Thursday, May 24, 2012

Apostle of Lesotho, Chapter Three

King Moshoeshoe was captivated by
the statue of Mary of Nazareth


What inspires that feeling between two men, each a giant in his own way, that reaches beyond respect and courtesy to become a true deep friendship such as the one shared by the King of the Basotho, Moshoshoe, and the French priest Joseph Gerard? From the very start these two loved and respected one another, although the difference between them could not have been more strongly marked.

King Moshoeshoe had been born in the 1780's in Menkhoaneng in the valley of the Hlotse, about twelve miles from the spot where this river joins the Caledon. He was the son of Mokhachane, the Chief of the Mokoteli, a branch of the Koena, and his first wife Kholu, the daughter of a neighbouring Fokeng Chief. His parents named him Lepoqo.

His height was slightly above average and he was well-built; an energetic, shrewd, ambitious man and a born leader. He gave himself the name of Moshoeshoe, the Shaver, after his first raid, on which occasion he captured the cattle of a neighbouring Chief, RaMonaheng. By taking his cattle he had shaved of RaMonaheng's beard, he claimed. The shweshwe sound of the latter two syllables of his nickname give the onomatopoeiac effect of shears cutting. Moshoeshoe was very proud of this story. The raid was the first of many and Moshoeshoe always won the encounters.

In 1822 the Nguni tribe attached the Basotho, Chiefdom after Chiefdom. As they had no Paramount Chief they did not unite and were vanquished. Some fled from the Caledon valley and sought refuge on the mountains the hills where nobody had previously wanted to live. After the raids, they formed the nucleus of the new Basotho nation under the leadership of Moshoshoe.

King Moshoeshoe allowed Bishop Allard to establish a mission station at Tlo-o-tle, about eight miles to the south of Thabu Bosiu. The settlement was named Mose oa M'a Jesu - the Village of the Mother of Jesus - and later became known  simply as Roma. 

Joseph had left the Zulu Mission of St Michael's in Natal after closing the Mission of our Lady of Seven Dolours on 15 October 1861. When they reached the beautiful mountain country of Lesotho, they first held a novena to Mary of Nazareth in a small hut at the foot of Thaba Bosiu, the King's mountain.

On the ninth day of their novena, 17 February 1862, they climbed the mountain. Moshoeshoe received them with hospitality and courtesy. He put the bishop and Joseph completely at ease. He was delighted to hear about their project to instruct his people. He sent them home to fetch their luggage and when they returned he ordered one of his sons to lead them to the site he had given them, later known as Roma Valley. They soon began to build their chapel and on 1 November of the following year they officially opened their church.

Joseph had become fairly familiar with the Sotho tongue, but three days before the opening he hid among the mountain rocks to collect himself before God and planned his sermon for the large and imposing audience. The king had told them to invite him to the opening and undertaken to speak to his people in their favour.

The King arrived at nine in the morning, accompanied by several of his sons and great number of horseman. The chapel looked its best. In the centre there was a beautiful statue of Mary of Nazareth, sent by Father Barret. The bishop celebrated a solemn Mass and two hymns in Sesotho were sung. Joseph rose to give his first sermon in Sesotho. After the sermon, the king asked to have his say. He spoke to his people at length. He told them that he had brought them a treasure, that they should seek the true religion. Calling his Chiefs by name, he instructed them to see that the church would always be full, that no harm should be done to the mission and that men and women should place their services at the priest's disposal.

During the sermon Joseph had said: "He that will believe and be baptised, will be saved." These words the kin now repeated. That evening the King again asked to be taken to the Chapel. He was captivated by the statue of Mary of Nazareth, the artistic remembrance of the woman from Israel and the Mother of Jesus the Christ. Joseph took the statue down and placed it in his hands. He wrote later to a friend that he hoped that the influence of Mary, 'our good and merciful Mother' would be with King Moshoeshoe.

That night a short service was held at the mission. This was also attended by the King. An ox was killed in the King's honour the next day, as a gala dinner from the bishop for the King. Joseph was touched to see how he shared out the meat among his people. There was a very humane and lovable side to this King, he thought. The King shook hands with the priests before asking one of the brothers, Terpent, to play a military march that had caught his fancy. Then he left.

