Visit to Lesotho

Source: District of Africa

Fr. Kimball with some faithful of Lesotho

 On 15th March our new volunteer, Brice Webster from the United States, and I set out for Ha Chaka in Lesotho. We stopped in the home of the daughter of Adelina, our translator, only to find out that she was not there but has been living in Ha Chaka recently. When we arrived in the village, she was hardly able to walk as she had a fall a few days before. She was disappointed that she would not be able to cook for us, so Brice was the main cook while we were there. Fortunately he is the oldest of twelve children, and knows how and is willing to pitch in when needed.

After offering Mass on the morning of the next day, I told the faithful that I would like to bring them by bus to the National Fatima Shrine of Lesotho in Ramanta for the centenary of the apparitions in Fatima. They were very excited to go and some of the older faithful said that they had been there before. I asked them if they knew why the shrine was there and none of them knew.

I stumbled upon the existence of this shrine when I was searching the internet for the proper Sesotho spellings of the greetings taught to them by Blessed Joseph Gerard. Reference to this was in the book that recently given to me by a South African diocesan priest whom I often visit since he privately offers the traditional Mass as often as he can. He had an extra copy of the diary of Blessed Joseph Gerard and had for a time both studied in Lesotho and served the missions there. One of these greetings is Ho roisoe Jesu Kriste (“Praised by Jesus Christ”) and the response is Le Maria ea se nangsekoli. Amen (“And Mary who has no sin”).

When we arrived at the shrine we met the priest in charge. I asked him if he knew why the shrine was in Ramabanta. He said that he did not know. I then asked him if he had heard the story of the chieftess, Maria Fatima Makopoi Appi, who converted and came up with the idea of building a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. He said that he heard of the story but did not know if it were true because nothing is written about it. I told him that I had found a written account of the conversion of the chieftess written by herself. He then introduced me to a grandson of the chieftess who happened to be there and who serves as the catechist. The catechist knew only some of the story of his grandmother’s conversion. He said that she was in charge of a large territory in Lesotho and that her conversion brought thousands to enter the Catholic Church.

Attached to this email is the chieftess’ account of her conversion taken from the book, They Heard His Voice, by Bruno Schafer (p. 191-197), which is translated from the original book, Sie hörten seine Stimme, written in German. A historical account of the shrine itself was written in French in Maria: Études sur la Sainte Vierge edited by D’Hubert du Manoir, S.J.  (Editions Beauchesne, 1976, vol. 5, pp. 188-189). This text was kindly and ably translated into English by Dr. Carol Byrne, Ph. D. These texts are currently being translated in Sesotho for publication hopefully soon for our faithful in Ha Chaka in time for the pilgrimage to Fatima Ramanta on 27th May.

Brice and I then went to see two hundred meter Maletsunyane waterfall and on our return our pickup truck (“bakkie”) got stuck in the mud in a large pool of water on a gravel road. We were surrounded by water so we could not push the vehicle ourselves without getting our feet in deep water and mud. Providentially, two good Samaritans came along just when they were needed and one took off his shoes, rolled up his trousers and pushed us out. We then made our usual pilgrimage to Roma were we prayed to Blessed Joseph Gerard to be able to continue the apostolic work he began in Lesotho.

After offering Mass in Ha Chaka we brought Holy Communion to our translator. The faithful inquired about three couples who wish to be married in the Church after having lived for years after a native African marriage ceremony outside of the Church. They said that it is difficult for them to do all the paperwork required for obtaining a civil marriage license before being marriage by our priests, but since we insist that it is necessary, they will do this. The problem is that the government only recognizes marriages by priests approved by the local bishop and we do not wish to risk angering the government by performing marriages without their authorization.

We then learned that the men who normally set up the tent for our Sunday Mass told the translator’s brother who organizes this, that he can do this by himself. He did not think that he could set up the tent alone, so sent us word that there would be no tent on Sunday. But we managed to find enough young men among our faithful and a few others so that the ten was set up after all. It took longer to set it up, but this gave the ladies time to clean our portable altar and side tables before the Mass.

