A mass was held yesterday for Roman Catholic cleric, Father Emmanuel Ribeiro, at the St Mary’s Queen of Peace parish in Highfield, Harare, ahead of the national hero’s burial set for today at the National Heroes Acre.
Another mass is scheduled for this morning, again at the parish where relatives and friends will have an opportunity to view the body of the national hero before it is taken to the national shrine for burial.
His burial will be consistent with health guidelines aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19.
Only 10 family members will be allowed and some priests from the Roman Catholic.
Head of the Roman Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Harare, Archbishop Robert Christopher Ndlovu, led yesterday’s mass in Highfield where a sombre atmosphere engulfed the venue.
Among those who attended the mass were the Holy See Ambassador Archbishop Paolo Rudelli, the representative of Pope Francis in the Vatican, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Harare Vicar General, Father Kennedy Muguti and several priests drawn from across the country.
Zanu PF acting national Political Commissar, Cde Patrick Chinamasa, who is also a Catholic, attended the mass.
In his sermon, Father Clifford Nhetekwa described Fr Ribeiro as humble and patient.
He chronicled his life, how he got inspiration from his parents, Francis and Hilda, both of whom were Catholics.
Fr Nhetekwa said Fr Ribeiro was a humble person who would always listen to everyone notwithstanding his social standing.
On Saturday, President Mnangagwa paid his condolences to Fr Ribeiro at the Highfield parish where he described him as an upright man whose dedication to country and duty was unquestionable.
President Mnangagwa said the decision to accord Fr Ribeiro national hero status was unanimous.
Fr Ribeiro, a renowned composer, novelist and nationalist, died last Friday at St Anne’s Hospital.
He was 86.
The President reflected on his interactions with Fr Ribeiro, who was a prison Chaplin during the time the President was on death row in 1962.
“There were four Chaplains, Fr Ribeiro, Fr Swift, Fr Nyahwa and Fr Mapondera.
“On a weekly basis they would come and pray with us as prisoners. On a weekly basis Fr Ribeiro would come to see us in prison. Among the four of them, only he would speak to us about politics and the liberation war, everyone else would stick to religious matters. This is where we connected,” he said. In his condolence message on Thursday, President Mnangagwa described the death of Fr Ribeiro as a great loss to the nation as he served Zimbabwe with distinction.
From serving in many rural parishes during the colonial era, Fr Ribeiro later on dedicated his life to catering to the spiritual needs of many freedom fighters, both those who were serving long prison terms and those who were unjustly condemned to death by the country’s erstwhile colonisers.
Apart from contributing to the reconstruction of the national struggle narratives, Fr Ribeiro also put his life, along with other missionaries, on the line as he fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe
In conveying the national hero status to the Ribeiro family last Friday, Defence and War Veterans Affairs Minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri described Fr Ribeiro as a friend, a gallant son of the soil, a freedom fighter, great researcher and theologist par excellence.
She said Fr Ribeiro assisted former President Mugabe and national hero Edgar Tekere to cross to Mozambique.
Minister Muchinguri-Kashiri said: “Fr Ribeiro saved President Mnangagwa when he was sentenced to death. He represented him and he was not hanged. He also helped with writing of our country’s history. He had so much knowledge about the events which took place during the war.”
Fr Muguti also said Fr Ribeiro’s life had so many folds.
“He had religious, social and political dimensions and his contribution spread into these areas. He had a balanced life. He would not shun politics but had a way of engaging. His engagement in politics was based on his Christian values. He worked to find Christ in all instances.
“As priests we had a close relationship with our old man. He would joke with the elderly, share life experiences with the young ones. He had a way of convincing the old and the young,” he said.
Fr Muguti said Fr Ribeiro had vast knowledge of music and transferred the church’s liturgy and spiced up his songs and up to now the songs are still inspiring.
He further said Fr Ribeiro had a relationship with the prisoners.
“He was a chaplain but few people understood the emotion that went through that position. At one time he had to pray for nine inmates before they went for hanging.
“He prayed and baptised them and it affected him emotionally and he composed a song. He was a friend to the prisoners.”
National Railways of Zimbabwe board chairman Advocate Martin Dinha said Fr Ribeiro was a moving library of the liberation struggle as he had so much information about the war and had experienced a lot.
“He died when we were in the process of carrying out research on the seven liberation fighters who were killed at Chinhoyi battle and extra judicial killings that happened during the Smith regime.
“He was a culturalist, very seasoned herbal therapist. It is deserving that he be accorded the national hero status. He enabled the escape of the late President Mugabe and saved President Mnangagwa from the gallows. He changed the course of the history of the country,” he said.
Renowned Roman Catholic hymns composer, Mr John Dzingai, said since the 1970s, they were composing songs together.
“We trained different musical groups. Fr Ribeiro wrote 24 hymns and introduced harmony and tonic in the church. He also introduced drums. To him, the African culture had to reflect in the church,” he said.
Fr Ribeiro’s relatives also praised him.
Mother, Mrs Florence Mashonganyika described him as a unifier, fountain of knowledge and a generous son.
Sister to Fr Ribeiro, Mrs Violet Mudhombo Binda, said she grew up with Fr Ribeiro and they were close.
“My brother was loving and loved serving God. I learnt a lot of good things from him,” she said.
Brother, Mr Alois Ribeiro said: “My brother enjoyed school. He socialised with people of different ages.”
Fr Ribeiro was born in 1935 in Chivhu and attended Kutama Mission, Gokomere, and Gweru Teachers’ College.
He studied Theology at Chishawasha Mission before enrolling for a Master’s Degree at Bloomington College of Music in the US.
Fr Ribeiro was trained at Chishawasha Mission from 1952 and was ordained on December 13, 1964.