The friendship between Joseph and Moshoeshoe grew in the years that followed. The Holy Family Sisters of Bordeaux arrived in Lesotho in 1865 and Moshoeshoe was delighted to meet them when he visited the mission. He invited them with the bishop and Joseph to Thabu Bosiu where the Sisters were seated on magnificent white lion hides. Tea was served and Moshoeshoe presented the reverend mother with a cloak made of tigerskin. Afterwards they shared dinner.

The visitors held a service of prayer and instruction and the Sisters sang the Ave Maris Stella. They prayed for peace. Joseph advised the King to place the nation under the protection of Mary of Nazareth.

On 18 June 1865 war was declared on Moshoeshoe. The King was visiting the mission when a messenger brought an ultimatum of war to the King of the Basotho. Moshoeshoe asked the missionaries to pray and Joseph took him into the chapel where he handed the statue of Mary of Nazareth to the King who gazed at it with confidence.

During the month of August 1865 Thaba Bosiu was shelled for weeks. Father Gerard carried prayer and food to the King, passing through the army to do so. How he succeeded was a mystery to everybody concerned but it gained for him the lasting gratitude of the King. On 11 August the army appeared in Roma Valley. They began to shoot from above the wood where Joseph was guarding the baggage of the missionaries at the lower part of the forest. Joseph got into the tent of the wagon. The army reached a place beside the one where he was hiding. He could hear the orders from the general.

Several bullets whistled past him. He resigned himself and prepared to die. A great number of bullets bored holes through the wagon. Eventually the storm passed over and two Sisters, Mary Joseph and Mary of Jesus arrived, deeply concerned, to see if Joseph had had any accident.

On the remembrance day of Mary of Nazareth 15th August 1865, the fiercest assault on Thaba Bosiu was made by the Army. That day, hearing the noise of the cannons, Joseph ran to call Bishop Allard, who was with the members of the mission. All fell on their knees and offered Lesotho to Mary of Nazareth.

After a siege of two months, the army retired on 25 September 1865. During the siege Joseph had brought to the mission a large number of Basotho fleeing from the Army. They received hospitality and charity. Two old women, unable to run away with their relatives, received shelter. Joseph found another, at least eighty years of age, nearly dead of starvation, whom he carried to the mission on his shoulders. Two wounded Basotho were nursed by the sisters before they died a month later.

The first solemn baptism at Roma mission took place on 8 October 1865. The King was present and Joseph glowed with happiness. A week later the sisters opened their school and in December Moshoeshoe visited the site of St Joseph's College and was present as the first stone was blessed.

In the years that followed, the friendship between the two men continued to grow. By January 1870 Moshoeshoe's health was failing. At the pitso - Lesotho Tribal Meeting -  of 18 January he relinquished his Chieftainship and made arrangements about the care of his wives. Moshoeshoe planned to be baptised. Shortly before he was due to be baptised, on 11 March at 9 o'clock in the morning, after a long and deep sleep, a deep sigh shook his body and the people surrounding him realised he was dead.

Joseph was on the way to visit him when the news reached him that the King had died. 
"I experienced such a deep sorrow that I have never felt a greater sorrow in my life," he wrote later.
Minister Jousse and his colleagues performed the burial ceremony, and Joseph and the missionaries attended it, especially to honour the man who had done so much to promote Christianity in Lesotho.

*Photograph taken by Catherine Nicolette. With thanks to the sculptor for this exquisite work of art

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Apostle of Lesotho Chapter Two

Their host welcomed his guests

Joseph set about immediately to master two languages foreign to him; English and Zulu. He and Father Barret went to live in a Zulu village to learn the people's customs and language. Bishop Allard authorised them to establish themselves in the krall of Chief Dumisa, some thirty hours' travel from Pietermaritzburg. There were no roads or railways. The only mode of transport, ox wagons, proved too expensive for the missionaries. They left, accompanied by a guide. On the first day bad weather overtook them in the middle of a vast and almost uninhabited plain. They were forced to abandon their route to find shelter in a hut they had sighted from far. Their host, though poor, welcomed his drenched guests with kindness, fed them and allowed them to sleep in his hut for the night while their clothes were drying.

