‘The Lord will help me carry out this new task’

Le­sotho’s Ro­man Catholic car­di­nal-elect Bishop Koto Sabas­tian Khoarai speaks on his nom­i­na­tion

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

POPE Fran­cis an­nounced ear­lier this month that re­tired Ro­man Catholic Church’s (RCC) Bishop Koto Sabas­tian Khoarai, along with 16 oth­ers from around the world, would be el­e­vated to the ti­tle of car­di­nal on 19 Novem­ber this year at the Vat­i­can.

Known as “princes of the church,” car­di­nals are the most se­nior mem­bers of the RCC hi­er­ar­chy af­ter the Pope and serve as his prin­ci­pal ad­vis­ers around the world and in the Vat­i­can. The 17 new car­di­nals come from Asia, Africa, North and South Amer­ica, Europe and Ocea­nia.

Car­di­nals un­der 80, known as car­di­nal-elec­tors, can en­ter a se­cret con­clave to choose a new pope from their own ranks af­ter Fran­cis dies or re­signs. Fran­cis, the for­mer car­di­nal-arch­bishop of Buenos Aires, was elected in a con­clave on 13 March 2013.

Amid the pour­ing in of con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sages for be­com­ing the Moun­tain King­dom’s first ever car­di­nal, the 86-year old Bishop Khoarai tells Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane he is still “puz­zled and shocked” by the ap­point­ment. Be­low are ex­cerpts of the in­ter­view:

LT: You were re­cently ap­pointed car­di­nal – a po­si­tion we un­der­stand is highly sacro­sanct within the RCC. Tell us more about this.

Khoarai: I was ac­tu­ally caught by sur­prise (by the ap­point­ment). I was not ex­pect­ing any­thing like this. Even the way this issue came to my knowl­edge was quite strange be­cause I heard from other peo­ple that I was among 16 peo­ple nom­i­nated as car­di­nals by the Pope.

A lot of peo­ple have come to visit me, telling me that I was nom­i­nated one of the coun­sel­lors for the Pope, but then no­body from the au­thor­i­ties had for­mally said any­thing to me. So you can see how sur­prised I was. I only re­ceived a for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Pope’s First Coun­sel­lor (Kevin Ran­dall) from Pre­to­ria, South Africa, last Thurs­day con­grat­u­lat­ing me for the nom­i­na­tion.

(The Le­sotho Times saw a copy of the let­ter which reads in part: “The Nun­cio and I (Kevin Ran­dall) send you our heart­felt con­grat­u­la­tions on your nom­i­na­tion as a mem­ber of the Sa­cred Col­lege of Car­di­nals of the Holy Ro­man Church. May the Good Lord bless, now and for­ever. May this great hon­our re­sound through Le­sotho and may the peo­ple of Le­sotho re­joice with you.”)

LT: Now that you are cer­tain of your nom­i­na­tion as a car­di­nal, what is the next step?

Khoarai: I am not even sure what is ex­pected from me as a car­di­nal. What I only know is that car­di­nals are peo­ple very close to the Pope. As a mat­ter of fact, car­di­nals form what is called the Coun­cil of the Pope, which ba­si­cally deals with the gen­eral is­sues con­cern­ing the RCC through­out the world.

The coun­cil ren­ders ad­vice and as­sis­tance to the Pope for nom­i­na­tion of the church’s bish­ops in dif­fer­ent dio­ce­ses, among other func­tions. Like I said, all these is­sues be­came clearer to me only yes­ter­day when I re­ceived the let­ter from the first coun­sel­lor. That’s the only for­mal ges­ture I have re­ceived since I was told about my nom­i­na­tion as car­di­nal.

LT: But how do you feel about this?

Khoarai: I must ad­mit I am still shocked. I have been re­ceiv­ing many vis­i­tors ever since this issue came up. I keep won­der­ing if this is re­ally meant for me, old as I am. To be hon­est, I am still con­fused and feel­ing weak. What both­ers me most is that I don’t even know what is ex­pected of me fol­low­ing this nom­i­na­tion.

Even the let­ter you just saw does not say much about what is ex­pected of me. I was in­formed that I am among 16 peo­ple nom­i­nated for this. I was also told one of them is wheel­chair-bound. So I keep ask­ing my­self what kind of a role we are go­ing to per­form to as­sist the Pope when it seems like most peo­ple nom­i­nated for this are ill and weak like me. How­ever, I ap­pre­ci­ate this and put my faith and hope in the Lord to as­sist me fig­ure out this puz­zle.

My ex­pec­ta­tion, none­the­less, is that I am sup­posed to leave Le­sotho soon and go to Rome, Italy, where, to­gether with other nom­i­nees, I will meet with the Pope and un­dergo some in­duc­tion pro­ce­dures. Sub­se­quent to that, I will be of­fi­cially ap­pointed. Two things may hap­pen af­ter­wards; I may come back home or be com­pelled to stay in Rome, I don’t know. This is re­ally dif­fi­cult for me be­cause at my age I would not want to live far from home.

I am also in­formed that my at­tire is go­ing to change from what I used to wear as bishop to a new robe sym­bol­is­ing that I am now a car­di­nal. I have not for­mally been in­formed of the ex­act dates for the in­au­gu­ra­tion, but I heard from peo­ple who are fa­mil­iar with these is­sues that the in­au­gu­ra­tion would be on 19 Novem­ber 2016. I guess they are yet to in­form me for­mally about the in­au­gu­ra­tion.

