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  • Michael Chalk

Is Zimbabwe about to get her very first “Home Made” Saint?

Amidst the myriad of challenges facing Zimbabwe, a tale of inspiration emerges from the life of John Randal Bradburne, a figure potentially on the path to becoming Zimbabwe’s first locally recognised saint.

John Bradburne, born in the UK in 1921, arrived relatively late to the land of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Educated at Gresham’s private school in Holt, Norfolk (incidentally, also attended by my younger brother, Peter, for a few years), Bradburne’s life was profoundly influenced by his strong Catholic faith.

During World War II, Bradburne volunteered for the Indian Army, serving with the 9th Gurka Rifles in British Malaya. After the fall of Singapore in 1942, he spent a month hiding in the jungle before trying to sail to Sumatra. He was shipwrecked on the first attempt but was successful on the second and was eventually rescued by a Royal Navy destroyer.

His post-war years in England were marked by a deepening commitment to his Catholic beliefs and, in 1956, he joined the Secular Franciscan Order, remaining a layman.

In the late 1960s, Bradburne accepted an invitation to come to Rhodesia as a missionary helper. There, in 1969, he founded the Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement near Mutoko, a community of leprosy patients abandoned by others. Despite being expelled from the colony due to a dispute with the Leprosy Association, Bradburne continued to minister to the lepers, residing in a tin hut just outside the perimeter fence for the last six years of his life.

As the Rhodesian Bush War was reaching its climax in July 1979, friends urged Bradburne to return to England. However, he chose to remain with the lepers. Accused by local informers, or mujibhas, of being a spy for the Rhodesian Security Forces, he was handed over to ZANLA guerrillas, who convened a kangaroo court to try him. Surprisingly, at the trial he was found not guilty due to the advocacy of the lepers and was offered refuge by the ZANLA guerrillas in Mozambique. He refused and instead asked to be returned to the Mutemwa Leprosy Mission.

On his return trip to the Leprosy Mission, he was re-apprehended by the mujibhas and two other ZANLA guerrillas, who ultimately shot and killed him on 5th September 1979.

Bradburne's legacy extends beyond his humanitarian work. A prolific poet, he left behind a staggering 6,000 poems, earning a place in the Guinness World Records for the most prolific poet in English in terms of lines of poetry. His output was almost double that of William Shakespeare!!

In July 2001, a petition for Bradburne's canonisation was presented to Archbishop Patrick Fani Chakaipa of Harare. The canonisation process is long and robust. Many years later, on 1st July 2019, Bradburne's cause for beatification was formally recognised by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, marking the completion of the initial stages of the canonisation process.

The subsequent stages of beatification and canonisation require evidence of miracles. In Bradburne's case, several extraordinary events have been reported which should help his cause for beatification being successfully completed. Firstly, eyewitnesses to his slain body have described his body being surrounded by beams of light, protected by a large white bird, and being chorused to by an invisible choir. Secondly, at his funeral which took place at the Cathedral in Salisbury five days after his death, his coffin was adorned with three white flowers, symbolising John’s profound belief in the triune Holy Trinity. During the funeral, three drops of fresh and bright blood, were observed to have fallen from the coffin to form a pool of blood on the floor. The blood was examined and found to be fresh and so could not have come from a corpse which was 5 days old. After the funeral, the coffin and body were returned to the mortuary and examined. No sign of blood on the coffin or on the body could be found.

These purported miracles should help progress John’s cause to successful beatification and canonisation.

Annual memorial services at Mutemwa attract up to 25,000 people, reflecting the enduring reverence for Bradburne. Special ceremonies marking the 30th and 40th anniversaries of his death were held in London and Mutemwa, respectively, further strengthening the movement to seek his beatification.

In the midst of Zimbabwe's challenges, the story of John Randal Bradburne shines as a beacon of hope and inspiration, reminding us of the power of faith and selfless service.

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16 mars
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Very interesting account of both John Bradburn’s service and the tragedy of Gukurahundi. Well written and informative. In Bradburn’s story, r revealed is the power and authority of mujibhas which usurped the traditional tribal authority.

Michael Chalk
16 mars
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You are dead right John. I am sure you would have come across them in Makoni TTL. In 1979 I travelled with some friends to the Inyangombe Falls. Rather foolishly we parked our car in the small car park at the top of the falls and then walked down the track to the falls. Predictably our presence had been observed by the mujibhas. While we were at the falls they preceeded to stone the car!! We came back to a car which was rather stoned!!! We reported the incident to the local police who immediately said the stoning had probably been done by the local mujibhas. They did actually investigate and a gang of youths were subsequently charged with damage…

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