Bishop Williamson’s reminiscences of his trip to sourthern Africa at the end of 1999. Not the last we hope, My Lord!
The faithful remnant of Catholics is holding its own in southern Africa, and looks likely to do so for the foreseeable future. There as elsewhere, what Archbishop Lefebvre described in 1988 as the "Operation Survival" of the Society of St. Pius X is moving forwards, not spectacularly, but still forwards. That is the conclusion I draw from my recent three-and-a-half week visit to the Society's main centres in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and the Republic of South Africa.
The visit began with three full days in Harare, Zimbabwe. Out handsome church in the Strathaven suburb of the capital city was well filled for the Confirmations on the Sunday morning. Here as elsewhere. I recognized few faces that I could remember from the early 1980's. Obviously, people have gone, by death or emigration or whatever, but others have come to take their place. Lunch after Confirmations was held beneath a marquee in the Priory garden, and after lunch there was a conference on, amongst other things, the sinking of the "Titanic"! On advantage of touring is that the speaker can ride his favourite hobby horses in one location after another!
To conclude the afternoon, parishioners and children gave a concert in the Conference
Room of the also most handsome Retreat House, built in the Priory grounds since my last visit. How wise to provide for the Ignatian Retreats! The other great instrument of the apostolate recommended by Archbishop Lefebvre for our difficult times is children's schools. The children are not lacking in Harare. I was bowled over by some of them performing "Ag. Pleez, deddy, won't you take us to the drive-in?", song which I heard for the first time on this visit, and which I never stopped mentioning for the next three weeks -- a South African classic! A school for these Harare children may come, perhaps not tomorrow, because there is no room left on Priory grounds, but the day after tomorrow Providence will surely provide. "Ag, pleez, deddy, can you geev us a skool?"
Confirmations in St. Joseph’s Priory Harare
Next stop was Durban in the Republic of South Africa, where the Society is firmly established in the impressive down-town parish church and house set up years ago by Fr. Eldred Leslie and handed over by him to the care of the Society, also since my last visit. Well over 20 confirmations on the Sunday morning testified to the healthy state of the parish. Lunch was again held beneath a marquee set up in the spacious Priory grounds, but there was no conference afterwards. The people had, as Americans say, had it from both barrels in the mornings sermon, one hour in length, despite the heat!
Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Priory, Durban
The sultry weather meant a bumpy aeroplane ride that same evening to Johannesburg, where five of the Society's six priests presently stationed in southern Africa were gathered for a priests' retreat in the Society's fortress in Roodepoort. It is obviously a shame when the Church must barricade herself like she must now do in Roodepoort, but it is unavoidable when, as happened once recently, the gentle chant and prayer of Benediction were interrupted by gunshots which killed three criminals and wounded two policemen one block away from the Priory!
That marbled window and the brand new marble altar beneath it make the old Roodepoort school hall into an even more impressive church than it already was. How well-built that hall is, and the whole school building! I had thought it was the work of Afrikaners, but I learnt this time that it was another work of the British Empire. Ah, what a story that is! -- "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair", warned Shelley, as the mighty British Empire was rising to its zenith.....
The priests' retreat went quietly, with no interruption by gunshots, and then took place on the following Sunday the largest number of Confirmations in any one location on this tour, 29. The church was failed with people for the Solemn High Mass, with deacon and sub-deacon thanks to the presence of the priests. Afterwards there was a concert, provided again by parishioners and children of the Society's Roodepoort school. Highlights were the powerful singing of same Zulu Catholic hymns by Zulu parishioners, and a four-hand rendition on the piano of Rossini's Overture to "'The Barber of Seville". Catholics, bless them, have live music in them. How much preferable to canned music, however professionally the latter may be performed!
Confirmations at Roodepoort
After lunch i was again asked to say "a few wards". These came around, sure enough, to the crack of doom, whereupon, most appropriately, there were cracks of thunder from above. The corresponding threat of rain made the "few words" not excessively many!
From the Society's central bastion in Johannesburg (Roodepoort), the next stop was Windhoek amidst the wide open spaces of Namibia, formerly South West Africa. Here the Society has only a few faithful scattered between Windhoek, Swakopmund, and Otavi, but they gather together for an occasion like Confirmations in a little country church in Omaruru which is situated between those three cities. The language of the faithful is German, going back to the time before World War I when South West Africa was one of Germany's three colonies, and was served by German missionary priests. What those missionaries and colonists built up! Church and State in Africa have been living off their work ever since,
as will again be recognized when all the present "politically correct" nonsense has had its day!
Only two Confirmations this time in Omaruru, but of course the faithful drew strength from the visit. Archbishop Lefebvre used to say how important it was for dioceses to be small enough for the bishop to be able regularly to visit his people. Again, again, again -- where would Tradition be without the Consecrations of June, 1988? As for the Newchurch, it has gutted bishops in favour of its new fangled Bishops' Conferences, and these are doomed to sterility, because Our Lord instituted bishops, not Bishops' Conferences.
From Windhoek the next plane flew south to Cape Town, -- the fairest cape in all the world", said Sir Walter Raleigh. The weather was hot, but the sea and mountains are as beautiful as ever. Two weeks previously Cape Town had hosted a World Religious Congress, along the lines of the infamous Assisi meeting in 1986. I was told Cape Town has become one of the world's outstanding cities for the sin against nature. And I saw it myself full of tourists and holiday-makers of all races, not necessarily sinful, but certainly seeking fun rather than the salvation of their souls.
Is the beauty of the town and its surroundings, like that of certain human beings, a poisoned gift? "O don fatale", O fatal gift, sings the Princess of Eboli about her own beauty. The Society's congregation in Cape Town once numbered some 200 souls. Now it is down to some 70. Still, the Society there is making over a former post-office in Pinelands into a delightful little church, all our own, which I had the pleasure of blessing. It is devoutly to be hoped that our congregation will correspond to the brace of their new home, but one may fear that what passes for "the good life" all around them gets in the way of their taking thought for their souls' welfare. Beware, Capetonians! The scenically poor Johannesburgers God fills with good things, but you with your touristic wealth He sends empty Away?
Last stop on this tour was Port Elizabeth, where there were seven Confirmations, two more than in Cape Town, where three of the five came from one family. Port Elizabeth is another seaside town, but rather less glamorous than Cape Town. Our congregation seems correspondingly more fervent. They have, also since my last visit, made themselves a lovely little church out of a shop-building; spacious and well-placed. There was no time for anything more than sandwiches and coffee after the Confirmations and High Mass, but one had the impression of a happy and united parish. How parishes differ! One sees it from the beginning of the Church in the completely different way in which St. Paul writes to each of his churches.
Cape Town’s new chapel
So the Society of St Pius X nova has its own church building in each of these six main centres in southern Africa, and, more important, it has a small block of faithful to occupy each of those churches. Souls come and souls go, but the movement is forwards, not backwards. None of us knows how God will resolve the present on-going crisis of the Church. but if anyone looks in any of these six cities for the one true religion of the
one true God, he can find the faithful remnant. It is there.
Well done, dear friends. I look forward to my next visit.