LT: What has been your role in the church be­fore you re­ceived the nom­i­na­tion?

Khoarai: I was ap­pointed bishop on 2 April 1978. I have been a bishop for 36 years. I led the RCC in Mo­hale’s Hoek from 1978 un­til I was re­tired and suc­ceeded by Bishop John Tl­ho­mola in 2014. I am now a re­tired bishop who stays here (Catholic Train­ing Cen­tre (CTC) in Mafeteng).

How­ever, I still con­duct mass ser­vices here. My nom­i­na­tion as a car­di­nal comes at a time when I was still pon­der­ing about com­plet­ing the work that I started in Mo­hale’s Hoek, which is the con­struc­tion of St. Pa­trick’s RCC Mis­sion. The con­struc­tion of the church had al­ready started dur­ing my ten­ure but it has stopped due to re­source con­straints three years ago.

It both­ers me a lot that I didn’t fin­ish what I started and now there is even a new as­sign­ment for me. Even though I am now re­tired as the Mo­hale’s Hoek Bishop, I still wanted to com­plete the con­struc­tion of St Pa­trick’s church build­ing be­cause I started it.

Ideally, I was sup­posed have been re­tired at the age of 75 years around 2000. When I was 75-years old, I in­formed my su­pe­ri­ors that the time had come for me to re­tire, but I didn’t re­ceive a re­sponse from them un­til Bishop John Tl­ho­mola came to re­place me in 2014. At the mo­ment, I was at the stage of ap­proach­ing the Arch-bishop (Tlali Lerotholi) in Maseru to al­low me to carry on with the com­ple­tion of con­struc­tion of that church. Some build­ing ma­te­ri­als have al­ready been col­lected.

The other task I still wanted to pur­sue was to take care of the or­phan­age I had al­ready es­tab­lished in Mo­hale’s Hoek. We have about 27 chil­dren in that or­phan­age and with­out my pres­ence the sit­u­a­tion could be dif­fi­cult some­times. You know when you have started some­thing, it re­mains in your heart.

One of the ladies who still takes care of these chil­dren was here to con­grat­u­late me af­ter she heard about my nom­i­na­tion. She even told me there were two more chil­dren added to the or­phan­age. Some­times when they have noth­ing to eat, they come to me for as­sis­tance.

I share what I have with them. I wanted to ded­i­cate the rest of my re­tire­ment work­ing with them. Like I said, this issue came to me un­ex­pect­edly. I feel torn be­cause I don’t know how long I still have to live.

LT: What was your role in the church be­fore you be­came bishop?

Khoarai: Be­fore I was nom­i­nated bishop, I had been the as­sis­tant to the Bishop of Maseru. The po­si­tion is for­mally called vicar-gen­eral. The vicar-gen­eral ba­si­cally per­forms the bishop’s du­ties when the lat­ter is ab­sent.

LT: Just to take you back a lit­tle bit; briefly tell us about your child­hood.

Khoarai: I was born in Ha-koabeng, Butha-buthe on 15 Septem­ber 1930. I went to St Paul Pri­mary School in the district. Af­ter com­plet­ing my Stan­dard 7, I pro­ceeded to the RCC Sem­i­nar in Roma, Maseru, which was then in the form of a high school for peo­ple who wished to be­come priests, be­cause I al­ready had a wish to be­come one. This is where I did my form A up to E.

I com­pleted my stud­ies in 1950. In 1951, I had to go to Quthing for a one-year in­tern­ship as a priest. On 21 De­cem­ber 1956, I was of­fi­cially in­au­gu­rated as a priest by then Bishop Em­manuel ’Ma­bathoana. This year, we are mark­ing 50 years since Bishop ’Ma­bathoana passed away.

From there I was ap­pointed by then Bishop Mo­rapeli as his vicar-gen­eral in Maseru. In 1978, I was nom­i­nated the first bishop for Mo­hale’s Hoek. When I first came to Mo­hale’s Hoek in 1978, I was re­spon­si­ble for 13 RCC Mis­sions, namely Mount Olivet, Sa­maria, Em­maus, Holy Cross, St Ger­ald, Good Shep­herd, Mount Camel, St Mark, St Pa­trick’s, St Andrew. Mo­fuma­hali oa Maloti, Bethel and Christ the Priest.

And in my ten­ure, I was able to es­tab­lish three more mis­sions and pro­moted five other churches to the level of mis­sions. The first three are Mo­fuma­hali oa Rosari, St Thomas and St An­thony. The sec­ond five mis­sions are St Mary’s, St Fran­cis, Mo­fuma­hali oa Khotso, Mo­fuma­hali oa Fa­tima and St Thomas – Morifi. Among other de­vel­op­ments, I founded the CTC in 1979.

The con­struc­tion of the church had al­ready started dur­ing my ten­ure but it has stopped due to re­source con­straints three years ago. It both­ers me a lot that I didn’t fin­ish what I started and now there is even a new as­sign­ment for me. Even though I am now re­tired as the Mo­hale’s Hoek Bishop, I still wanted to com­plete the con­struc­tion of St Pa­trick’s church build­ing be­cause I started it

RE­TIRED RCC Bishop Koto Sabas­tian Khoarai

BISHOP Khoarai es­tab­lished an or­phan­age in Mo­hale’s Hoek.

BISHOP Sabas­tian Khoarai ear­lier in his jour­ney.

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