04 Jun

Talk at the 109 commemoration of the death anniversary of Abbot Francis Pfanner, Servant of God. Abbot Francis Pfanner, the missionary pioneer in the last 200 years of the Church’s existence in Southern Africa.


Dear brothers and sisters, I am very happy that as we commemorate the 109 death anniversary of Abbot Francis Pfanner, the Servant of God, we are also celebrating the bicentenary of the establishment of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa as the Province of Mariannhill. You will agree with me that it is not easy to pay tribute to the member of one’s own family. One is always accused of lack of objectivity and critical analysis. Moreover, the topic that I have been asked to talk about is difficult.

To talk about Abbot Francis as a “pioneer” is very easy because he developed so many projects in various monasteries where he worked, including saving many lives in Tre Fontane, Rome, where he planted Eucalyptus trees to save people from the malaria epidemic.

But to talk of Abbot Francis as a “missionary pioneer” is difficult because we all know that he was a Trappist and died a Trappist. When Abbot Francis and the 30 monks descended in South Africa, Dunbrody, in 1880 their primary task was to introduce the contemplative spirit into the local church. They had to perform this function under the guidance of the strict Benedictine motto of Prayer and Work, “Ora et Labora,” which was accompanied by austere silence and a cloistered life.

As I prepared this reflection I remembered a booklet I had read, called The Bicentennial Celebration of the Church in Southern Africa. This is the booklet the SACBC put together to mark the bi-centennial celebration of the Church in Southern Africa. It describes the difficulties and challenges that Fr. Johannes Lansik, Prefect Apostolic, Bishop Bede Slater, OSB, first Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Patrick Raymund Griffith and many others faced as they tried to establish the Church in the Cape Colony from 1805. It informs us that there was a lot of religious and political intolerance at a time. Strangely the booklet concludes by saying that “It was not until 1880 that the first Southern African Mission in what is today South Africa was successfully established by the Trappists”.

The story of Prior Francis Pfanner began at Dunbrody in the Eastern Cape. That is where our story as Mariannhillers and CPS began! The famous quotations of Abbot Francis, “If no one goes, I will,” “Unload! We stay here. Here we will build the Monastery,” “Run so as to win the prize” all show that he was a man of action. He was not afraid to take risks and to start new things (pioneering spirit). That relentless missionary/pioneering spirit has contributed a lot to make the Church in Southern Africa what She is today!

I was pleased to hear Archbishop Buti Tlhagale O.M.I mentioning Abbot Francis Pfanner as one of the pioneers of evangelization in South Africa during the celebration of bicentenary existence of the Church in Magalliesburg on the 22 April 2018. At the beginning of his homily the Archbishop quoted Pope John Paul II in the encyclical Ecclesia in Africa, Church in Africa, where he says “It is appropriate to pay profound homage to the missionaries, men and women, who devoted themselves without counting the cost, to the task of transmitting the torch of the Christian faith”. He mentioned a few influential individual religious men and women who played a critical role in the establishment of the Church among whom was Abbot Francis Pfanner. I invite you to rise and pray in silence as a way of honouring all those missionaries who gave their lives for the missions!

We are lucky to be the happy inheritors of that marvellous adventure and we joyfully pay our depth of thanks to God. We do that being fully aware of what Bishop Stanley Dziuba, the local ordinary of this diocese, said when reflecting on the role played by missionaries: “We stand on the shoulders of the giants, the many missionaries from Europe whose work can still be seen by the many schools and clinics that bear the names of the saints”.

Indeed, Abbot Francis Pfanner and his companions did contribute to the rapid growth of the Church in the 20th century. They made a major contribution in the area of spiritual development, quality education, health care, agriculture and social welfare. Through their engagement they helped to improve the healthcare and quality of life of our people. They used three tools that are missing so much in our society today: Prayer, Work and Silence/Discernment! In one of his writing Abbot Francis Pfanner wrote “silence is conducive to turning inward….and more surely and easily teaches one to see into the inner-self and to raise one’s heart and mind to God”.

Imagine if the whole world took some quiet time to discern on its action through prayer and meditation! Many atrocities of violence (e.g. in Congo, Israel and Palestine) would be avoided. We live in such a fast moving world which does not accord us time to take stock of our actions. People do not want to work hard or to listen to the views of others. They want fast cash, fast self-enrichment, fast foods, fast Wi-Fi, fast …fast! The spirit of hard labour, commitment and sacrifice has totally diminished as people live on government grants and from bribes and criminality to sustain their lives.

Have we forgotten that through the schools that Abbot Francis and his contemporaries built, many political and social leaders of the time were formed – including in the area of the conscience? Through the foundation of the CPS community and later on of the FSF community of Assisi, the role and dignity of women religious and women in general was acknowledged and upheld.

The missionaries fought the apartheid system by founding multiracial schools whereby black and white children could mingle together as one. They promoted human rights by giving life skills to our people on how to save money, how to grow produce in their fields, etc. The motto and spirit of Fr. Bernard Huss is still valid and a challenge for today “Better fields, better homes and better hearts”.

