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Lesotho’s Roman Catholic cardinal-elect Bishop Koto Sabastian Khoarai speaks on his nomination
POPE Francis announced earlier this month that retired Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) Bishop Koto Sabastian Khoarai, along with 16 others from around the world, would be elevated to the title of cardinal on 19 November this year at the Vatican.
Known as “princes of the church,” cardinals are the most senior members of the RCC hierarchy after the Pope and serve as his principal advisers around the world and in the Vatican. The 17 new cardinals come from Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and Oceania.
Cardinals under 80, known as cardinal-electors, can enter a secret conclave to choose a new pope from their own ranks after Francis dies or resigns. Francis, the former cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected in a conclave on 13 March 2013.
Amid the pouring in of congratulatory messages for becoming the Mountain Kingdom’s first ever cardinal, the 86-year old Bishop Khoarai tells Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Lekhetho Ntsukunyane he is still “puzzled and shocked” by the appointment. Below are excerpts of the interview:
LT: You were recently appointed cardinal – a position we understand is highly sacrosanct within the RCC. Tell us more about this.
Khoarai: I was actually caught by surprise (by the appointment). I was not expecting anything like this. Even the way this issue came to my knowledge was quite strange because I heard from other people that I was among 16 people nominated as cardinals by the Pope. A lot of people have come to visit me, telling me that I was nominated one of the counsellors for the Pope, but then nobody from the authorities had formally said anything to me. So you can see how surprised I was. I only received a formal communication from the Pope’s First Counsellor (Kevin Randall) from Pretoria, South Africa, last Thursday congratulating me for the nomination.
(The Lesotho Times saw a copy of the letter which reads in part: “The Nuncio and I (Kevin Randall) send you our heartfelt congratulations on your nomination as a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church. May the Good Lord bless, now and forever. May this great honour resound through Lesotho and may the people of Lesotho rejoice with you.”)
LT: Now that you are certain of your nomination as a cardinal, what is the next step?
Khoarai: I am not even sure what is expected from me as a cardinal. What I only know is that cardinals are people very close to the Pope. As a matter of fact, cardinals form what is called the Council of the Pope, which basically deals with the general issues concerning the RCC throughout the world. The council renders advice and assistance to the Pope for nomination of the church’s bishops in different dioceses, among other functions. Like I said, all these issues became clearer to me only yesterday when I received the letter from the first counsellor. That’s the only formal gesture I have received since I was told about my nomination as cardinal.
LT: But how do you feel about this?
Khoarai: I must admit I am still shocked. I have been receiving many visitors ever since this issue came up. I keep wondering if this is really meant for me, old as I am. To be honest, I am still confused and feeling weak. What bothers me most is that I don’t even know what is expected of me following this nomination. Even the letter you just saw does not say much about what is expected of me. I was informed that I am among 16 people nominated for this. I was also told one of them is wheelchair-bound. So I keep asking myself what kind of a role we are going to perform to assist the Pope when it seems like most people nominated for this are ill and weak like me. However, I appreciate this and put my faith and hope in the Lord to assist me figure out this puzzle.
My expectation, nonetheless, is that I am supposed to leave Lesotho soon and go to Rome, Italy, where, together with other nominees, I will meet with the Pope and undergo some induction procedures. Subsequent to that, I will be officially appointed. Two things may happen afterwards; I may come back home or be compelled to stay in Rome, I don’t know. This is really difficult for me because at my age I would not want to live far from home. I am also informed that my attire is going to change from what I used to wear as bishop to a new robe symbolising that I am now a cardinal. I have not formally been informed of the exact dates for the inauguration, but I heard from people who are familiar with these issues that the inauguration would be on 19 November 2016. I guess they are yet to inform me formally about the inauguration.
LT: What has been your role in the church before you received the nomination?
Khoarai: I was appointed bishop on 2 April 1978. I have been a bishop for 36 years. I led the RCC in Mohale’s Hoek from 1978 until I was retired and succeeded by Bishop John Tlhomola in 2014. I am now a retired bishop who stays here (Catholic Training Centre (CTC) in Mafeteng). However, I still conduct mass services here. My nomination as a cardinal comes at a time when I was still pondering about completing the work that I started in Mohale’s Hoek, which is the construction of St. Patrick’s RCC Mission. The construction of the church had already started during my tenure but it has stopped due to resource constraints three years ago. It bothers me a lot that I didn’t finish what I started and now there is even a new assignment for me. Even though I am now retired as the Mohale’s Hoek Bishop, I still wanted to complete the construction of St Patrick’s church building because I started it.
Ideally, I was supposed have been retired at the age of 75 years around 2000. When I was 75-years old, I informed my superiors that the time had come for me to retire, but I didn’t receive a response from them until Bishop John Tlhomola came to replace me in 2014. At the moment, I was at the stage of approaching the Arch-Bishop (Tlali Lerotholi) in Maseru to allow me to carry on with the completion of construction of that church. Some building materials have already been collected.
The other task I still wanted to pursue was to take care of the orphanage I had already established in Mohale’s Hoek. We have about 27 children in that orphanage and without my presence the situation could be difficult sometimes. You know when you have started something, it remains in your heart. One of the ladies who still takes care of these children was here to congratulate me after she heard about my nomination. She even told me there were two more children added to the orphanage. Sometimes when they have nothing to eat, they come to me for assistance. I share what I have with them. I wanted to dedicate the rest of my retirement working with them. Like I said, this issue came to me unexpectedly. I feel torn because I don’t know how long I still have to live.
LT: What was your role in the church before you became bishop?
Khoarai: Before I was nominated bishop, I had been the assistant to the Bishop of Maseru. The position is formally called vicar-general. The vicar-general basically performs the bishop’s duties when the latter is absent.
LT: Just to take you back a little bit; briefly tell us about your childhood.
Khoarai: I was born in Ha-Koabeng, Butha-Buthe on 15 September 1930. I went to St Paul Primary School in the district. After completing my Standard 7, I proceeded to the RCC Seminar in Roma, Maseru, which was then in the form of a high school for people who wished to become priests, because I already had a wish to become one. This is where I did my form A up to E. I completed my studies in 1950. In 1951, I had to go to Quthing for a one-year internship as a priest. On 21 December 1956, I was officially inaugurated as a priest by then Bishop Emmanuel ’Mabathoana. This year, we are marking 50 years since Bishop ’Mabathoana passed away. From there I was appointed by then Bishop Morapeli as his vicar-general in Maseru. In 1978, I was nominated the first bishop for Mohale’s Hoek. When I first came to Mohale’s Hoek in 1978, I was responsible for 13 RCC Missions, namely Mount Olivet, Samaria, Emmaus, Holy Cross, St Gerald, Good Shepherd, Mount Camel, St Mark, St Patrick’s, St Andrew. Mofumahali oa Maloti, Bethel and Christ the Priest.
And in my tenure, I was able to establish three more missions and promoted five other churches to the level of missions. The first three are Mofumahali oa Rosari, St Thomas and St Anthony. The second five missions are St Mary’s, St Francis, Mofumahali oa Khotso, Mofumahali oa Fatima and St Thomas – Morifi. Among other developments, I founded the CTC in 1979.