They were not to be left dry for long. At the crack of dawn on the next day they left and soon reached a small river, swollen by rain. With the water reaching to waist level, they crossed the stream. From place to place they met inhabitants, all of whom treated them with kindness and fed them hospitably.

On the third day they found themselves on the banks of the Umkomali River, a swift and deep stream, and wondered how to reach the other side. This is where the zimanga came in. They were excellent swimmers who would manufacture a bushel using reeds which had been strongly bound together. When someone wanted to cross the river, the bushel was cast into the water. The traveller would sit astride on the bundle, and would then move forward, taking care to keep balanced. Thus the top part of the body, or at least the head, would drift above the water. The zimanga would push the bushel from behind with one hand, then swim with the other and with their feet. Gerard described the crossing in a letter to his parents. Barret had anxiously watched Joseph's progress. No sooner was he a few steps into the water than the bark capsized. Upon a second attempt, Barret reached the opposite shore, though their maize grinder was lost in his shipwreck. A man started diving to recover it and succeeded in doing so.

By evening they reached a big kraal of some thirty huts. Their wealthy host arranged for them to be served with food. Next morning the two men rose very early. They crossed a high mountain to find themselves in an almost deserted part of vast forests, avoided by people on account of the many lions and wild animals roaming about. Joseph was enchanted by a small incident. The guide was walking ahead in order to prepare the way. Suddenly the priests could hear him speak to a bird, which was making a loud chirping noise and flapping its wings. The guide seemed to be encouraging it by talking to it.
"This is the honeybird," he called to the travellers. "The honeybird?" they repeated.
"Yes, this bird wants to lead us to a place where honey may be found."
The guide laid down his pack and told his companions to wait for his return. He followed the bird which kept flying ahead and chirping and then returning to him, as though to ask him to follow it. He had to abandon his search when the bird reached a steep rock.
Next day the guide was again called by a honeybird. This time he was more fortunate, bringing back a large quantity of wild honey. The two priests marvelled at the occurrence.

The journey ended without further incidents. They finally arrived in the great kraal of Chief Dumisa and went into his hut, to find him surrounded by about twenty young men, sitting in a circle, passing a pot of beer around. There was silence when the visitors entered. Then all the men greeted the two priests. One asked what they were looking for. The priests replied that they were representatives whose mission was to teach the people about God's affairs without asking for money.

Chief Dumisa received them hospitably. He put a hut at their disposal. All sorts of good were brought in to them. Then men, women and children came to have a look at their unusual guests. A goat, a gift from Chief Dumisa, was slaughtered and shared by the priests with their visitors. Then they were left to themselves.

A period of great activity ensued. Joseph built a small chapel, revealing a talent for the building trade. He also built a hut for himself and Father Barret. The first time it was a failure. The second attempt was more successful. When the rains became too heavy and penetrated the straw roof, he put up his umbrella and a goatskin. Then he would turn over and go back to sleep.

In September 1855 the two priests opened their chapel for the first time. A great number of people attended. The priests sang hymns and the Zulus began to hum along with them in a melodious sound. Joseph and Barret took French religious hymns and put Zulu words to them. The Zulus loved the litany to Mary of Nazareth because of the repetition of the words: "Pray for us".

Joseph had a gift for languages and became rapidly fluent in Zulu. He was able to preach and communicate fully with people. The mission was eventually suspended, and in 1862 Bishop Allard, Brother Bernard and Joseph set out on horseback for Lesotho. The magnanimous leader of the Basotho, King Moshoeshoe, had forged the people who had fled from tribal wars in the south into a single nation. He was an outstanding leader. It was here among the Basotho that Joseph would become a spiritual leader to thousands.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Apostle of Lesotho Chapter One

The devotion of the Gerards to Mary of Nazareth

ON MARCH 12, 1831, in the French village of Bouxieres-aux-Chenes, a little boy was born to a farming couple, the Gerards. At his baptism in the parish church on the following day, he was given the names Joseph Jean Charles.

