By Tsitsi Matope
MASERU — Today is Holy Thursday — an important day in the Christian faith, when Jesus had his last supper with his disciples.
In the Roman Catholic Church, it is a day that marks the breaking of the 40-days of the Lent period.
During this period, special prayers and fasting are done in preparation for the Easter celebrations.
While to some, the Easter holiday can mean taking a break from work and going on holiday or relaxing at home with their families, it has an important meaning to every believer of the Christian faith.
The Lesotho Times (LT) this week met with His Grace, the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Maseru, Father Gerard Tlali Lerotholi, to talk about Easter, its significance and relevance among Basotho.
LT: Could you tell us what Easter is all about?
Father Lerotholi: Easter is the basis or the crowing event of the Christian Faith. It is celebrated globally by all Christians because Christianity is based on the belief that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, suffered, died, was buried and rose from the dead before he ascended into heaven.
Easter marks the end of Jesus’ earthly life. We believe if Jesus had not died and risen from the dead, Christianity would have been a myth. As a result, Jesus had to die to enable God’s grace to manifest and so that our sins can be forgiven.
Importantly, as Catholics, we appreciate his suffering and believe that through his death and resurrection, we were saved from eternal death. We believe death is a gateway to a new life, just like birth is a gateway to a new life on earth.
LT: What is the basis of this belief – Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension?
Father Lerotholi: Well, Jesus is an important component of the foundations of Christianity. Through the bible, in particular the New Testament and other scriptures written bear witness to the Easter event.
We believe that indeed, Jesus died, resurrected and ascended to heaven. We believe what the witnesses who include Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, his disciples, the Apostle Paul and many others, tell us through the scriptures.
LT: How does the Roman Catholic Church celebrate Easter?
Father Lerotholi: For us, this is a very special time. The 40 days of Lent prepare us for the Easter period which starts on Good Friday. We will have Holy Thursday, when we well be conducting the washing of the feet ceremony.
Twelve church members volunteered to have their feet washed and kissed at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Church here in Maseru.
This ceremony is based on the bible verse found in the Book of John, in which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a humble gesture of service and good leadership.
On Thursday (today), we will also celebrate Jesus’ last supper, which we will symbolise by the sharing of bread and wine among the baptised church members. The blessing of the holy oil for the sick and those to be baptised this Easter will also be done on Thursday (today).
LT: And Good Friday?
Father Lerotholi: For the Catholics, this is a day of calmness as we go through the process of understanding and appreciating how Jesus suffered on the cross.
There is a mystery about his pain, the great value of his pain which demonstrates God’s strength and Jesus’ humble nature. So the focus on Good Friday, will be on the cross and I believe it’s more or less the same spirit among all Christians. For the Catholic Church, the cross is now covered and we will unveil it on Friday.
What is so Good about this Friday is that this is the day Jesus died and through his death, we were all saved. The cross reminds us that there is no crown without suffering and that in this life, suffering is inevitable.
Then on the Holy Saturday, we are holding overnight prayers until the next morning, Sunday, when we will be celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.
LT: Do you think Easter still carries the same significance among Basotho? Do they fully understand what it means?
Father Lerotholi: While this is a big event on the Christian Faith calendar, what I have seen over the recent years is that some people take this as a holiday during which they can travel to see relatives and friends.
However, I don’t think that most Basotho have a problem understanding or believing that Jesus died and rose from the dead. Culturally, we also believe there is life after this life.
This is demonstrated by the nature of burial ceremonies and the language spoken during funerals, when people say “he has passed on” meaning, he has passed onto the next life.
This belief that there is another life is also demonstrated by the traditional wrapping of the corpse with the cow-skin, although how it’s being done now might have changed because of the coffins.
The deceased persons then were also buried with seeds and in some cases, spears for use in the next life. Culturally or traditionally, this can mean we have to give something to our ancestors.
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LT: So the Catholic Church believes together with Jesus, we also have our ancestors who protect and guide us?
Father Lerotholi: Yes, we do believe we have our ancestors who are closer to God and they can intercede on our behalf.
That is why we celebrate the Communion of Saints on November 1 when we remember relatives who passed on and make a special recollection of all of them.
But we also have some relatives we are not sure whether they could be closer to God and refer to them as the souls in purgatory. This is a place where they undergo cleansing before they can be closer to God.
LT: This brings me to the question of Saints. Do we have people who have lived among us who died and got the title of the Holy Ones or Saints? How do we know that they are saints?
Father Lerotholi: We have people who lived among us whom we believe to be Saints but they are not yet officially referred as such yet. One of them is the late Blessed Father Joseph Gerard who was from France but lived and worked here in Lesotho until his death.
However, there is a process that has to be followed before we can know for sure that he is a Saint.
There should be people who can testify that miracles happened after they prayed with his relic, a picture or something related to him and asked him to plead to God on their behalf for something they wanted and it was granted.
We take that as a miracle. We have a few good testimonies regarding Father Joseph. We pray for more miracles and God’s wisdom to make sure that we make the right decision.
LT: We have become a nation of seekers mainly because at times we find it difficult to understand why bad things happen to good people. What can you say about the current social, political and economic challenges facing the country?
Father Lerotholi: Only God has the answers. However, I know that he can communicate with us through the bible, through other people who can advise us or have miraculous revelations and through our own experiences or events we witness.
Not listening to advice by other people or to God when he speaks to us is our biggest problem. This could be out of stubbornness, pride or because we do not have a relationship with God to hear him when he speaks to us.
On the other hand, our failure to love, respect one another and remain people of integrity, to learn from our experiences and those of others, are just some of the factors pulling us down as a nation.
There is no aspect of life that is not addressed in the bible for us to assume there can be no solutions to some challenges. From social development, economics, poverty, diseases, to love, marriage, divorce and good governance, all these issues are spoken about in the bible. It’s just a matter of interpretation.
We need to pray for God’s wisdom and Grace, read and understand the bible and follow its principles. If we follow God’s principles, we can maintain his good order and become a society that is healthy in all aspects of life.
LT: Where can we start from to rehabilitate the nation? How can we achieve it?
Father Lerotholi: It is God’s will that we have stable families. By that, I do not only mean the husband, wife and children family system but also a well-structured family system that also recognises the important roles played by the extended family and local communities.
This societal structure has been disturbed and I agree there are some contributing factors, such as HIV and AIDS, poverty and climate change.
These are negative factors we should all pray for to turnaround the disturbing tide. As the Catholic Church, we are committing our prayers for this year until 2016 to the rehabilitation of families and united local communities.
We believe it is only God’s Grace that can change our challenging situations. While the world continues to change, continues to develop with new technologies emerging every day, we believe there is still hope because God does not change.
What we need to do is to return to him and in particular this Easter Holiday, and trust his ability to heal our families, our broken hearts and our country from the scourge of HIV and Aids and other diseases, poverty, distrust and disunity that exists in many spheres of our lives. We need God now more than ever before.