Project Canterbury

A Life in Order: The Memoirs of Brother Francis SSF

Brisbane: The Society of Saint Francis, 2003

[46] Chapter Six: Zambia

On St. Andrew's day November 30th, 1951 Fr Algy preached the sermon in Westminster Abbey at the consecration of two bishops, Ernest Shadwell as assistant bishop of Korea and our tertiary Oliver Green Wilkinson as Bishop of Northern Rhodesia, (now called Zambia). Br Denis records Oliver's sermon in his biography of Fr Algy (pages 191 and 192). The bishop expressed his desire for some SSF brothers to come and work in his diocese. Algy had already half promised his old friend, Bishop Strong some brothers for his diocese of Papua New Guinea, but he felt he could not refuse Oliver. However, it was not until 1954 that he was able to send Brother Joseph specially to help the Tertiaries of Southern Africa. When Joseph visited Ndola in the Copper belt in Northern Rhodesia, he was so appalled by the display of disunity in the church there, where churches of the different denominations were all crowded together in one place, that he decided to become a Roman Catholic. Algy suggested to Denis that he might replace Joseph, but Denis said that it would kill him!

Oliver wanted a brother to help establish a small community consisting of priests and an Anglican layman at the Chipili Mission in the North West of the country. It was to be called the Fellowship of the Transfiguration. It was not until after Algy's death on November 23rd 1955, that Denis, the new Minister, asked me to go out to Northern Rhodesia for three months. I travelled out on the Windsor Castle from Southampton to Cape Town in July 1959. We suffered from a three day sandstorm from the Sahara desert which covered us with dust. But what a magnificent view we had at five o'clock in the morning of the mountain range behind Cape Town as we entered the harbour.

Archbishop Joost de Blank of Cape Town, who had been a fellow curate with my brother at Bredon in Worcestershire, sent his car to meet me. The chauffer was careful to remove the Archbishop's flag off the bonnet before I got into the car. On Sunday I visited the church where Denis McWilliam was serving. He had visited the Abbé Couturier with me at Lyons. It was the first time that I had seen the first part of the Mass conducted away from the altar without vestments. A great loaf of bread [46/47] was brought up at the offertory, but wafers were used at the communion. I also visited the Cowley Father's house (S.S.J.E.). One of their African priests took me, illegally, to visit a very depressed area. I was shocked to see the way the Africans there were living in small prefabricated huts where the sand was overflowing into their front doors. Their gates and railings were completely covered with sand. They paid a pound a week rent. But I was thrilled to hear the children in one of the schools practicing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. A Cowley Father also took me to see their working men's hostel, most of whom had to leave their families behind in the Transkei or other African areas.

I was able visit the Ternaries in Cape Town, and admitted Mrs Ray Carter as a tertiary novice. Molly Lockyer was there, who had been in charge of our girl's hostel at Peckham. I then flew to Pretoria where I stayed with our Tertiary Marion Dacombe. She was staying with a woman who had been detained by the government for spreading anti-apartheid propaganda. From Pretoria I went to Grahamstown, a very Anglican-looking town, and gave a talk to the theological students there. Next I went along the south coast by bus to Durban to visit some Tertiaries living in the Indian area. From there I travelled by train to Lusaka, the Zambian capital, by train to stay with our Tertiary Oliver Green-Wilkinson, Bishop of Northern Rhodesia. He asked me to conduct two retreats, one for a group of catechists and the other for the Mother's Union, through an interpreter, of course. The Bishop then took me a two days' drive along tarred roads through the bush and some copper belt towns, and then through a part of the Congo along a road full of pot-holes to the Chipili mission in the North West province. On the way back to Lusaka we called at Broken Hill, where I took a retreat for businessmen. The first miners of the lead mines there had come from Broken Hill in Australia, and so had called it by that name, but the new (Zambian) government had changed it to Kabwe. Back in Lusaka I was asked to preach the sermon at the open air chapel dedicated to St. Francis at the fine new cathedral.

In September, with Canon Rogers, I flew to Fort Jameson on the East coast but we arrived an hour late because the pilot lost his way! I went on by bus to Malawi, requested by the saintly Bishop to take a retreat for the clergy, and then one for the lay workers of the diocese. I visited [47/48] some Ternaries on Lake Malawi which had some beautiful scenery somewhat like the Scottish highlands in character. We saw some hippopotamuses at close quarters, splashing about in the water of the lake. Back in Lusaka I was asked to preach the sermon at the dedication of the St. Francis open air chapel of the new cathedral.

Everywhere in Northern Rhodesia I found that white people, especially those who had come from South Africa were worried about the idea of Africans taking over the government. This was not so among the clergy, however. "They are not ready for it", they said. Anybody in favour of it was "starry-eyed". They wanted to have a united federation of Malawi with Northern and Southern Rhodesia. The Africans were not happy with such an idea. I felt strongly that a Franciscan presence could be of help in relieving the tensions there.

It was at the end of this year that my biography of Brother Douglas was published. It had been written while I was at Glasshampton and kindly revised by Fr Denis. It was published by A.R. Mowbray. When I returned to England I attended the SSF Chapter at Hilfield, hoping that it would agree to send at least one brother to help Bishop Oliver in Northern Rhodesia. Much to my grief the Chapter turned it down for the present.

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