Talk at the 109 commemoration of the death anniversary of Abbot Francis Pfanner Servant of God.
Abbot Francis Pfanner, the missionary pioneer
in the last 200 years of the Church’s existence in Southern Africa.
Fr. Bheki M. Shabalala CMM Provincial Superior
Dear brothers and sisters, I am very happy that as we commemorate the 109 death anniversary of Abbot Francis Pfanner, the Servant of God, we are also celebrating the bicentenary of the establishment of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa as the Province of Mariannhill. You will agree with me that it is not easy to pay tribute to the member of one’s own family. One is always accused of lack of objectivity and critical analysis. Moreover, the topic that I have been asked to talk about is difficult.
To talk about Abbot Francis as a “pioneer” is very easy because he developed so many projects in various monasteries where he worked, including saving many lives in Tre Fontane, Rome, where he planted Eucalyptus trees to save people from the malaria epidemic.
But to talk of Abbot Francis as a “missionary pioneer” is difficult because we all know that he was a Trappist and died a Trappist. When Abbot Francis and the 30 monks descended in South Africa, Dunbrody, in 1880 their primary task was to introduce the contemplative spirit into the local church. They had to perform this function under the guidance of the strict Benedictine motto of Prayer and Work, “Ora et Labora,” which was accompanied by austere silence and a cloistered life.
As I prepared this reflection I remembered a booklet I had read, called The Bicentennial Celebration of the Church in Southern Africa. This is the booklet the SACBC put together to mark the bi-centennial celebration of the Church in Southern Africa. It describes the difficulties and challenges that Fr. Johannes Lansik, Prefect Apostolic, Bishop Bede Slater, OSB, first Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Patrick Raymund Griffith and many others faced as they tried to establish the Church in the Cape Colony from 1805. It informs us that there was a lot of religious and political intolerance at a time. Strangely the booklet concludes by saying that “It was not until 1880 that the first Southern African Mission in what is today South Africa was successfully established by the Trappists”.
The story of Prior Francis Pfanner began at Dunbrody in the Eastern Cape. That is where our story as Mariannhillers and CPS began! The famous quotations of Abbot Francis, “If no one goes, I will,” “Unload! We stay here. Here we will build the Monastery,” “Run so as to win the prize” all show that he was a man of action. He was not afraid to take risks and to start new things (pioneering spirit). That relentless missionary/pioneering spirit has contributed a lot to make the Church in Southern Africa what She is today!
I was pleased to hear Archbishop Buti Tlhagale O.M.I mentioning Abbot Francis Pfanner as one of the pioneers of evangelization in South Africa during the celebration of bicentenary existence of the Church in Magalliesburg on the 22 April 2018. At the beginning of his homily the Archbishop quoted Pope John Paul II in the encyclical Ecclesia in Africa, Church in Africa, where he says “It is appropriate to pay profound homage to the missionaries, men and women, who devoted themselves without counting the cost, to the task of transmitting the torch of the Christian faith”. He mentioned a few influential individual religious men and women who played a critical role in the establishment of the Church among whom was Abbot Francis Pfanner. I invite you to rise and pray in silence as a way of honouring all those missionaries who gave their lives for the missions!
We are lucky to be the happy inheritors of that marvellous adventure and we joyfully pay our depth of thanks to God. We do that being fully aware of what Bishop Stanley Dziuba, the local ordinary of this diocese, said when reflecting on the role played by missionaries: “We stand on the shoulders of the giants, the many missionaries from Europe whose work can still be seen by the many schools and clinics that bear the names of the saints”.
Indeed, Abbot Francis Pfanner and his companions did contribute to the rapid growth of the Church in the 20th century. They made a major contribution in the area of spiritual development, quality education, health care, agriculture and social welfare. Through their engagement they helped to improve the healthcare and quality of life of our people. They used three tools that are missing so much in our society today: Prayer, Work and Silence/Discernment! In one of his writing Abbot Francis Pfanner wrote “silence is conducive to turning inward….and more surely and easily teaches one to see into the inner-self and to raise one’s heart and mind to God”.
