Sebastian Cardinal Koto Khoarai OMI


The Prince of the Church is dead


The Catholic community in Lesotho is mourning the death at 91, of the country first Cardinal, Sebastian Cardinal Koto Khoarai OMI. The prelate died on Saturday April 17 at Oblates House in Mazenod succumbing to an undisclosed illness.

Cardinal Khoarai was born on September 11, 1929, in Koaling, in the diocese of Leribe. He was baptized at the age of 11; he later joined the religious congregation of the missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) founded by St Eugène de Mazenod.

He made his religious profession in 1951 and was ordained a priest in 1956.

In 1971, he was appointed vicar general of the Archdiocese of Maseru and parish priest of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Victories in the capital city, Maseru. In 1977, Pope Paul VI named him as the first bishop of the newly created Diocese of Mohale’s Hoek in southwestern Lesotho.

Cardinal Khoarai dies after serving the Mother Church with due diligence for 65 years. He was ordained Bishop on April 2, 1978 by the Archbishop of Maseru, Alphonsus Maria-Liguori Morapeli OMI. The co-consecrators were Joseph Patrick Fitzgerald, Archbishop of Johannesburg and Paul Khoarai, Bishop of Leribe.

Through Archbishop Morapeli, Khoarai’s apostolic succession goes back 21 generations to Cardinal Rebiba. Khoarai served from 1982 to 1987 as president of the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference, helping to make the Catholic Church the premier supporter of education in the country.

He officially resigned as bishop of Mohale’s Hoek in 2006, having passed the customary age limit of 75. But he remained as apostolic administrator of the diocese until Pope Francis accepted his resignation from pastoral governance in 2014, when he was 84 years old.

When Pope Francis created him a cardinal on November 19, 2016, Cardinal Khorai became Lesotho’s first cardinal. However, due to health conditions, the 87 year old Cardinal could not go to the Vatican for the consistory to personally receive the Cardinal’s red hat and the ring from the Pope.

In the 2016 consistory Pope Francis also accepted him as a Cardinal Priest with the titular church of San Leonardo da Porto Maurizio ad Acilia into the College of Cardinals.

On January 21, 2017, thousands of Catholics from all over Lesotho joined King Letsie III a – devout Catholic, to commemorate the installation of Cardinal Khoarai as the country’s first and only cardinal.

Cardinal Wilfred Napier of Durban, KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa led the celebration, which was held in Mohale’s Hoek. Following his death, there are 224 members of the College of Cardinals, including 126 Cardinal Electors – those eligible to vote in a conclave.

According to the Archbishop Tlali Gerard Lerotholi OMI, the late Cardinal was recently hospitalized due to an ailment that subsequently took his life.

He added that this is a real loss to the Catholic community as the late Khoarai was the first and the only cardinal Lesotho had, and also the founder of Mohale’s Hoek Diocese.

He said the deceased will be recalled for community engagement.

“He was highly engaged in caritas, helping the needy people nationwide. He passed away while he had a plan to build a church in Mohale’s Hoek, and that church is not yet complete so we should pursue his plan and ensure that the church is built to completion,” Archbishop Lerotholi said.

For his part, the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference (LCBC) Secretary, Father Mookameli Chale, said the late Cardinal will be laid to rest in his church in Mohale’s Hoek St Patrick’s Mission on May 4. He added that the church is yet to announce the status of the funeral on Thursday.

He said the late Cardinal pursued education from primary up to tertiary where he studied for Philosophy and Theology at the Diocesan St Augustine’s Major Seminary.

“This is a great loss for us. He was the most experienced leader of our church and we would consult him for guidance.”

The Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis has relayed his “heartfelt condolences” for the death of Cardinal Khoarai, OMI, in telegram sent to the incumbent Bishop of Mohale’s Hoek, Bishop John Joale Tlhomola SCP.

“Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Sebastian Koto Khoarai, I extend my heartfelt condolences to you and to the clergy, religious and laity of the diocese of Mohale’s Hoek.

With gratitude for Cardinal Khoarai’s witness of consecrated life as an oblate of Mary Immaculate, his longstanding commitment to the promotion of vocations to the priesthood and his dedication to the church’s educational apostolate in Lesotho.

I willingly join you in praying that our heavenly father may grant him the reward of his tireless labours and welcome his noble soul into the joy of his eternal kingdom.

To all who mourn the late cardinal’s passing in the sure hope of the resurrection I cordially impart my apostolic blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in Jesus Christ our savior,” Pope Francis wrote.

Cardinal is a priest or a bishop who has been named by the Pope to what is known as the Sacred College of Cardinals, so-called because it is a body, or college, of Church officials.

Membership bestows no heightened spiritual authority, but the cardinals have as their two chief duties assisting the pope in the government of the vast worldwide Church and, above all, electing each new pontiff whom they serve.

By ancient custom, they are called “Princes” because of the diplomatic status their position gives them and also because in previous centuries many of the members belonged to the great noble families of Europe. Today most Cardinals come from truly humble origins.

The central part played by the Cardinals can be seen in the origin of their name, from the Latin word cardo, meaning a hinge or pivot, denoting that they are the key counselors, or pivots, for the whole Church.

For many centuries, certain laymen were also made cardinals. This practice was finally abolished in 1917 when Church law made it necessary for all cardinals to be “priests of outstanding learning, piety, judgment and ability.”

To add to the significance of cardinals in the Church, in 1962 Pope John XXIII commanded that each cardinal should be consecrated a bishop if he was not already one. The Pope, however, may permit a new cardinal to be appointed without episcopal consecration.

Today three types of Cardinals remain. Cardinal Bishops originated out of the actual bishops of the Suffragan dioceses surrounding Rome, the so-called Suburbicarian Sees – that is, the dioceses neighboring Rome.

Cardinal Bishops are senior members of the College of Cardinals who are engaged in full-time service in the Roman Curia. The patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches are also assigned rank among the cardinal bishops.

Cardinal Priests today are officials of the Roman Curia or bishops whose dioceses are outside Rome, such as the Archbishops of Chicago, Paris, New York and Mexico City.

They hold title to a particular church in Rome, a historical reminder of the earlier custom of the clergy of Rome participating in the election of the pope.

Cardinal Deacons are titular bishops assigned to full-time service in the Roman Curia or are theologians honored by the pope for their contribution to the Church. Cardinal Deacons are reminiscent of the seven deacons who once administered the districts of Rome and the deacons who assisted in the papal household. They hold title to assignment to one of the deaconries of Rome.

The Pope alone decides who will be made a cardinal. Any priest can be named to the college, and all new members receive a formal document, called a biglietto (literally “ticket”) informing them of the honor. They are then enrolled formally into the Sacred College through an elaborate ceremony in Rome called a consistory.

There is an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, according to Vatican figures. More than 40 percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America – but Africa has seen the biggest growth in Catholic congregations in recent years.

Africa has the world’s third largest Catholic population, after the Americas and Europe. Nearly one out of every five Africans about 19.2 percent is Catholic.

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