We had two very big funerals at the beginning of this week, celebrating the lives of two
really good people who were much loved, and who were deeply rooted in family and faith. Despite the sadness of such occasions, there was also a great sense of hope and joy as well, given the good memories and the legacy of love left behind by each of them. Neither funeral had a reception of remains the night before, and that seems to be a growing trend, the families preferring to arrive at the church just before the beginning of the Requiem Mass, and to have the prayers of reception then. So, just as cremation would now be much more prevalent than burial, even for Catholic funerals, this way of doing things is becoming more prevalent too, and that’s absolutely fine, although the choice for either absolutely remains in the family’s hands. Each family will know what helps them most.
Then, in the middle of the week, I was sent the funeral arrangements for the retired Bishop of Gabarone in Botswana, who had died the previous Friday at the age of 91. These funeral arrangements were being communicated to all the Passionists in Scotland and Ireland as Passionists from our Province had laboured in Botswana from the early 1950’s, and all had worked very closely with Bishop Boniface and come to know him as a true friend, and a very good, gentle, kindly and holy pastor, ever since he took over as bishop after the death of the Passionist, Bishop Urban Murphy CP, in 1981. Indeed, Bishop Boniface was a Passionist at heart, and would dearly have loved to have been a Passionist, but at the time when he pursued his vocation to the priesthood, the Passionists were focussed on building up the church in Botswana and didn’t have the structures to receive Passionist vocations, and instead channelled any enquiries towards the diocese, very much their gain and our loss.
Some people here in St. Mungo’s, and those around our other houses in Scotland and Ireland, might possibly have met him, as he used to come over from time to time in order to thank people for supporting our missions, and to visit the families of Passionists from Scotland and Ireland who had worked, or who were still working in Africa. When he visited, he was never interested in sightseeing or going to places of interest, he was only interested in meeting people, people to whom he felt a deep sense of gratitude for their generosity in the giving of their resources, or in the giving of their family members, to help his country grow in faith. I had met him a few times before I went out to work in Botswana for a short time myself in 1993-94, and he could not have been more helpful or supportive, so, I have a tiny sense of how much he was loved, and how much he will be missed, by all the people of Botswana.
Of course, Fr. Lawrence in St. Mungo’s would have known him much better, having spent many years there in various locations, and he regrets not being able to travel and be present for the ceremonies to mark his passing. When I received the arrangements, I realised that anyone of us would need to be in the fulness of our health to endure them. Bishop Boniface’s remains would lie in state in Gabarone Cathedral from 10 0’clock on Thursday morning until 6 o’clock on Friday morning, to allow people to view his body and pay their last respects, which they would do in their droves. During that time there would be a Requiem Mass at 7 p.m. led by bishops. At midnight there would be another Mass led by diocesan priests. At 4 o’clock in the morning there would be yet another Mass led by the Religious. At 6 o’clock in the morning Bishop Boniface’s body would be transferred to the National Stadium, as the Cathedral would be far too small, for a final Requiem Mass at 10 a.m., before being brought back to the Cathedral for burial beside Bishop Boniface. And then the feasting would begin. I feel exhausted just thinking about that, but the good people of Botswana, who loved their bishop dearly, would not, I’m sure, bat an eyelid at being there from beginning to end. My thoughts and prayers are with them in their great loss, and in their treasured memories.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…