Back at the farm, his proud mother opened out her arms to receive him back from his godmother and held him close to her heart, covering his soft little head with butterfly kisses. "Little Joseph," she whispered softly into his ear, "your soul is as white as snow today. May it never be sullied in sin." Her eyes must have misted as she pondered on her child's future the way all mothers of newly-baptised infants do.

No doubt she prayed that he might never yield to the many tempatations that would assail him throughout life. Little could she have guessed that this same helpless baby would grow up to become the Apostle of Lesotho, a tiny mountain kingdom situated six thousand miles away from Bouxieres and that he would become known by the Sotho name of Ramehlolo, which means Father of Miracles, on account of the many miracles God would work through his ministry.

Prayer and Meditation
From early youth, Joseph showed a love for prayer and meditation. Like all the other boys in the village, he became a shepherd for his father, herding cattle and horses; the perfect preparation for one whose mode of travel would always be on horseback in a country where cattle signifies the extent of a man's wealth. Taking care of his father's livestock, Joseph learned to regard solitude as a blessing and a privilege: an opportunity from God for prayer and meditation. In the fields Joseph had long conversations with God for he had become constantly aware of the Lord's presence everywhere. He also had an extrordinary devotion to the Blessed Virgin which lasted all his life.

The Gerards only left their village for an occasional pilgrimage to the shrine of our Lady of Good Help at Nancy, or to Our Lady's Shrine in Sion, which was cared for by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. These Oblates belonged to a young society of missionaries founded in 1816 by Father Eugene de Mazenod, a priest from Aix-en-Provence.

Joseph attended the village parish school run by Sisters, and was prepared for his first Holy Communion. Joseph eventually trained as a missionary at Notre Dame de l'Osier near Grenoble. After his training, he set out in May 1853 from the French coast for Africa on the frigate La Bell Poule, in the company of Father Barret and Brother Bernard.
They had a hair-raising journey. When they had left the Mediterranean Sea, the elements took over.
Instead of allowing them to sail south along the African coast as their itinerary dictated, the wind blew the unresisting frigate clear across the Atlantic, all the way to Rio de Janeiro in South America. Under sail once more forSouth Africa, they actually passed the Cape of Good Hope and wound up on the Isle of Mauritius in the Indian Ocena.

At Mauritius the three men were delayed for a number of weeks due to their inability to make more immediate transport arrangements. During this period Joseph met Father Laval, a great missionary in Mauritius. He offered his services as a deacon, and these were accepted by Laval.

Laval had organised baptised Christians of Mauritius into small groups of twenty to thirty. They were offered catechetical training, and in turn started leading groups. Natural leaders among them were identified by Laval. They began teaching Christians at various houses of prayer in the community. Laval visited these houses often. A number of the leaders became councillors who cared for the poor, sick and those who required spiritual assistance. They informed Laval of the most urgent needs and assisted him in the distribution of alms made up of church collections. The church of Port Louis, capital of Mauritius, which was spacious enough to hold 2 000 persons, was filled three times on Sundays. Father Laval had also built fifty chapels on the island.

This methodical approach to spiritual care impressed Joseph greatly, and made a lasting impression on his own future life as spiritual shepherd. When it was time for him and his companions to embark and leave for Africa, he said goodbye to Laval and departed.

On January 21, 1854, eight months after leaving France in La Belle Poule, the three companions arrived at Port Natal, Durban.  Joseph's first great sea journey was also to be his last, though he was only twenty-three years old. Three weeks later, Bishop Allard ordained him a priest in Pietermaritzburg and Father Joseph Gerard was ready to begin his priestly ministry which would last until his death on 29 May 1914.

