Fr. Patrick Phalawala, Zomba, Malawi
I, who look at myself as a victim with Jesus Christ, am a second born child of Luke James Phalawala and Veronica Simon Makombe, from Zomba District, in the southern part of Malawi. My parents were married in the Catholic Church in 1956 before Malawi became an independent country from the British rule. The first child was a girl who was born in 1957 but unfortunately she died young two years later. In 1959 on the 30th of January my parents gave birth to a second born child who happened to be myself and six months later in June 1959 the family moved to a Village in the Western part of Zomba District where we settled up to the time this life story and reflection were written. My parents reported that I was baptized the day I was born because they were not sure if I was going to survive because of the condition of my life. In 1961 my parents gave birth to the third born child who was a girl but unfortunately the girl died at age of two, but I was still surviving. In 1964 my parents gave birth to the twins, a boy and a girl but unfortunately they also died after a year and half. The main problem was that the big hospital was about forty kilometers away, which made it difficult for the parents to get medical help but there was also a hereditary disease that was transmitted to the new born babies who never survived to see the beauty of life.
FRUSTRATING EXPIRENCES IN MY LIFE
When I was nine years old my father divorced my mother and he moved out of the family and I was just crying when I saw my father packing his belongings and leaving the house. That was heart breaking for me as a young boy and the mother tried to console me, but to no avail. When I was left with my mother, something serious happened, the mother, because of lack of support, got married to her distant cousin. She then followed him to his home village and I was left with my aunt, an elder sister to my mother. I was so miserable that at times I could go on hunger strike, spending most of the time crying and behaving as an orphan when in fact my parents were still alive. After six months the mother decided to take me to the village where she was married and I had just completed standard two education in primary school at Mary Immaculate Catholic Full Primary School.
So, I got a transfer letter to be submitted to the headmaster of Our Lady of Fatima, Pirimiti Boys Catholic Primary School. My step-father received me with a very cold shoulder, which made me not feel comfortable because of the unwelcoming spirit showed to me by him. All the same I continued with primary school education in standard three in my new primary school. The problem unwelcoming spirit continued so much so that my step-father refused to pay school fees for me and that forced me to discontinue with my primary school education. It was another frustrating experience to me as a young boy and that made me remember that my father was capable of supporting me with my education. After the school year I asked my mother if she could allow me to go back to my biological father and she accepted. So, in 1969, I went back home and reported to my aunt that I would love to join my biological father for my support. My aunt tried to stop me from going to my father and my father was reluctant to accept me because of the refusal of my aunt. Then I strongly said that if my father insisted not to accept me, I would just go into the bush and let wild animals devour me. My father was so touched with what I said that he accepted me to join him without the consent of my aunt. I never bothered about the reluctance of my aunt, so I went to my father knowing that my mother had already given him an okay that I should join my father. So, one day when my aunt had gone somewhere for a community meeting on development projects, I just packed my suitcase and left for my father’s home. My cousins tried to stop me but I left for father’s home in an angry mood.
Upon my arrival at my father’s new home, I was warmly welcome by him and not by my step-mother because she never wanted me to live in the house since she had her own two children whom she wanted to enjoy the comfortable life provided by my father. So, that was another challenge and tough experience for me because most of the times my step-mother was uncomfortable to take care of me. That time I was ten years old and so I felt oppressed by the step-mother but all the same I continued staying though at times I could be on my own crying as I was reflecting on the evils done to me as a young boy.
The step-mother tried to create all sorts of stories so that my father could chase me from the house. The most encouraging thing was that my father never wanted me to leave the house because he knew how much I suffered in the hands of my step-father. So, I continued living a miserable life for five full years because of lack of motherly care but I could not leave my father’s home because I had no choice. After some years, due to some misunderstandings between my father and my step-mother my father decided to divorce her.
Later on my father got married to another wife who was so loving to me. It was in 1973 when I was fourteen years old, at least that time I enjoyed living with my father because of my new step-mother’s loving care. I was in standard seven at Immaculate Conception Catholic Full Primary School and after standard eight primary school education I decided to go the minor seminary so that in the future I could become a priest. My father supported my decision and allowed me to go for entrance examination and after passing the examination I was selected for Child Jesus, Nankhunda Minor Seminary. That time my father was prospering through subsistence farming and he developed his home.