Imagine if the whole world took some quiet time to discern on its action through prayer and meditation! Many atrocities of violence (e.g. in Congo, Israel and Palestine) would be avoided. We live in such a fast moving world which does not accord us time to take stock of our actions. People do not want to work hard or to listen to the views of others. They want fast cash, fast self-enrichment, fast foods, fast Wi-Fi, fast …fast! The spirit of hard labour, commitment and sacrifice has totally diminished as people live on government grants and from bribes and criminality to sustain their lives.
Have we forgotten that through the schools that Abbot Francis and his contemporaries built, many political and social leaders of the time were formed – including in the area of the conscience? Through the foundation of the CPS community and later on of the FSF community of Assisi, the role and dignity of women religious and women in general was acknowledged and upheld.
The missionaries fought the apartheid system by founding multiracial schools whereby black and white children could mingle together as one. They promoted human rights by giving life skills to our people on how to save money, how to grow produce in their fields, etc. The motto and spirit of Fr. Bernard Huss is still valid and a challenge for today “Better fields, better homes and better hearts”.
This motto promoted a holistic development of the person. Abbot Francis and his companions knew that if our people had enough produce and harvest from their fields, decent homes to live in, then their family and society would be at peace! They would be ready to receive the Word of God. Maybe that is why they succeeded to convert the Zulu people as compared to missionaries who had tried before them. As we say, the way to the heart of a Zulu man is through his stomach. Abbot Francis loved the local people he ministered to. Again and again he used to remark about how strong their physique was, their legs and teeth were, as compared to “the wobble legs of a European”.
Abbot Francis wrote one day; “When the heart is at peace, it is easier to pray. Everyone whose heart is at peace can look down to the bottom and can see God Himself in his heart so clearly that it is easy for him to talk with God”.
These and other virtues of Abbot Francis are what made the Church to be what it is today: his strong zeal for mission, readiness for sacrifice, innovative spirit of trying new things, not being afraid to have a different opinion, even against the whole group (he was not a pleaser at all – he believed in his convictions/vision), spirit of service and fortitude. Although he died a monk he longed to do mission in various places and to expand his mission to the other parts of Africa and even to China.
Before his death, when the Zimbabwe mission had just been established, he remarked, “How I wish I was still young….” The ever willing spirit to engage in labour is one of the legacies that Abbot Francis left us and the Church of Southern Africa.
Furthermore, in all he did, Mother Mary and St. Joseph were his pillars of strength!
My dear brothers and sisters, it is not enough to sing the praises of Abbot Francis and of all our pioneers. As we recognize the contributions of our pioneering missionaries, we must feel challenged ourselves to emulate them or to even do better if we can. Many social ills and challenges that people of Abbot Francis time faced have not subsided yet. On the contrary people are more than ever before obsessed with the love of money and material goods.
Even the communities of consecrated life are not immune to these problems. People ask what’s there for me before they participate in any charitable task. This love of money and material things will be the next biggest scandal the Church will have suffered, after that of sexual abuses. Lack of adequate accountability for the donations that were entrusted into the hands of the Church will cause an embarrassing scenario.
In addition, there is an increase of false prophets in our country. They are not only out there. Even in our Church we have people who twist the Gospel values for their own gain. Some of the laws that we make in our parish even contradict the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Miracles are gaining more favour over faith and deep spirituality. We put so much emphasis on physical healing as opposed to deeper faith. As a result the faithful are prepared even to eat snakes and drink paraffin and be sprayed by doom to receive quick physical healing. We are faced with so many inequalities, so much racial divisions, xenophobia and human trafficking in our societies and Church. Our Church is not so keen on engaging openly in the field of these social ills. Racism is a sacred cow: everybody knows deep down that it exists, but nobody wants to talk about it. Instead of being prophetic we have become so repulsive and silent.
Our people are faced with the critical issues of food security and global warming; we must claim our leadership role in these areas. We must be the ones to lead the campaigns for cleaning our environment and filthy cities, roads, etc., as this dirt and pollution cause adverse negative con-sequences to our world. Littering is a big problem in South Africa. I was almost hit by a bottle on N3 because our people still throw garbage from their moving cars.
