It is interesting to revisit methods used by Christian missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries as they spread the good news message of Jesus Christ to indigenous peoples.
Here we are not pointing out abuse scandals that have been exposed for example in the Canadian Residential School program. Rather, about cultural and colonial superiority and absence of respect for local religious traditions that were evident in the way the Christian faith was propagated in this era.
Lesotho is a landlocked kingdom encircled by South Africa. In the 19th century it was besieged by and welcomed Protestant and Catholic missionaries. One of the Catholic missionaries was Blessed Joseph Gerard, OMI (Oblate of Mary Immaculate). He sought to save the souls of the indigenous Basotho people by using the techniques of the day.
Today we talk about enculturation – adapting the message, rules and practices of Christianity so a local culture can see parallels with their own beliefs. This can work surprisingly well as the recent Book of Mormon play so aptly taught us.
In a candid and frank assessment, Fr. Bernhard Albers, OMI tells the story of Blessed Joseph Garrard’s strengths and weaknesses in his missionary work in Lesotho. This article made me both laugh and cry. It also reinforced for me that something really is happening here – the very successful work of the Holy Spirit.