Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
I wish I could perfectly represent the beautiful welcome and love that we have encountered at each of the Oblate missions in Pella and Matjieskloof, South Africa and Gabis, Namibia. I have a remarkably even greater respect and love for our Oblate Sisters and Priests, who have truly shaped the faith of southern Africa in many places. Every town where they are present the far majority of the population is Catholic, and they are in some of the most remote and desolate places you can go. …And they went 100 years ago, before there were any comforts invented or cars to drive. They are inspiring.
The photo below is of all the students at Saint Joseph School in Gabis. It is by far the poorest of all the missions, and we toured their classrooms, their dormitories and refectory. The students sleep on bunk beds in rows, 60 to a room I would guess. They were so joyful and kind, it is a very special place. I hope this year that you will be willing to adopt this place in the desert and bind our parish to them in charity. They are so poor. But ask them to sing, they erupt in song and dance, singing about Jesus in parts with that beautiful African style. Such beautiful children.
While we were there I realized that only some of the 200 or so children had pillows—I asked one of the Sisters about it and she said that she just didn’t have time to sew them herself. Well, you know that collection we take up every year, “Pastor’s Choice”? We’re buying pillows and pillow cases for each child as soon as we can transfer money.
Our day in Pella was probably the most special. You will find some more photos on pages 8 and 9. The entire town of Pella turned out, several groups of students had prepared traditional dances, met us at the gate and led us to their beautiful cathedral. Several parish choirs from the region (one from Namibia) came and the singing was amazing. About 50 Oblate Sisters attended, including Mother General Francoise Bernadette and two Sisters from the Mother House in Troyes, France. Bishop Risi presided. Since its foundation, Oblate priests have served the mission both as bishop and pastors since 1875 until shortly after Bishop Risi came ten years ago.
After Mass the procession continued to the front of the new convent which we helped to build— we are included in all their thanks and prayers. Rooms are named after our parish, and a plaque on the front of the house thanks, especially, Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The house is nicely designed and built, with the Sisters’ little rooms situated around a small sunny courtyard. The singing continued, everyone was invited to tour the new house, and afterward the 300+ guests were invited to stay for lunch, a lunch that the Sisters and helpers cooked over fire for three days.
We gathered the following day, just our group from the U.S. and the Sisters, to dedicate the chapel with Mass. Hopefully we can put together a presentation of photos and videos that you can enjoy after we return. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know how important you are and how you have made a profound difference in the faraway land of South Africa.