Finally, do we have to be violent and destructive to infrastructures when we strike or express our grievances? What happened to the peaceful demonstrations? Who burns a library while demonstrating against lack of educational infrastructure? A building that provides services and knowledge to community! Who burns commuter taxis, trains and trucks while complaining about lack of transport? Who burns a University while demonstrating about “fees must fall”? When they fall, where will the students go for their classes? Sick society! How can the Church be so silent when corruption is so rampart in every sphere of our society?
Dear friends, as I conclude this reflection I wish to quote Archbishop Buti Tlhagale O.M.I who, in his homily in Maggaliesburg, said “the giants that we recall today suffered persecution, diseases, poverty, discrimination, rejection, persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Their commitment was their path to holiness. They shared fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the example and legacy they have given us.
Pain and suffering, success and failure are an inevitable part of our Christian life. The founders of our Church lived a life of charity to the full. Some never returned home. They taught us the meaning of the Eucharist – the body of Christ himself, the real presence of the resurrected One. Those men and women have shown us the light of Christ.
It is up to us to choose light over darkness. We owe all our missionaries homage and gratitude. “The Catholic church contributed immensely towards the building of this country. We owe those before us a huge debt of gratitude for the quality of life we have now”.
As a sign of honouring these giants, I invite all of us to play our part as prophetic religious missionaries of our time. Let us not sit down lazily while the people of God are yearning for guidance and for good example, for seeing what it means to be true Christians.
Through the intercession of Abbot Francis Pfanner, our missionary pioneer, may God grant us courage to rise and be counted as we fight the religious and social ills of our time!
Long Live the spirit of Abbot Francis Pfanner and his brothers!
Long Live the spirit of Mother Edmunds and the CPS community!
Long Live the Spirit of the FSF Sisters of Assisi, our nieces!
Long Live the spirit of the CMM priests and brothers!
Issued at Mariannhill Monastery on the 25th May 2018, Africa Day!
This year it was the 109th commemoration of the death anniversary of Abbot Francis Pfanner, whose process of beatification is under way. It took place on the 26th of this month of May and was celebrated within the frame of the 200 years of the Church’s existence in Southern Africa.
The number of pilgrims is increasing year after year. This time the organizers had to use a huge tent to accommodate the crowd since the church has now become too small.
As usual, the day began with the stations of the cross. Most of the pilgrims climbed the mountain, this to walk in the footsteps of Abbot Francis himself who prayed the stations every day. This was followed by the celebration of the Eucharist outside. It was presided this year by the CMM Provincial Superior of the Mthatha province, which had many participants coming from far away.
Naturally, the pilgrims also took time to go to the memorial room where Abbot Francis died, and pray to obtain the graces dear to their heart through the intercession of the great missionary pioneer Francis Pfanner.
18th of May 2018, at 10.00 a.m.
The celebration was presided by Cardinal W. Napier, OFM
Tribute was paid to:
- Religious Congregation of the Mariannhill Missionaries -Priests & Brothers (CMM) who in 1925 built the St. Mary’s Hospital on their property and gave the Hospital to the CPS Sisters’ Congregation. Up to now the CMM Congregation has provided Spiritual Care to the Hospital and have assisted in whatever way they could.
- CPS Sisters’ Congregation whose members administered and worked in the Hospital from 1927, partly up to the present.
- Donors/Benefactors for their relevant contributions.
- South African Government, KwaZulu Natal –Department of Health (DOH) for their Financial support in the form of Subsidy etc.
- Hospital Management & Staff
- Negotiations Task Team
It was a sad and at the same time emotional day as the last Catholic hospital in S.A., was handed over to the government under KZN Health Department. During the Eucharist celebration the assembly gave thanks to God for all who had served the hospital with zeal, sacrifice and diligence. All also prayed that the new management will continue to serve the people of the area with dignity and respect while upholding the value of life from conception until natural death.
