Tribute to Bishop Felix Mkhori
By Father Louis Chamasowa*
On Saturday 9 November 2019 Bishop Peter Musikuwa of the Diocese of Chikwawa led Roman Catholics of the Diocese of Chikwawa in Eucharistic Sacrifice in honour of late Bishop Felix Bishop. Besides, the Mass was offered for other late Catholic priests who ministered in the Diocese of Chikwawa during their lifetime. The Mass was held at Chikwawa Cathedral. After the Mass the Bishop led the congregation to Mzimu Woyera Seminary Cemetery where late Bishop Mkhori is resting.
Little is known about Bishop Mkhori’s early childhood. Only to note that he was born on 24 August 1931 at Ntenje in Thyolo. His father being a teacher at the grammar school in those days moved from Ntenje to Chingazi where he settled together with members of his family. He attained his primary school education at Chingazi/Chisoko Primary School. He started his seminary formation at Nankhunda Seminary where he also received his secondary education. Convinced that God was calling him to be a priest he joined Kachebere (St. Anthony’s) Major Seminary where he successfully completed his philosophical and theological studies.
He was ordained priest on 8 September 1961 by Rt. Rev. Dr. J. B. H. Theunissen the Archbishop of Blantyre at Limbe Cathedral. He was appointed to Molere Parish where he served as an associate priest for at least two years. The parishioners of Molere parish still remember him as a very hard working and disciplined priest who served them with undivided heart. He was later appointed to Pius XII as a member of the teaching staff and formation team. In 1967 he was appointed Rector. Accordingly, he became the first Malawian Rector of Pius XII Seminary.
Among his notable contributions to Pius XII is the introduction of senior secondary school education and MSCE. In fact, prior to his appointment as Rector seminarians were doing only JCE. Hence, they used to go to Nankhunda Seminary for their senior secondary school studies and MSCE. He was raised to the office of Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Blantyre by Archbishop James Chiona. He was later made Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi. To this effect, he became the first Malawian to hold the office of the Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi.
Among his contribution as Secretary General was the construction of some of the offices in Lilongwe. He also played a significant role in the publication of old Mwambo Wa Nsembe Ya Misa (Roman Missal) which was in use in Malawi until 2014. On 12 February 1979 he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Chikwawa.
However, he took possession of the Diocese on 2 June 1979. He became the first Malawian Bishop of the Diocese of Chikwawa. Besides, his episcopacy is the longest in the Diocese of Chikwawa. He served for 23 years in the Diocese of Chikwawa. However, it is important to note that he served the last two years of his leadership in the Diocese of Chikwawa as Apostolic Administrator.
He served as Apostolic Administrator from February 2001 when he was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Lilongwe now Archdiocese of Lilongwe. He was Bishop of the Diocese from 2001 until his retirement in 2007. After his retirement he returned to Chikwawa and settled in Nchalo. On 27 October 2012 he died peaceful at Mwaiwathu Hospital in Blantyre. He was buried on 31 October 2012 at Mzimu Woyera Seminary Cemetery. The huge presence of people at his burial was an expression of thanks for his life of service in the Diocese of Chikwawa, the Archdiocese of Liolongwe and Malawi as a whole.
Among his notable contributions to the Diocese of Chikwawa during his Episcopacy are: firstly, localization of the Church. Bishop Mkhori worked hard for the localization of the Church especially in terms of personnel. For example, Bishop Mkhori was absolutely convinced that the Church could never call herself Malawian if it did not have Malawian priests.
In fact, when he was made Bishop of the Diocese of Chikwawa he was the only Malawian priest in the Diocese. As we are celebrating the Golden Jubilee all priests in the Diocese are secular with the exception of one priest. Accordingly, he invested all his energies in the establishment of Mzimu Woyera Seminary. However, he did not receive support from the missionary priests.
According to Bishop Mkhori himself, when he invited priests to share his idea of creating the minor seminary they expressly opposed it. Instead, they advised him to ordain catechists. Moreover, they told him that they were resolved not to support the project morally as well as financially. Indeed, they did that. In his efforts to materialize his vision he decided to convince the laity to support the project. Accordingly, he visited all the parishes in the diocese meeting the leaders of parish and Church councils. He had to spend three days with them.
In contrast to priests who refused to support the project, the laity responded positively and supported the project morally and materially [see Bishop F. Mkhori, My 23 Years in the Diocese of Chikwawa 1978-2001, Balaka: Montfort, pp. 14-24. On 3 November 1981, Mzimu Woyera Seminary started with few facilities. The contribution of Mzimu Woyera Seminary to local personnel in the Diocese of Chikwawa cannot be overemphasized. For example, the Diocese is now self-sufficient in personnel.
