Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
IN 60 years of service in the Lord’s vineyard in Zimbabwe, retired Roman Catholic priest Father Angel Arnaldos (84) has seen it all.
Decades of trudging through the most treacherous jungles largely infested with hungry lions, to surviving possible assassinations and dodging bullets during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle is surely no easy feat for someone whose only weapon is the Bible.
Fr Arnaldos who helped to establish a number of schools and clinics in Matabeleland North and Midlands provinces, solemnised 3 000 marriages and presided over 13 000 baptismal services in his career.
Born on July 8, 1936 at Molina Village in the south eastern province of Murcia in Spain, Fr Arnaldos is a staunch Catholic. During his childhood, he attended services under the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cartagena.
Fr Arnaldos, who believes he is a simple rural priest with a strong passion for God’s work and humanity, yesterday celebrated his 60th priestly ordination anniversary at St Antony’s Catholic Church in Bulawayo’s Barham Green suburb.
He arrived in Zimbabwe in July 1960 from Spain with one mission — to serve mankind. He was immediately deployed to St Mary’s Mission in Hwange District. However, his major challenge was the issue of communication. He could hardly speak local languages, neither could be converse in standard English. It was a mammoth task for him.
However, through his pastoral work in the community he served, the zeal and strong passion to learn new cultures and language, Fr Arnaldos learnt local languages, and in no time, he had mastered the art of speaking in Nambya and Nyanja.
Buoyed by his fluency in those languages, Fr Arnaldos started preaching in the indigenous languages. Throughout his 60-year-old active priesthood in Zimbabwe, he further managed to learn English and three other local languages — Tonga, Ndebele and Shona.
During his first missionary work in Hwange, Fr Arnaldos said in one of his pastoral duties while spiritually foraging in the forest in Musuna with a villager, they came across a lioness.
“When I was in Hwange, I used to travel the length and breadth of the district using a motorcycle as part of my pastoral duties. Because of the terrain, most of the time, I would leave my bike somewhere in the bush and proceed on foot,” he said.
“I remember at one time when I was in the company of a local villager during one of my spiritual forages after several hours of walking and climbing hills and mountains to access some area in Musuna Village, we decided to take a rest under a tree and took a nap. Upon waking up, we heard a roaring sound of a lioness a few metres way.”
Fr Arnaldos said his frightened escort held his hand tightly.
“I wasn’t frightened when I saw the lioness, but my escort was already sweating and I could hear his heart fluttering. I made a silent prayer asking God to spare our lives and reminded him that we were on a soul-winning mission and the prayer was answered,” he said.
In no time the lion disappeared and they continued with their journey.
He briefly served as a priest at Sacred Heart Mission in Victoria Falls before he was transferred to Kariangwe Mission in Binga district in 1964.
While in Binga, he was instrumental in the establishment of Kariangwe Mission, Binga primary and secondary schools. Fr Arnaldos also learnt Tonga language and the local culture resulting in him being “adopted” by a local villager who subsequently christened him Siankunku Munkuli.
“When I arrived in Binga, I immediately fell in love with the Tonga culture such that one old man christened me Siankunku Munkuli and that is my Tonga name. Siankunku means ‘the lover of chicken.’ He treated me as his grandson and in essence, I am a Tonga at heart, I love the language and the culture and when I am with the Tonga community I feel at home,” said Fr Arnaldos.
He said through his efforts, he mobilised funds for the construction of several schools in Siabuwa, Pashu, Dobola and Siachilaba in Binga District.
“I started the first primary school in Binga and also helped establish Binga High School. We ran the affairs of those schools and during my tenure at Kariangwe Mission, the school admitted the first group of female pupils,” said Fr Arnaldos.
He left Binga in 1973 and went to Cana Mission in Gokwe District in the Midlands and during that period the war had reached a boiling point. Fr Arnaldos said in 1974, he was taken by some guerillas and taken to a bush, about 6km away from the mission. The guerillas had been fed with wrong information by some local community members who alleged that he was a snitch planted by the Rhodesian government forces.
“The guerillas later realised that I was an innocent man and they released me after thorough interrogation. We eventually became friends such that I would even regularly risk my life by offering them a lift in my car in broad daylight oblivious of the dangers of being harmed or killed by Rhodesian forces,” said Fr Arnaldos.
“I turned out to be a reliable and dependable person they could count on me in terms of transport. I even provided them with intelligence regarding the area since I was now well versed with the surroundings because of the nature of my work as a missionary.”
Fr Arnaldos said soon after authorities got wind that they were supporting guerillas, Rhodesian government troops were deployed to the area and ordered the closure of Cana Mission Hospital and nurses and some patients were forced to flee.
“I connived with another priest by the name Father Joseph Mukwebo and we agreed to secretly reopen the hospital and we went to Bulawayo where we persuaded a certain nurse to assist.
“The hospital reopened and served the community and at night, the nurse would sneak out to treat injured guerillas hiding in the bush,” he said.
When Rhodesian security agents learnt that the hospital had reopened, they immediately descended on the facility and tortured the nurse and Father Mukwebo by electric shock under the feet before they shut down the hospital again. Fr Arnaldos managed to escape and resurfaced months later after the situation had calmed down.
“I left Cana Mission in 1991 and went to Sengwa where I was instrumental in the establishment of Sengwa Mission in Gokwe District under Chief Jiri from scratch. Today if you go to Sengwa Mission, there is a big church building, a hall and houses for the priest, nuns and workers,” he said.
Fr Arnaldos said he also mobilised funds for the construction of a clinic in Sengwa and the setting up of a nutritional community garden and the project is benefiting 80 families.
He retired in 2013 after serving at Sengwa Mission for 22 years and he is now based at St Antony’s Roman Catholic Church in Bulawayo offering pastoral advice to the priest. — @mashnets.