On December 6, 2017, the Missionaries of Mariannhill in Colombia celebrated a memorable day. On the afternoon of that day the Missionary Center of Mariannhill of Bosa was inaugurated and its chapel blessed. The work that had begun many months earlier came thus to a happy end. But that same day another task began: i.e., to launch the missionary activity of the Center for the evangelization of all those who live in the populated neighborhoods around it. The driving force for this whole missionary project is Fr. David Fernández Díez, C.M.M.
Since the Missionaries of Mariannhill took over the parish of Our Lady of the Nativity located in the district of Bosa on the outskirts of Bogotá, the idea of this exciting project was maturing among them: i.e., to build a Missionary Center that would serve to welcome the elderly during the day, provide protection and education for children and adolescents, and also be a place for activities of the Afro-Colombians. The planned Missionary Center would also serve as a residence for the Mariannhill community that works in that parish and as a house of formation for future missionaries. The chapel of the Center would be at the disposal of the parish for liturgical celebrations.
Indeed, among the displaced people living in those populated neighborhoods are many elderly people who have had to leave their villages. Since there are no safe places for recreation in the area, these elderly people are forced to stay in their homes all day. Many of them still live in fear and every stranger is viewed as a potential enemy. For them the Missionary Center was thought of as a home where they could spend the day and socialize, living with others and feeling welcome and safe.
Among the displaced are also many orphaned and one-parent children and adolescents. They do not always receive adequate protection and are left on the street when their guardians go to work. Then these children and adolescents come to be the prey of the mafias, who are looking for people to swell their ranks, forcing them to work as hired assassins or coercing them into prostitution and blackmail. For example, we know that in a health center in the area there are 400 registered pregnant women and more than half of them are minors. The Missionary Center was also planned for them as a place where they could go and be safe until their guardians return from work and where they could receive school support and a supplement to their diet.
The phenomenon of displacement encompasses huge areas of the country and all kinds of people, but it is hardest on indigenous groups and peasants. These are mostly Afro-Colombians. In addition to the problems that are presented to them as displaced people, they are torn from their lands and their cultural environment. In the city they are more isolated, and not always accepted. The Missionary Center was also thought of as a place for them, where they could find each other and protect, cultivate and live their cultural values.
As the saying goes, “Well begun, half done,”, the first thing that had to be done was to identify a piece of land where that exciting project could become a reality. The necessary steps were then taken and, by calling at many doors, the necessary means for the construction of the projected Missionary Center were collected. In October of 2016 the construction license was obtained and before the end of that same year, work, with all that that implies, began on the project. With the help of God, in twelve months the Missionary Center of Mariannhill could be inaugurated.
The blessing of the Missionary Center and of its chapel took place on the afternoon of the aforementioned December 6, 2017. The celebration was presided over by the Bishop of Soacha, Msgr. José Daniel Falla Robles. He was accompanied by the Bishop Emeritus of that diocese, Bishop Daniel Caro Borda, and Bishop Javier Pizarro Acevedo, who is the bishop of the Vicariate of Trinidad, where the Missionaries of Mariannhill are also working.
The following Missionaries of Mariannhill were present at the celebration: Fr. Thulani Mbuyisa, C.M.M., Superior General, Fr. David Fernández Díez, C.M.M., superior of the foundation in Colombia and soul of the project, and Frs. José Francisco Flores Zambrano, C.M.M., Jeremy Butawo Dube, C.M.M., Alexander Musau, C.M.M. and Juan José Cepedano Flórez, C.M.M. as well as Frater José Ferney Aragón, C.M.M. Mariannhill candidates in Colombia also took part in the celebration.
And together with them, the technical managers of the work attended the celebration. The project’s engineer, Mrs. Ana Vilma Gutiérrez, who had died a few days before of cancer [RIP], could not attend.
Lino Herrero Prieto, C.M.M.
