Thousands of people on Monday defied seemingly relentless rains in Mzuzu to witness the burial ceremony of Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza who died after a road accident at age 59 five days ago.
The fallen bishop of Mzuzu Catholic Diocese was buried at St Peter’s Cathedral, where his body had been lying in state for public viewing since Sunday afternoon.
His requiem mass left crowds under a rainbow of umbrellas, with water pools on President Peter Mutharika’s red carpet, mourners garbed in white and purple, choirs churning out songs with suppressed drumbeats befitting the mood.
Mutharika—who left the talking to Vice-President Saulos Chilima—made a last-gasp trip to Mzuzu after postponing a scheduled opening of the Blantyre-Zomba Road to be part of the funeral service mass celebrated by Nuncio Julio Murrat, the papal envoy to Malawi and Zambia.
“The bishop was a pillar of the family. He served the church as well as the family with all his heart. God giveth. God taketh,” lamented family representative Nicholas Zuza.
Zuza, who was at the time of his death head of the Catholic Church in Malawi by virtue of being chairperson of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), held his final mass on Sunday at Mhlafuta Church in Katete Parish, Mzimba, where he ironically celebrated his first soon after his ordination to priesthood in 1982.
He was named bishop on March 3 1995, succeeding monsignor John Roche whose seven years in charge of the church in Northern Malawi was marred by deportation on account of instigating the ECM to rise against founding president Kamuzu Banda’s one-party rule in 1992.
Living Our Faith, the ECM pastoral letter of that year, singled out the bishops as the architects of the country’s shift from one-party rule to democracy.
Father Wezi Mfune, head of diocesan priests in Mzuzu, said in the deceased bishop, they had “a kind-hearted friend, brother, father and leader”.
In his euology, Association of Diocesan Clergy chairperson Peter Chifukwa saluted Zuza’s down-to-earth character.
Archbishop Thomas Msusa of the Blantyre Archdiocese said Zuza was not only “a unifying factor at ECM” but also a “courageous, friendly and prophetic servant of God”.
Speaking on behalf of Mutharika, who contributed K2 million to the funeral, Chilima saluted Zuza for offering good leadership to Mzuzu Diocese and government.
Soon after burial, the diocese’s interim leadership were scheduled to meet—Fr Michael Mughogho, Mfune, Andrew Chunda, John Ryan and Dominic Longwe—to decide whether to choose a diocesan administrator among themselves or to leave it to the Pope to appoint an apostolic administrator like Roche who succeeded Bishop Lewis Jobidon in 1986.