ANOTHER CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE FOR ME AS A YOUNG MAN
When I had completed my secondary school education at the minor seminary, my father was broke since he relied on growing crops in the field which at first was paying a lot of money.
There was a big problem in 1981 when the climate changed for the worse and there was not enough rain for the crops and so life was tough for the family to survive financially. When I expressed my decision that I wanted to become a priest my father was so furious that he never supported the decision because of the poverty that had stricken the family. My father thought that I would be the bread winner for the family. After praying over it and having serious discussions with my father he accepted me to continue with my priesthood vocation and he supported me wholeheartedly. The worse came to the worst when my mother, after living together with her distant cousin in their marriage, gave birth to two girls but they both died young. After sometime my mother was divorced by my step-father and she went back home and reunited with her relatives. It meant that she had to stay without any support and after sometime she got married to another man who was so loving, but unfortunately after some five years the man died in 1988. My mother decided not to get married again and just rectified her sacramental life and that was another tough experience for me to think of the sufferings of my mother without any financial and moral support.
PRIESTLY ORDINATION AND OTHER CHALLENGES
In 1990 after completing major seminary formation I was ordained a priest on 12th of August, then my father divorced my step-mother 1991, and my step-mother went back home and got reunited with her family. After some eleven years she died of car accident leaving two children, a young boy and young a girl, who were under her care and those were my step-sister and my step-brother. That meant also that I had to be fully responsible for their education and moral support since that time my father was completely bankrupt. Meanwhile my father got married in church to another wife and they gave birth to five children, one girl and four boys. That was another challenge because my father was then getting old that he could not take care of the children and that was also the time my mother had just died on 16th May, 1998, after struggling with cancer. So, it was heartbreaking for me to think of the death of step-mother, death of my own mother and then the care of the children from my old father. The very last challenge was when my father suffered a stroke in 2010, I had to struggle taking him to different hospitals without enough financial support. The doctors tried to save his life but on 15th July, 2011 my father passed on at home before he had finished the treatment from the hospital.
After having gone through all these experiences I came to realize that at our baptism we share the sacrificial suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and as priests we are the people who share the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as we celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Each priest is invited to add his personal sacrifice just as Jesus Christ did in His life, so that a priest can protest publicly that he is at God’s disposal though he faces challenging experiences in life.
So, if priests are sincere, they will imitate what they perform and be partners and partakers with Jesus Christ who is Priest and Victim as the same time. In this way the priest will live by the will of God so that he might accomplish the mission entrusted to him by Jesus Christ Himself. The priest will make a deliberate decision to accept the mission of Jesus Christ set before him and that God will lift him up to accomplish His will. A priest will choose to be a true Christian, to be a true priest and to be God’s particular priest with all that God’s providence has arranged for His priests. There are many ways that lead to the priesthood and many different temperaments that bring us to the work of the ministry, yet once there, we have to take priesthood as it is, not as we would like it to be, or as we thought it to be.
So, after having served the Lord as his priest for over thirty years and through my challenging experiences I underwent before and after priestly ordination and with the help of my community of the Secular Institute of Priests in the Opus Spiritus Sancti I have come to realize that:
1. Priesthood is not a job but a mission entrusted to men who accept to be victims with Jesus Christ.
2. The sufferings and challenges I have gone through are worth nothing compared to the sufferings of Jesus Christ the High Priest who is God Himself.
3. Life has challenges that help a priest or person to grow into maturity with Christ Jesus who paid for our life with His own life, suffering, death and resurrection.
4. We can only be true Catholic priests if we accept to be victims with Jesus Christ day in and day out, that is, becoming priest and victim at the same time.
5. Life is full of challenges but Christ Jesus is also challenging us to stick to His life when He says, “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest ” (Matthew 11:28). So, Jesus Christ is the answer to all our ups and downs only if we as His Priests choose to surrender our whole life to Him. May God the Holy Spirit protect his priests and help them to fight and conquer the powers of the evil one so that they may be successful with Jesus Christ the victim and priest.