This motto promoted a holistic development of the person. Abbot Francis and his companions knew that if our people had enough produce and harvest from their fields, decent homes to live in, then their family and society would be at peace! They would be ready to receive the Word of God. Maybe that is why they succeeded to convert the Zulu people as compared to missionaries who had tried before them. As we say, the way to the heart of a Zulu man is through his stomach. Abbot Francis loved the local people he ministered to. Again and again he used to remark about how strong their physique was, their legs and teeth were, as compared to “the wobble legs of a European”.

Abbot Francis wrote one day; “When the heart is at peace, it is easier to pray. Everyone whose heart is at peace can look down to the bottom and can see God Himself in his heart so clearly that it is easy for him to talk with God”.

These and other virtues of Abbot Francis are what made the Church to be what it is today: his strong zeal for mission, readiness for sacrifice, innovative spirit of trying new things, not being afraid to have a different opinion, even against the whole group (he was not a pleaser at all – he believed in his convictions/vision), spirit of service and fortitude. Although he died a monk he longed to do mission in various places and to expand his mission to the other parts of Africa and even to China.

Before his death, when the Zimbabwe mission had just been established, he remarked, “How I wish I was still young….” The ever willing spirit to engage in labour is one of the legacies that Abbot Francis left us and the Church of Southern Africa.

Furthermore, in all he did, Mother Mary and St. Joseph were his pillars of strength!

My dear brothers and sisters, it is not enough to sing the praises of Abbot Francis and of all our pioneers. As we recognize the contributions of our pioneering missionaries, we must feel challenged ourselves to emulate them or to even do better if we can. Many social ills and challenges that people of Abbot Francis time faced have not subsided yet. On the contrary people are more than ever before obsessed with the love of money and material goods.

Even the communities of consecrated life are not immune to these problems. People ask what’s there for me before they participate in any charitable task. This love of money and material things will be the next biggest scandal the Church will have suffered, after that of sexual abuses. Lack of adequate accountability for the donations that were entrusted into the hands of the Church will cause an embarrassing scenario.

In addition, there is an increase of false prophets in our country. They are not only out there. Even in our Church we have people who twist the Gospel values for their own gain. Some of the laws that we make in our parish even contradict the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Miracles are gaining more favour over faith and deep spirituality. We put so much emphasis on physical healing as opposed to deeper faith. As a result the faithful are prepared even to eat snakes and drink paraffin and be sprayed by doom to receive quick physical healing. We are faced with so many inequalities, so much racial divisions, xenophobia and human trafficking in our societies and Church. Our Church is not so keen on engaging openly in the field of these social ills. Racism is a sacred cow: everybody knows deep down that it exists, but nobody wants to talk about it. Instead of being prophetic we have become so repulsive and silent.

Our people are faced with the critical issues of food security and global warming; we must claim our leadership role in these areas. We must be the ones to lead the campaigns for cleaning our environment and filthy cities, roads, etc., as this dirt and pollution cause adverse negative con-sequences to our world. Littering is a big problem in South Africa. I was almost hit by a bottle on N3 because our people still throw garbage from their moving cars.

Finally, do we have to be violent and destructive to infrastructures when we strike or express our grievances? What happened to the peaceful demonstrations? Who burns a library while demonstrating against lack of educational infrastructure? A building that provides services and knowledge to community! Who burns commuter taxis, trains and trucks while complaining about lack of transport? Who burns a University while demonstrating about “fees must fall”? When they fall, where will the students go for their classes? Sick society! How can the Church be so silent when corruption is so rampart in every sphere of our society?


 Dear friends, as I conclude this reflection I wish to quote Archbishop Buti Tlhagale O.M.I who, in his homily in Maggaliesburg, said “the giants that we recall today suffered persecution, diseases, poverty, discrimination, rejection, persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Their commitment was their path to holiness. They shared fully in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the example and legacy they have given us.

Pain and suffering, success and failure are an inevitable part of our Christian life. The founders of our Church lived a life of charity to the full. Some never returned home. They taught us the meaning of the Eucharist – the body of Christ himself, the real presence of the resurrected One. Those men and women have shown us the light of Christ.

It is up to us to choose light over darkness. We owe all our missionaries homage and gratitude. “The Catholic church contributed immensely towards the building of this country. We owe those before us a huge debt of gratitude for the quality of life we have now”.

As a sign of honouring these giants, I invite all of us to play our part as prophetic religious missionaries of our time. Let us not sit down lazily while the people of God are yearning for guidance and for good example, for seeing what it means to be true Christians.

Through the intercession of Abbot Francis Pfanner, our missionary pioneer, may God grant us courage to rise and be counted as we fight the religious and social ills of our time!

Long Live the spirit of Abbot Francis Pfanner and his brothers!
Long Live the spirit of Mother Edmunds and the CPS community!
Long Live the Spirit of the FSF Sisters of Assisi, our nieces!
Long Live the spirit of the CMM priests and brothers!


