 28th April 1989, and Simangani.

1985 onwards – opening new outstations
            As soon as I took over the Makwa area there was pressure from different quarters for me to open new outstations, or even to re-open old ones. Fr. Joseph Garcia used to look after a number of destitute migrants, who had immigrated to Zimbabwe to work at the Hwange Colliery coal mine, but had now retired. They had come for work at the Hwange Colliery Company, but they usually had no identifications papers, not even a passport. Hence they could not go back to their home country and in those days there were no pensions. In 1985, the first year I was at Makwa, some of these destitutes approached me and asked, “Couldn’t you open a new outstation at the pace where we live?” I discovered they had settled at a place called Kasibo, just about 10Km outside the Colliery area.
In my enthusiasm to open my first new outstation I sent off the driver in search of this new settlement. The road proved very hazardous, and soon the driver came back to report that he could not find any sign of life. As I was pondering the question, ‘where did these people live?’ a delegation of these destitutes duly arrived to enquire why we hadn’t been to open the new outstation. It appears we were on the right road but we had not gone far enough. The next time I set off with the driver, carrying my Mass box, just in case. After a very bumpy ride we arrived at a little temporary shelter, surrounded by a throng of children and adults. They greeted us with great enthusiasm and insisted on having Mass there and then. I realised that many people had come to settle in the area, not just the destitutes. I named the centre after St. Michael and eventually built a large church there about 10 years later. I made it a policy to name each of the outstations after one of the saints, following on from the habit started by my predecessor Fr. Alexander.
Some centres had been closed due to the War of Independence of 1966 to 1980. I managed to reopen two of them, at Kalowa and Mwemba Hall.
By the year 2000 I had established new centres at Kasibo, Zwabo, Lubweludile, Mwemba Hall, Musuna Boatel, Chakupaleza, Gwaai Mouth, Katete and Lubanda. We had also taken over two centres from Sacred Heart Mission, Matetsi Mouth and Sidinda, since they were much nearer to Makwa than to Sacred Heart. On the other side Lubanda and Katete have been handed over to Kamativi Parish.

The influence of assistant priests
At various times, on and off, I was given assistant priests to help. These included Fr. Alexander, Fr. Noel Byrne, Fr. Mathias Sibanda, Fr. Keto Sithole, Fr. Nicholas Nkamba and most recently Fr. Stanislaus Lumano. You may be surprised to hear the name Fr. Alexander. He had been my parish priest when I first came out to Zimbabwe in 1983. But in 1988 he was appointed as my assistant, reversing the roles! He was the first priest to serve as my assistant and for three or four years he worked zealously, conducting many marriages and baptisms, in spite of his deteriorating health. During this time he established another new outstation, at Butindi.

2000 The start of a new mission
On 1st January 2000 Bishop Robert Ndlovu appointed me as parish priest of Makwa, giving it now a mission status, known as St. John’s Mission. Up until then I had also been the parish priest of St. Ignatius parish in Hwange. St. Ignatius was handed over that day to Fr. Marko Rumuma, and the parish church was then upgraded to the status of cathedral.
By then I had already built up the centre at Makwa, but now that it was declared a new mission I decided to enlarge the church and to build a permanent priest’s house. I had extended the church once already, but now I added side wings, which now raises the capacity from the original 100 to 400.
Meanwhile the new priest’s house was finally finished in 2009.

The future of the mission
Out of a total of 23 outstations, there are now 19 churches, so I hope my successor will not have too much to build! If there is anything missing at the mission itself it is the lack of a convent.
Due to the increase in building costs, which came especially with the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar early in 2009, it is more and more difficult to build, so I guess the days of development are largely over.
The associations are well established, but like everything there is much room for improvement since the level of commitment is often low.
We are faced also with the challenge of the spread of the sects and the falling birth rate, plus the continuing phenomena of emigration to other countries, especially South Africa. We reached a peak of 2,700 parishioners in 2010, but this has dropped to 2,500 as I write this in 2013.
Since we started records in 1987 over 4,000 baptisms have been recorded, but only 500 marriages. This shows that we still have some way to go in establishing the tradition of Christian marriage. As a result only one third of those baptised are baptised as babies; the rest are baptised as catechumens, after they have passed catechism. We are still very much a missionary church!
We have the consolation of knowing the Christ is with us, and as St. Paul says, “If God is with us, who can be against us?” In the last 20 years we have had several vocations in the parish to the priesthood and religious life, so let us look forward to the future with courage.