Words of Fr. Thulani V. Mbuyisa CMM,
Superior General of the Missionaries of Mariannhill,
at the end of the celebration
“If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labour”. [Psalm 127:1]
There are many references in the Scriptures about buildings or about building houses. One of the most striking references is found in the Gospel of Matthew 7:21-28, the parable of the two builders. The one who obviously acted wisely is the one who constructed the house on rock. Of course Jesus uses this image to conclude his Sermon on the Mount and urges his listeners to not only listen to his words but also to obey them or put them into practice. The one who obeys him is like a person who builds a house on a rock.
For us Christians the Rock is Jesus Christ. He is the centre, the foundation, the pillar of all our constructions. Whether we build a family, a community centre, a church, a nation Christ must be our one and only rock and foundation. Without him, all is in vain! In Christ we find emotional and spiritual foundation without which even our most noble projects and desires rest on shifting sand.
We gather here in Bosa-Bogotá, diocese of Soacha, to open this community house for the Missionaries of Mariannhill, to bless this social and community centre that has been in the making for a number of years. Countless number of people have worked very hard to see this dream come to fruition. I cannot possibly mention everyone here and I will leave it to Padre David to mention the key stakeholders on this project. Mine is to give thanks to God for the inspiration behind this centre and in a special way to thank the previous General Government, our confreres in different Provinces/Regions who contributed generously to this building and our donors, especially Adveniat, for trusting us and for believing in us and in this project and above all for their contribution to the development of the people of Colombia.
Following our historic presence in Colombia, allow me to mention:
Our Bishop Javier Pizarro Acevedo [Bishop of Vicariate of Trinidad] for his invitation and welcome during these almost 10 years since the Missionaries of Mariannhill arrived in Colombia. Thank you Your Excellency for your friendship over all these years. Your presence here today is further proof of the strength of our partnership.
I want to thank the Augustinians Fathers: you have proved to be true brothers and companions to us. Since our arrival in Colombia to this present day you have provided all kinds of help, support and advice to us. There are no words enough to thank you.
To Monsignor Daniel Caro Borda (our retired bishop), thank you for your invitation and welcome to this diocese of Soacha and for your fatherly and brotherly care to our confreres since they arrived here.
To our present diocesan Bishop José Daniel Falla Robles. Your Excellency thank you for your solicitude and fraternal spirit. We hope that this partnership we have with you will continue to grow strong and God willing for a very long time.
This ceremony of today is a thanksgiving ceremony to God and to all who were instruments of God in building this simple, solid and beautiful building. As such I want to thank all of you and in particular: the engineers, advisers, architects, masters of works, artists and workers in general. By uniting your talents and efforts you have achieved such a work of art that will be admired by many.
But I also want and need to mention in particular the engineer Mrs Ana Vilma Gutiérrez. Your dedication to this project is something to be admired and only God will be able to thank and reward you in the right way and measurement. Knowing that you are going through a very difficult time in your life, I hope that my words of gratitude will be transformed into a continuous prayer that will always accompany you.
Dear Bishop, José Daniel Falla Robles, through you as Pastor of all people of this area and of this parish, I want you to know that this centre is further proof of our commitment to you and the local Church. May all those who come in this centre find in it communion, renewal and inspiration to be the type of Catholics that Pope Francis, who visited you recently as a “pilgrim of peace”. urged you to become, “builders of peace and reconciliation”.
To you my dear confreres. Every time I visit here I feel inspired, renewed and challenged in my own missionary vocation. Thank you for being faithful sons of Abbot Francis Pfanner who always sought new frontiers. Like him let us trust in divine providence and dare to go to the peripheries for it is there that we encounter Christ in the midst of the marginalized who hunger and thirst for the Gospel that liberates, consoles and empowers them to take their destiny into their own hands.
May our confrere Blessed Fr Engelmar Unzeitig, the martyr of brotherly love, to whom this chapel has been just dedicated, be your companion as you present him to the people of Bogota and the whole of Colombia as a symbol of love that is ready to sacrifice itself for another.
“If the Lord does not build the house in vain do its builders labour”.
With Mary the Mother of Mariannhill and our Patroness we invoke God’s blessings upon all those who live in this house now and who will live in it in the future and upon all those who enter it. May they find within its walls communion and peace and leave these walls ready to be people of peace, brotherly love and reconciliation. This is my prayer!
