In the morning of Thursday 21st January 2021 the bishops of Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference held an online memorial service of the late Archbishop Abel Gabuza. The liturgy of the memorial service was presided over by His Grace Archbishop Dabula Mphako, the Archbishop of Pretoria.
The bishops had an opportunity to share their reflections on Archbishop Gabuza. In attendance also was Archbishop Peter Wells, the Apostolic Nuncio.
In his comments Bishop Joao Rodrigues of Tzaneen said he never sensed from Archbishop Gabuza any spirit of hatefulness or expressing his pain in a way that would be negative or destructive in his relationships. “He has always been understanding and very thoughtful,” added Bishop Rodrigues.
Bishop Jan De Groef said he will remember the simplicity of Archbishop Gabuza which he displayed when they went to visit him when he was still the bishop of Kimberly. He remembers how well he welcomed them and served them breakfast himself. Bishop de Groef pointed out that Archbishop Gabuza was not a man of many words but what he said came from the heart and was somebody who reflected deeply on things.
The retired bishop of Rustenburg, Bishop Kevin Dowling also shared his thoughts, “I was always touched by the quality of his humanity, his eyes that communicated always gentleness and compassion.” Bishop Dowling also commented on how Gabuza had the ability to listen quietly and lead people to a deeper level of issues they were sharing. He said Gabuza was talented in challenging a person in a way which could never diminish the awareness of the person’s dignity. As a pastor, “He really revealed to me the gentle Jesus.”
Bishop Graeme Rose, who was in the seminary together with Archbishop Gabuza in their seminary days pointed out he discovered that, “beneath the initially quiet exterior there was a great warmth and vitality. Abel had a great sense of humour.” Bishop Rose said that Gabuza leaves a great vacuum in the church, the bishops’ conference and the hearts of us all.
On his reflection Bishop Peter Holiday of Kroonstad said, “what a wonderful, deep thinker, with few words. When Archbishop Abel spoke, he spoke with a deep conviction and with so much intelligence and knowledge. I don’t think Archbishop Abel thought I was an admirer of him, but I was, because of his wonderful quiet personality, his friendliness when you got to know him.”
The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Peter Wells, said Archbishop Gabuza was an extraordinary pastor and it’s a great loss to the church here. He shared the message from Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Archbishop Protase Rugambwa saying, “Following the loss of the Most Reverent Abel Gabuza, the Coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Durban, I have been asked to convey the following message from the prefect and secretary of the Congregation of the Evangelisation of Peoples, ‘we wish to convey our deepest condolences and our assurances of prayer to Wilfred Fox Cardinal Napier, Archbishop of Durban, to the priests, religious, and laity of the Archdiocese, as well as to the family of Archbishop Gabuza as we pray with them for the eternal repose of the soul of this zealous pastor, who has served the Church with devotion, humility and modesty.’” The Nuncio noted that the Cardinal Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also sent the following message from Pope Francis; “His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the untimely death of the Coadjutor Archbishop Abel Gabuza and he sends his prayerful condolences to you, the clergy, religious and the lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Durban. In gratitude for Archbishop Gabuza’s zealous priestly and episcopal service His Holiness commends his soul to God’s eternal mercy. To all who mourn him in the sure hope of the resurrection the Holy Father imparts his apostolic blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in Christ the Good Shepherd.
Cardinal Napier thanked everyone who participated in the prayer service stating that he just came from an ecumenical prayer service and everywhere people were giving thanks for the wonderful person Archbishop Abel was. He also affirmed that the Archbishop was very quiet, very thoughtful, and when he spoke he was very reasonable and to the point. Cardinal Napier emphasised that, “when he (Gabuza) was brought to any body, any committee, his great concern and love for the poor and those on the margins of the society would come through.” The Cardinal continued, “with that kind of experience and exposure to the kind of person that he was it’s very easy to give thanks to God for the gifts and graces with which He endowed Abel so richly”.