(Originally published on omiworld.org)
Photo: Bl. Joseph Gerard, OMIThe year 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Lesotho. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Mater Jesu Oblate Scholasticate at Roma. All was not a smooth sailing from the start! Indeed, it is always difficult to explain the Catholic Church’s popularity in Lesotho, despite its late arrival, and being looked at and treated as an intruder by the church that had been in Lesotho long before. It is equally difficult to explain the high percentage of people adhering to the Catholic faith – which is about 45% of the population.
The missionary personnel was also peculiar in more ways than one: First, Bishop Allard was a difficult personality. He was criticized from all directions. Some said he was naïve. At times, even Bishop de Mazenod seemed to have regretted his choice: “My dear Bishop, I hesitate before sending someone to you… you should realize that not everyone has the skin thickness of Father Gerard…” But 150 years later, seeing the amazing vitality of the Church in Lesotho, one cannot help but wonder: maybe he was the right man after all! He had faith, and he was a man of prayer. That was sufficient. What about Father Gerard? “Wise people” had some comments to make about him: “He is a bad organizer… He has no sense of time… He is always shabbily dressed…” On face value this was hardly a recipe for success. But how do we explain the huge impact that he has made, both in Lesotho and elsewhere? Surely, the dynamics of his popularity are not of this world – he is a saint!
The pioneer missionaries in Lesotho were followed by a strong contingent of Canadian Oblate priests and Brothers. They started arriving in Lesotho from 1930 onwards. The new Oblates were well prepared in many aspects of their missionary endeavor: studies, technical skills, medical certificates, etc. Even though they strongly opposed some customs and vehemently fought against certain practices which they found incompatible with the Christian faith, our predecessors in the work of evangelization did not waste their best energies complaining about the shortcomings. Indeed, they could have spent their whole lives observing whatever was out of tune with an upright life!
On the contrary, they chose to disseminate the treasure they possessed by spreading it with a joyful heart and testimony of life; serving all Basotho through innumerable initiatives in the areas of evangelization, social life, education, health, agriculture and many others. Our work of evangelization today is a continuation of that same work undertaken by our predecessors, and still uses the same means – prayer, good example in private and public life, friendship, sharing other people’s concerns, showing an authentic desire for their happiness, along with the conviction that there cannot be peace for the individual, family or society, without God. Like our predecessors, let us open our eyes to the good and, following Saint Paul’s advice, learn how to conquer evil with an abundance of good (Rom 12:21). (Maoblata, January 2012)
Editor’s note: Fr. Gerard was beatified in 1988 by Pope John Paul II