*Artwork by Catherine Nicolette - please feel free to use copyright free for any worthy purpose

Apostle of Lesotho - Dedication

Catherine Nicolette;

The Gerard Family and Joseph Gerard had great devotion to Mary of Nazareth. Joseph left his home as a young man in order to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. His was an inspiring and interesting story. The booklet has been made available, in the form of modified blog posts. If you wish to read the entire booklet, please read the following blog posts as they become available;
- Father Joseph Gerard - Apostle of Lesotho


The booklet 'Father Joseph Gerard - Apostle of Lesotho' is dedicated to all missionaries, past and present who, like Father Joseph Gerard, have borne or are bearing the burden of the heat of the day. May his example be an inspiration and a source of perseverance to them all. The booklet was written in honour of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Lesotho in September 1988, and was dedicated to the memory of my beloved brother-in-law John Joseph Chappel, Born 4 December 1928 and died in 9 June 1988. May his dear soul rest in peace.

*Joseph Gerard passed on the Light of Christ by spreading the Good News

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A lit candle has been burning in remembrance for India

Lumiere Charity remembers those all in the tragedy of the recent ferry sinking on Brahmaputra River in Dhubri, Assam. Our thoughts are with all those who have lost their lives, for those injured, for their families and for all who have assisted in caring for the injured. A lit candle has been burning in remembrance for India.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mary and the Prophets of Israel


Mary of Nazareth's motherhood had been forecast by the prophet Isaiah (VII:14) when he predicted:
   ...the Lord himself shall give you this sign. Behold a
   virgin shall conceive and bear a son : and his name shall be
   called Emmanuel.

This prophecy, which could later be called to mind in Matthew's gospel (Mat I:23), was obviously not an obscure one to Hebrew scholars. It was unquestioningly recorded and faithfully accepted.

Graef 1963:4 points out that
   ... discussion centres in the Hebrew word almah, which
   is not the strictly technical term of 'virgin' but is
   roughly equivalent to our 'young girl'.

The prophet Micah (V;2), predicting the restoration of Israel through the Messiah, forecast that the "ruler in Israel would be born in "Bethlehem-Ephrathah ... a little one among the thousands of Judah", the town where Mary did in fact give birth to the Messiah.

Micah continues his prophecy by forecasting the conversion of the Gentiles after Mary has given birth to Christ:
   Therefore will he give them up even till the time wherein
   she that travaileth shall bring forth  :  and the remnant of 
   his brethren shall be converted to the children of Israel. 
                                                (Micah V:3)

In his gospel, the evangelist Matthew would later refer to the former of these texts when Herod's councillors relayed the prophecy to their king in the words:
   And thou Behlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least
   among the princes of Juda 
                                               (Matthew II:6)

In Chapter Six of the Canticle of Canticles (VI: 9, 10), Solomon sings praises, echoes of which are to be found in some Marian poetry, notably Francis Thompson's Assumpta Maria.

It is clear that the mother of the Messiah had been predicted from early times. Echoes of this promise of the Great One coming to earth to walk amongst us scatter their footprints across the Old Testament. Thompson, in his poem, draws on Biblical writing to speak of Mary as a figure of great strength.

The poem Assumpta Maria by Francis Thompson can be found in the following link;


Are you studying Mariology? Interested in Marian Poetry?  Do you want to know more about Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of Jesus?

Dayton University has the Mary Page, which offers a  multitude of options to learn more about this fascinating woman of Israel. The Marian Library/ International Marian Research Institute hosts the Mary Page. 
The Library is located at the University of Dayton, Ohio. It is an international centre of study and research on Mary. The Marian Library holds the world's largest collection of printed materials on Mary of Nazareth.
The University also has an academic programme.

You can find out more about Mary of Nazareth in the Marian Library as follows;

Mary in the Bible
Mary in History
Mary in Liturgy
Mary in Doctrine

Marian Prayers
Marian Meditations, Reflections
Marian Devotions
Marian Spiritualities
Titles and Invocations

Marian Poetry
Marian Images 
Marian Music
Marian Films and Videos
Marian Stamps
Marian Customs
Marian Flowers

Marian Apparitions
Marian Shrines

Mary and Women
Ecumenism/ World Religions
Mary and Justice
Mary and Controversial Issues

Marian Magisterial Documents
Marian Bibliographies
Mary and Multi-Cultural Studies
Book Reviews
Various Marian Documents
Research Collections
Children's Resources

Marian Organisations
Publications and Newsletters
Marian and Related Links

Frequently Asked Questions
A Dictionary of Mary


With thanks to