Fr. Thulani V. Mbuyisa, C.M.M.
ICON: the look that saves
I remember once reading that the important thing about icons are the eyes: both the eyes of the figure or figures that appear in it and the eyes of the person who looks at it. And when those eyes meet, an authentic religious experience that saves and strengthens takes place.
These reflections come to my mind when I observe the people who, as they pass in front of our new Missionary Center, keep looking up at it, and, giving free rein to my imagination, I see an infinite number of questions before my eyes.
I remember now what an old man told me when he came to the house to thank us for the beautiful building: “Every time I pass by this building I feel the need to look at it, and I always notice that something or someone looks at me from the inside. We needed a chapel in this area so much! This is the best Christmas present that the Child Jesus could have brought to us”.
When the people pass in front of the new Missionary Center and look at it, they make different gestures, but all of them positive. There are those who look at it and make the sign of the Cross; there are those who look at it and take off their hats or bow; there are those who look at it and remain pensive…. There are also those who look at it and ask themselves: “What is this? Are you going to put bells in that hole up there? What does that iron flower up there mean?”
If questions are always a sign of interest, much interest must be among the people of the place, since so many questions are asked.
How do you give a complete answer to them? What is the symbolic significance contained in the façade of the building? The façade expresses the idea of a home and the presence of a church or chapel. And both ideas are true. In the façade, a balcony with geraniums gives a touch of elegance and variety to the environment. At the top of it the belfry of the tower ends with a half open circle, which allows heaven to enter into the house. Underneath there is an open circle with the fleur-de-lis inside, forged in iron. All of them are Catholic and missionary symbols, which speak of the identity of the house and its inhabitants. They refer to our God who incarnates himself and to Our Lady, the Virgin Mary [fleur-de-lis], who welcomes him and gives him birth. It is the task of missionaries and, in this case, of the Missionaries of Mariannhill, to echo this mystery of salvation.
The Missionary Center as such is located on the ground floor. It consists of a chapel, which can be joined to a large room for conferences or meetings, and two offices. At the back of the same floor, there is a large room with the possibility of being divided in two, and a covered porch with a kitchen for more relaxed meetings.
The decoration of the chapel is a symbolic expression of the task that must be carried on from it. On the front wall of the sanctuary in imitation marble is a painting made by a street artist, symbolizing the solidity of rock. Being carved in rock highlights the silhouette of the Cross. All this makes us think that Christ is the rock on which our life is based. Christ is known throughout the Liturgical Year, so the contours of the Cross are illuminated with the colors of each liturgical season. In the center of the cross is the tabernacle, where Christ himself is truly and really kept under the form of bread, to be divided and shared. All this is symbolized by the hands breaking bread that are carved on the doors of the tabernacle.
The two pillars, one on each side of the front wall of the sanctuary, are decorated with pre-Columbian drawings. The artist chose them because, when he was making the ornamentation for those pillars, the pope was visiting Colombia and wore such drawings on his liturgical vestments. They allude to the task of inculturation that is linked to missionary work.
On each side of the front wall two polychrome wooden paintings may be admired, one representing Saint Ann, co-patroness of Mariannhill, and the other one representing Abbot Francis Pfanner, founder of this missionary family, and Blessed Engelmar Unzeitig, the missionary of Mariannhill, to whom the chapel of the new Missionary Center of Mariannhill in Bosa-Bogotá is dedicated.
At the base of the altar is the coat of arms of Mariannhill, which reminds us of our union with all our confreres of the Congregation, who, scattered throughout the world, offer with us the same sacrifice of praise.
And that praise is full of thanksgiving to so many organizations and individuals, known and anonymous, who have made the construction of this building possible by their contributions. It was a long, arduous and difficult task, but with God’s favor, the result is now there.
It is our hope that this new Mariannhill Missionary Center and community house will be an icon where not only looks will be exchanged, but also a place where both outsiders and insiders will make it possible for the people who live around this house and Center to have life and have it in abundance.
Fr. David Fernández Díez, C.M.M.