Laurika Nxumalo, Pretoria, South Africa
Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is never easy – coming to terms with the death of a Catholic priest is even more difficult. When you hear that a priest has died, the first thing that comes to mind is the scene in Luke 23: 44-46, “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.”
Our priests are mere mortals and they were not brought into the world through a miraculous birth, but when they die it almost feels unnatural; maybe it feels that way because these are men who were called out of an ordinary life and into an extraordinary one while still on earth – a mystery too deep for words. Perhaps, it feels unnatural because our priests are like path lights, which light up the path of our lives – when their flame dies it leaves us in somewhat of a dark place.
A certain darkness enveloped the Catholic Church in South Africa when the death of Fr. Heinrich Montgomery and that of Fr. Adrian Lelimo were announced. Both the laity and the clergy took to social media, expressing their pain and disbelief over the deaths of the two young priests who passed away on the same day in different dioceses. The fact that they were still young clerics added more salt to the wound – they still had many bleating sheep in the meadows waiting to be herded, fed, and guarded by them.
It is said that sometimes things that hurt you most, teach you the greatest lessons in life. When a priest passes on, he does not leave behind a worldly legacy – what he leaves behind is more far more valuable. He leaves behind the testimony of a life that was directed and inspired by God’s love. He leaves behind an exemplar of benevolence and sacrifice – being committed to making a positive impact in the lives of others. The greatest of all, he leaves to those he lived with and served a legacy of love, hope, and faith; sowing in them the seeds of everlasting life.
May the souls of Fr. Adrian Lelimo and Fr. Heinrich Montgomery, and the souls of all departed priests rest in perfect peace.