To the people of God in the Diocese of Manzini (Kingdom of Eswatini)

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”l am offering you life or death, blessing or curse”
(Dt 30: 19)

God ‘s familiar words in the book of Deuteronomy call us to choose between life and death. Even more, God invites h is people to “choose life, then.. so that you and your descendants may live” (DL 30: 19).

Unfortunately, in eSwatini, it is becoming more and more clear that our choice is death.

October 18, 2022 saw in Manzini the killing of another two members of the police in broad daylight.

Killings seem to have become part of our ordinary lives. ln Samuel 2:6 we read that it is God who gives life and death. Some, though, have decided to take God’s place by deciding who should live and who should not. Their blood cries out to God our Creator (Gn 4:I 0).

Choosing death is also seen through other forms or violence: arson attacks, destruction of property, instilling g of fear, lack of spaces to voice just cries, tear gas, calls to meet violence with violence even through the use of Biblical passages as if God could support choosing death over life.

It is clear we no longer see in each other the God in whose image we have been created (Gen  I :27) and with Cain we sarcastically ask: “Am I my brother’. keeper? (Gn 4:9)

We have taken God’s place as creator deciding on the lives of others. We have rejected him as Father as we no longer see each other as brothers and sisters (Mt 23:8) but have chosen the “blame game” labelling others as adversaries, terrorists, oppressors, enemies…

A society that accepts this level of violence is condemned to experience even higher  levels of it which can only generate more death and suffering.

“Our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain , death!” (Pope Francis, 07.09.2013)

We seem to be living  in the deception that the country “has gone back to normal” ignoring the anger of many people – particularly our youth -as they see no answers to their frustration and no spaces to voice them. They feel that some are full citizens but others second class ones. Some seem to have access to every opportunity in the country and the rest to the leftovers. Ln their restlessness they can be easily deceived by those who offer them violence as the only possible solution.

It was at the very peak of the violence the country was experiencing in 2021 t hat the Council of Swaziland Churches called for a national dialogue in order to defuse it. Every family knows that, experiencing tension and conflict, the only way forward is to sit down and listen to each other and together discern the way forward. The word “dialogue” initially “postponed” now seems to have “disappeared” from our vocabulary. I still believe that dialogue is the only possible answer.

We need the Spirit of the Risen Lord to give us the strength and the courage to break this cycle of violence. I am grateful to the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace for opening spaces for dialogue in local communities and for launching Peace clubs ·· in some of the Catholic High Schools helping our young people to be formed in non-violence.

I am also grateful for the diocesan commitment to offer counselling to the victims of any violence being experienced. It is a sign that like the Good Samaritan , we choose to have compassion, stop on our journey and come close to the those lying on the road to offer them healing (Lk 10:33-34).

These initiatives are just a drop in the ocean of the violence we are experiencing. The country needs many more drops like these ones before it is too late.

“‘Forgiveness. dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace (…) in all the world! Let 11s pray for reconciliatio11 and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and lei us all become, in every place. men and women of reco11ciliatio11 and peace! Amen.” (Pope Francis. 07.09.2013)

+Jose Luis Ponce de León IMC                                                                                                                                                        Bishop of Manzini