September 13, 2015 / 10:51 AM / in 2 years

Murdered South African Catholic takes step to sainthood

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African school principal, bludgeoned to death 25 years ago for refusing to take part in a witchcraft-related ritual, was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday, moving him a step closer to sainthood.

Benedict Daswa, who was murdered by his fellow villagers in 1990, was named the country’s first home-grown martyr at the ceremony broadcast live on television.

“While his executioners were killing him, Benedict was on his knees praying,” a Catholic priest said during the ceremony in northern Limpopo province.

A letter from Pope Francis, read out by his envoy Cardinal Angelo Amato, declared Daswa would join the ranks of “The Blessed”, for his “heroic witness to the gospel, even to the shedding of blood”.

Daswa was killed after he refused to join villagers in consulting a traditional sorcerer about a lightning strike that burnt down several huts in Tshitanini, more than 500 km northeast of Johannesburg.

Violence broke out after the 43-year-old argued the strike was caused by the weather, not witchcraft.

The case against several people arrested for his murder was later dropped for lack of evidence.

The Church, which has a strong presence in the continent, has put a number of Africans, and people who worked there, on the path to sainthood.

Josephine Bakhita, a former slave from Sudan’s Darfur region, became her country’s first native saint in 2000.

Sunday’s ceremony comes four months after the Catholic Church beatified an Italian nun, Sister Irene Stefani, who cared for the sick and wounded in east Africa during World War One .

Reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa

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