Nearly everyone is shocked with the untimely departure of Archbishop Tarcizius Gervazio Ziyaye who until his death a few days ago, was in charge of the Catholic Archdiocese of Lilongwe. He was a man known for his deep faith, values, principles, humility and way of life. He spoke less but the impact of his words was huge.
Over the last five years, I had occasional interactions with him on church matters. My knowledge of him at personal level is not deep, but it is well supplemented by those that interacted with him more—priests who are friends of mine and were closer to him shared their experiences with him.
I will keep to what I learnt from my interactions from him and add one or two things I have learnt from those who were closer to him. The first thing that I learnt from Bishop Ziyaye was ‘calmness’. He was often times calm —didn’t do or say things hurriedly. He would apply careful thought to his ideas and opinions before he voiced them out.
In doing so, he respected even those that considered themselves much ‘smaller’ than him. And this leads me to the second lesson: humility. Ziyaye was a big bishop who was the head of the Catholic Church in Malawi for many years and respected by many for his long pastoral service at the top level.
The third lesson was dynamism. By this I mean that Bishop Ziyaye would be full of jokes – and he was a good joker – in informal set ups where jokes can be enjoyed and when you turn to serious business, he would never joke. A couple of times I went to his official house for church meetings. Before the meeting would start, he would be full of fun and jokes. Once he called the meeting to order, he was now a serious man, a focussed leader. For me this is a big lesson.
The fourth is something I have learnt from those closer to him. Bishop Ziyaye believed that a person must dress for the occasion—almost the same belief Nelson Mandela had as well explained in one of his books. Ziyaye would advise a priest who went to his house in casual dress to ‘dress up like a priest.’ With time, everyone knew the epxectations of Bishop Ziyaye. And he was exemplary. He was always neat and professional in his dressing and how he conducted himself. A man full of self-discipline.
Lastly, I will share a story he told me about two years ago. He said that some 30 years ago or so, there was a missionary priest from Europe who was serving Christians in Lilongwe. At one time the priest did something good to an old woman from a village far from Lilongwe. One time, she walked a long distance and came to Lilongwe to give a gift to this missionary priest. She brought a chicken and gave him. Noticing how poor she was, the priest felt that the old woman needed the chicken much more than him. He gave it back to her and told her he appreciated the gesture but that she should take the chicken back home.
Bishop Ziyaye advised the priest that turning back the gift would do more harm to this generous woman than to accept the gift. He believed the priest needed to allow the old woman to express her gratitude. I found this story very insightful and full of wisdom. Things we take for granted, which may have big impact on others.
As we mourn the early departure of Archbishop Ziyaye, it is time we all took stock of our personal lives. Not only reminding ourselves that time will come soon when each one of us will also go but also that in the mean time, we need to lead good lives. Like Ziyaye, we need to be humble, dynamic, professional and we should touch the lives of many. Good luck as you implement few of the many lessons that we can draw from the late Bishop Ziyaye.