 

  SHORT HISTORIES OF SOME OF OUR OUTCENTRES

 

ST.SEBASTIAN, BUTINDI
Going as far back as 1958 Fr. Alexander Alapont made several unsuccessful attempts to open this centre, thwarted mainly by the intransigence of the local chief, who insisted that the whole area was only for Methodists.
In 1976 he tried again, but the liberation war stopped his efforts.
In 1989 he finally succeeded to open the centre, and soon after he built a small shelter.
By 2000 Fr. Tim Peacock managed to have a church and a small pre-school blessed by Bishop Robert Ndlovu.
During the year 2002 the pre-school was extended.           

ST. DAVIDS CHURCH, LUBWELUDILE (MAKUYU)

            Fr. Alexander opened this centre in 1980, with the first shelter being erected at Makuyu, on the far side of the Deka River.
In 1988 Fr. Tim Peacock erected a stone shelter on Summit Pumping Station side of the Deka.
Work started on a new church and pre-school at Lubweludile, on the main road, just less than 500 metres from the pumping station in the year 2000.
In 2002 these buildings were blessed by Bishop Robert Ndlovu.

ST.GABRIEL AND ST. TERESA CHURCH, MWEMBA HALL

 

            Fr. Alexander opened this centre in 1958 for a short time. It was re-opened in 1986 by Fr. Tim Peacock and in 2002 Mrs Teresa Bonet of Carlet, Valencia (Spain) gave funds to help the community to build the new church and pre-school.
These buildings were blessed in 2007 by Bishop Albert Serrano.

ST. VINCENT CHURCH, NKANDEBWE HILLS

            St. Vincent was started in 1981by a layperson, Edson Kanenzya, who came from Kalowa Dip, about 15 Km away. The following year Fr. Alexander Alapont went up there and started saying monthly Mass. He had arranged to have baptisms there but had to abandon his planes when some dissidents went up there and made it too dangerous for the priests to go there. In January 1985 Fr. Tim Peacock took over from Fr. Alexander, and by then there had still been no baptisms, but by then the threat from the dissidents had disappeared. There were just 3 Catholics registered by that time. Construction of a new, large stone church was started in 2002 and completed in 2004. It was blessed on 17th May 2007, and on 31st December 2012 there were 227 Catholics registered there.

ST. JOHN’S MISSION CHURCH

            Under the name of St Aegidius the mission was first opened in 1934 by the Mariannhill Fathers. They had already started a new mission during the previous year at Simangani, but due to the volatile waters of the Deka River they decided to come to the new site at Makwa. The first baptism was on 4th may 1935.
The mission closed after a very short time, in 1936, since it was preferred to transfer the mission to present day St. Mary’s Mission, Lukosi.
After the Spanish mission Institute fathers reopened the mission it was renamed St. John’s Mission when the new church was blessed by Bishop Ignatius Prieto on10th May 1987. The first extension was blessed on 18th august 1999, involving extending the church by 9,5 metres and building a multi portico porch. It was again extended around 2006 by adding wings and raising the roof.

ST. ALPHONSE CHURCH, SIMANGANI

            In 1933 some Mariannhill fathers, Brothers and Precious Blood sisters, all from Germany, arrived there to start the first mission for this diocese. It was to prove a very short lived adventure. The nearby Deka River proved to be very unreliable, with constantly changing levels of water, so late that year they transferred to Makwa, on the Zambezi River, where St Aegidius Mission was built.
In 1959 Fr. Joseph Garcia, SMI, reopened this as an outcentre. The present church was blessed by Bishop Ignatius Prieto on 14th August 1994.

 

Fr. Tim Peacock

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