Lay martyr is first South African beatified

Martyred teacher Blessed Benedict Daswa has become the first South African to be beatified.

He was proclaimed blessed in an apostolic letter read on behalf of Pope Francis by Italian Cardinal Angelo Amato during a Mass in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province on Sunday.

The ceremony in Tshitanini village was attended by some 30,000 people.

Blessed Daswa was beaten to death 25 years ago by fellow villagers after he refused to join in witchcraft-related activities ordered by local elders as a response to damaging storms.

A convert to Catholicism, he reportedly refused to pay a sorcerer who promised to end the storms.

After being stoned by his assailants, Blessed Daswa ran to a hut before being found by the mob and beaten to death with a stick.

His murderers then poured boiling water in his ears and nostrils – all of which happened on February 2, 1990, the day the apartheid regime announced it would release Nelson Mandela.

“While his executioners were killing him, Benedict was on his knees praying. He prayed until the last minute of his life,” said Fr Andre Bohas, one of the initiators of the beatification process.

He “is a model for all the people in Africa”.

Blessed Daswa’s eight children – including one born a few months after his death – sat in the front at the ceremony, alongside their 91-year-old grandmother Ipa.

“Proud is an understatement to describe what I feel,” said Mutshiro Michael, 33, one of Daswa’s sons, adding he had forgiven his father’s murderers.

Virtually unknown when he died, Blessed Daswa’s fame grew throughout South Africa’s Catholic community, with villagers starting to commemorate the anniversary of his death.

His feast day will be celebrated on February 1.

Around eight per cent of South Africa’s population is Catholic.

During his Sunday Angelus address in Rome, Pope Francis paid tribute to Blessed Daswa.

“In his life he always showed great consistency, courageously defending Christian views and rejecting worldly and pagan customs,” Pope Francis said.


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