A twenty three year old young man named Innocent spoke to me after the Saturday morning Mass asking if he could become a Catholic. He spoke good English. His parents do not practice the faith but his grandmother comes to our Masses. He will be trained by our catechist, though he said that it is far walk for him. He came to the Sunday Mass and helped to set up the tent.

After the Sunday Mass in Ha Chaka, seven faithful asked to be enrolled in the brown scapular. We gave out many brown scapulars there also. Some said that their scapular needed to be replaced etc. The Sunday Mass was very well attended. The tent was full and a record number of faithful received Holy Communion, over forty and many of them were children who had been baptized or made their first Holy Communion at our mission in Ha Chaka, named Our Lady of Fatima Mission.

In Maseru, Mass was offered in the afternoon during the sermon was on the brown scapular. The ladies of the Sodality of Saint Anne were given scapulars a few months previously and asked for an explanation of the scapular the next time that I came. The church was nearly full for the Mass since many more sodality members and faithful, all women except for one young man wearing a blue sash, attended. Nearly all received Holy Communion and two ladies asked to be enrolled in the Brown scapular. We forgot to bring scapulars there so many were disappointed that they could not receive one after the Mass. Hopefully we will be able to distribute them at the next Mass in Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho.

On Monday we brought Holy Communion to David, the paralyzed boy, as usual. He was very happy to see us and Paul, a great nephew of Adelina who recently converted from Anglicanism, acted as translator for David’s confession. They are both about the same age of 18-20 years old.

Next we went to see the local chief to ask for a letter from him to the king so that we could meet him. Our faithful told us that this is the normal procedure. His wife told us that such a letter was not necessary but asked us for a written account of the story of the shrine of the conversion of Maria Fatima Appi and the shrine she founded in Ramabanta. She heard that I has spoken at Mass about these things. She is a Catholic and her husband the chief has attended our Mass at least once.

We then went to the residence of the king of Lesotho to try to make an appointment to speak with him about our mission and to invite him to our pilgrimage Mass in Ramabanta, but the chief there told us that we must ask for an appointment at his royal palace in Maseru. We waited a couple of hours there only to find out that we were in the wrong place. Our faithful had given us incorrect information.

On our way to the border of Lesotho and South Africa, we searched to find a bus company that could take our faithful down the rough road of Ha Chaka to Ramabanta, a drive of a couple of hours. Our faithful had brought us there on Sunday but it was closed. The security guard gave us a phone number to call, we I ran out of airtime. It is always best to speak in person in Africa so we tried to find the company again without the help of the little boys who had shown us the way on Sunday before the Mass in Maseru. After driving down several wrong road and on the point of giving up, we found the company again and obtained a quotation for a bus that could hold sixty-eight passangers plus fifteen standing. Seventy-seven of our faithful signed up to go on the pilgrimage to Ramabanta in May, so one bus will suffice. Though the ladies in Maseru said that they would like to come with us. I told them to ask their parish priest, Fr. Felix, first, because I did not wish to interfere in his parish where he lets us offer Mass. But they feared that he might not be willing to organize a pilgrimage for them. Fr. Felix asked for our information on the shrine etc. so that he could preach on its history when he goes there later this year. He was grateful to receive it when I later sent it to him.

We received a donation from the Philippines for our Lesotho mission, but this will not be enough to cover the expenses for the bus. We might also rent a van for the faithful in Maseru to come along. We invited our district superior to offer the Mass at the shrine and hopefully we will be able to bring enough young men to serve and sing at a sung Mass there. They have never had a sung Mass at our mission, though we have already been practicing with the faithful on how to sign the Kyrie.

 A pickup truck has recently been donated to mission for our use which will be delivered to our priory in Roodepoort very soon. It has extra seats so that we can bring along extra servers or friends of Adelina to visit her and help her and us while we are in Ha Chaka. It is a 1998 Nissan Sani with 265,000 km. But it is high enough off the ground to not scrape on the large rock protruding from the gravel road to Ha Chaka or get stuck in the mud puddles after it rains. Thanks be to God and Saint Joseph for continuing to take care of all our temporal needs!

Finally on our way back to Roodepoort, we visited a priest friend in South Africa who offers the traditional Mass very often who is supportive of the positions of our Society of St. Pius X.