Secondly, sowing the seed of self-reliance. Bishop Mkhori implanted the spirit of self-reliance in the Diocese of Chikwawa. When he was made Bishop he realized that it was not wise to totally depend upon the first leaders of the Diocese. He decided to look for new ways and means of running the Diocese. When he sold his idea to the missionary priests they challenged and discouraged it. They told him there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.
Instead, they advised him to focus on writing project proposals to receive assistance from overseas. He did not appreciate the advice since he personally considered project proposals as the first art of begging. Consequently, he initiated the first self-help projects in the Diocese of Chikwawa. Among them were: firstly, rearing of animals. He bought cows and a big bull which he named “Davie” since he was very strong. He also bought pigs and chickens. These projects are still contributing significantly to the material needs of the Diocese especially the Bishop’s House.
Secondly, he constructed Tione Business complex. Currently, the buildings are now rented out to CADECOM (Diocese of Chikwawa). The Diocese gets a significant amount of money from the rentals. In his book My 23 Years in the Diocese of Chikwawa Bishop Mkhori reveals that Tione Enterprise was not meant for self-reliance in his mind at the time he initiated the project. He introduced the project in response to the needs of the people especially those around Chikwawa Boma including the sick and the poor. According to Bishop Mkhori, he was shocked to learn from an Asian technician who had been hired by the Diocese to install sound equipment at St. Michael’s Cathedral that he was unable to find a shop at the Boma to buy biscuits.
Thirdly, Bishop Mkhori contributed to the area of education by playing a significant role in the establishment of several primary and secondary schools in the Diocese. In fact, the contribution of the Diocese of Chikwawa in the area of education cannot be overemphasized as evidenced by the fact that it has more schools than any other institution in the geographical area covered by the Diocese.
Fourthly, the promotion of girl child education. In addition to contributing to the provision of education to both boys and girls Bishop Mkhori paid special attention to the particular needs of a girl child. Consequently, he initiated the establishment of St. Lawrence Girls Secondary school. St. Lawrence Girls Secondary School is unique because it was built using local resources. According to Bishop Mkhori, he failed to receive assistance from foreign donors.
However, he very much wanted the project to succeed. Hence, he decided to seek assistance from people from within the Diocese. He received a very positive response from the people of Chikwawa Diocese. Among those who assisted generously were Mr. and Mrs. Manda who donated the piece of land where the school is located.
Fifthly, he contributed significantly to the promotion of social just in Malawi. For example, in 1983 three Cabinet Ministers and a Member of Parliament, namely Aaron Gadama, Twaibu Sangala, Dick Matenje and David Chiwanga were brutally murdered by the members of Malawi Police Force and Security Services during the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) rule after they had expressed their resentments in Parliament to the way in which some government-owned companies were being handled.
The MCP government reported on the State-controlled radio MBC that they were killed in a car accident which happened when they were escaping to Mozambique.
A Commission of Enquiry established by Dr. Kamuzu Banda’s successor, Bakili Muluzi, revealed that they were killed by sharp objects and hammers by members of the Malawi Police Force. Bishop Mukhori defied attempts by some senior MCP officials to persuade him to refuse one of the victims Mr. Chiwanga a dignified Christian burial.
On the contrary, he gave Mr. David Chiwanga a Church funeral in accordance with the provisions of canon 1176, §1 which gives all Roman Catholics the right to be accorded a Church funeral according to the provisions of the law. Besides, he was among the seven celebrated Roman Catholic Bishops, namely Archbishop James Chiona, Bishop Felix Mkhori, Bishop Matthias Chimole, Bishop Alan Chamgwera and Bishop Gervazio Chisendera (Malawians), Bishop Alessandro Assorali (Italian) and Monsignor John Roche (Irish) who initiated the process of political change in Malawi.
The process was started by the Catholic Bishops’ Lenten pastoral letter, Living Our Faith (8th March 1992). The letter indicates a changed position for the Catholic Church. It was the first extensive public condemnation of human rights abuses committed by the government during the 28-year rule of Banda’s regime. The impact of the letter was significant. For the first time, people were able to challenge the government openly for committing human rights abuses.
The inspiring life of Bishop Mkhori is a reflection of many young people who are called to priestly and religious life especially those who exercise the governing office of the Church in different capacities. Any persons entrusted with the governing office of the Church are very likely to face various and particular challenges which Bishop Mkhori encountered in his efforts to fulfil his obligations on the occasion of the exercise of his office as the Bishop of the Diocese of Chikwawa.
May the Divine Master who touched Bishop Mkhori to minister in the Diocese of Chikwawa in such inspiring manner for 23 years generate and stimulate in so many young people the same spirit which helped Bishop Mkhori to persevere so many challenges in his 23 years of ecclesiastical ministry in the Diocese of Chikwawa. May the soul of Bishop Mkhori rest in peace.
*Father Chamasowa is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Chikwawa