By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
Will Zimbabwe soon have a recognised saint? This is not just a dream but may soon happen in the name of John Bradburne, the Strange Vagabond of God. This comes after the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops signed a letter of placet on the Cause of his Beatification on 30 April 2019. Ground work on the cause of John Bradburne has been going on for many years now with the John Bradburn Memorial Society and the Archdiocese of Harare pushing for the recognition of this martyr of faith whose blood was spilt in Mutoko in 1979.
The Bishops gathered in Harare where they met Dr. Enrico Graziano Giovanni Solinas appointed as Postulator to initiate the Cause of Beatification and Canonisation of John Bradburne. ZCBC Secretary General Fr. Fradereck Chiromba said people should immediately be made aware of this important step in the life of the local Church so that they pray for its success.
The letter of placet signed by the bishops read: “On 30 April 2019, before me +Robert Christopher Ndlovu, Archbishop of Harare and President of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the same Conference gathered in plenary session in the persons of the Most Excellent Bishops:
+Robert Christopher Ndlovu, +Alex Thomas, Archbishop of Bulawayo, +Michael Dixon Bhasera, Bishop of Masvingo, +Albert Serrano, Bishop of Hwange, +Paul Horan, Bishop of Mutare, +Rudolf Nyandoro, Bishop of Gokwe, +Raymond Mupandasekwa, Bishop of Chinhoyi,
who acknowledged about the request of the John Bradburne Memorial Society, represented by Dr. Enrico Graziano Giovanni Solinas, appointed as “Postulator”, to initiate the Cause of Beatification and Canonisation of John Randal Bradburne, Layman and Franciscan Tertiary, signing the present memorandum express their favourable opinion for the initiation of the above-mentioned Cause, also by virtue of the widespread reputation of holiness of John Randal Bradburne in Zimbabwe, both when he was still alive and after his death in Mutoko on 5th September 1979.”
Bradburne was shot dead at Mudzonga area in Mutoko by guerrillas who wanted him out of Mutemwa Leprosy Centre suspecting him to be a spy. Eyewitnesses said a mob of youths picked him up under cover of darkness, took his cheque book and radio.
Bradburne was born at Skirwith in the Eden valley in 1921 and was the son of an Anglican clergyman. According to the Independent Catholic News, Bradburne was received into the Catholic Church in 1947 and came to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe as a missionary helper in the 1960s where he became warden of the Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement.
The surviving lepers at Mutemwa Leprosy Centre confirmed that Bradburne became attached to them in compassion and love. Friends urged him to quit Zimbabwe as the war against white rule escalated in the late seventies but Bradburne refused.
The excerpts of the John Bradburne Memorial Society state: “During the Zimbabwean civil war, his efforts to prevent exploitation of the leprosy patients brought local hostility and suspicion. He refused to leave the place for safety and was abducted and on Wednesday 5 September 1979, he was shot.”
However, John himself had three wishes, to serve leprosy patients, to die a martyr and to be buried in the habit of St. Francis.
Local evidence has it that before Bradburne was killed he was taken to the guerrilla base in the Harare mountain in Gwaze area during the night where he was interrogated and made to sing Chimurenga songs and forced to eat sadza with okra (derere/idelele). His body was found the following day by the road side at Mudzonga area along Nyamapanda road in Mutoko.
The John Bradburne Memorial Society was founded in 1995 by his niece Celia Brigstocke to support the leper settlement. Celia also led calls for his beatification. Sadly, she died in August 2018, but her eldest daughter Kate Macpherson is continuing the work.
The John Bradburne shrine has been established at Chigona Mountain in Mutemwa where he used to climb and pray during his life time at the leprosy centre. Every year at the anniversary of his death, thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics throng the shrine to offer prayers and supplications and according to the documentary produced by ZCBC Social Communication, there are testimonies of healing and miracles from different people, proving that he was a holy man.