Issued at Mariannhill Monastery on the 25th May 2018, Africa Day!


04 Jun

2018 Pilgrimage to Emaus

This year it was the 109th commemoration of the death anniversary of Abbot Francis Pfanner, whose process of beatification is under way. It took place on the 26th of this month of May and was celebrated within the frame of the 200 years of the Church’s existence in Southern Africa.

The number of pilgrims is increasing year after year. This time the organizers had to use a huge tent to accommodate the crowd since the church has now become too small.

As usual, the day began with the stations of the cross. Most of the pilgrims climbed the mountain, this to walk in the footsteps of Abbot Francis himself who prayed the stations every day. This was followed by the celebration of the Eucharist outside. It was presided this year by the CMM Provincial Superior of the Mthatha province, which had many participants coming from far away.

Naturally, the pilgrims also took time to go to the memorial room where Abbot Francis died, and pray to obtain the graces dear to their heart through the intercession of the great missionary pioneer Francis Pfanner.


25 May

Thanksgiving Mass for the Work of the 93 Years of Service of St. Mary’s Hospital, Mariannhill

18th of May 2018, at 10.00 a.m.
The celebration was presided by Cardinal W. Napier, OFM

 Tribute was paid to:

  • Religious Congregation of the Mariannhill Missionaries -Priests & Brothers (CMM) who in 1925 built the St. Mary’s Hospital on their property and gave the Hospital to the CPS Sisters’ Congregation. Up to now the CMM Congregation has provided Spiritual Care to the Hospital and have assisted in whatever way they could.
  • CPS Sisters’ Congregation whose members administered and worked in the Hospital from 1927, partly up to the present.
  • Donors/Benefactors for their relevant contributions.
  • South African Government, KwaZulu Natal –Department of Health (DOH) for their Financial support in the form of Subsidy etc.
  • Hospital Management & Staff
  • Negotiations Task Team
  • Trustees

It was a sad and at the same time emotional day as the last Catholic hospital in S.A., was handed over to the government under KZN Health Department. During the Eucharist celebration the assembly gave thanks to God for all who had served the hospital with zeal, sacrifice and diligence. All also prayed that the new management will continue to serve the people of the area with dignity and respect while upholding the value of life from conception until natural death.

26 Sep

Emaus Heritage Papers:

Two new publications In the series Emaus Heritage Papers:

The Veneration of the Sacred Heart in Mariannhill
By Fr. Henry Ratering, CMM

Who is Fr. Bernard Huss
By Fr. Adalbert Balling, CMM


They can soon be ordered from:
The Repository
Mariannhill Monastery
P.O. Box 11077
Mariannhill 3624
Republic of South Africa
Phone: (27) 031. 700. 4288
Fax: (27) 700. 4244
E-mail: monasteryrepo@ionet.co.za


13 Oct


A member of our congregation, Fr. Engelmar Unzeitig, has been recognized officially as a saintly person last September 24 in a ceremony during which he was declared BLESSED. In the following article Fr. Yves La Fontaine CMM explores the ministry of Fr Engelmar Unzeitig CMM, who died in Dachau concentration camp, and his significance for our times in the Year of Mercy. Fr Engelmar was named “the Angel of Dachau” and “Martyr of Charity.”



Mercy in hell? Is this possible? When I watch TV reports on the massive destruction of the senseless war of Syria, read about human trafficking and modern slavery, see the awful and endless tragedies of refugees on my screen, I am distressed with indignation – as many of you must be. Then comes the question: where is God in our barbarian world? The same question was asked about the Nazi concentration camps.

As Benedict XVI said at Auschwitz: “In the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature!”

Yet, in spite of such unspeakable deeds, as a newspaper said, there were angels there. God’s messengers! One of them was Fr Engelmar Unzeitig, CMM, a member of my congregation, who was beatified last September 24. I have decided to take him as my angel of God’s mercy. Yes, an angel in the hell of Dachau!

Soon we will celebrate Mission Sunday, permeated this year by the distinct light of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. It invites us to consider our missionary task as “a great, immense work of mercy.” We are all missionary disciples, asked to go out and generously offer our knowledge, creativity and experience in order to bring the message of God’s boundless tenderness and compassion to the entire human family.

Our Christian God is rich in mercy indeed. He wants us all to experience his love. But only a personal experience of his most generous tenderness will make us announce his mercy, “the beating heart of the Gospel” (Misericordiae Vultus, 12). There is no alternative to this. It is there that we find our missionary mandate: in our being stirred to the depths of our beings by Christ’s mercy. Only then are we able to live it and make it known to all, whatever our situation, our capabilities or age – each one according to his vocation and in his or her way.

The greatness and power of our God reveals itself precisely in his capacity to identify with all in all situations without any distinction, especially with the marginalised, the poor and destitute. He involves himself tenderly in our human reality just as a father and mother do in the lives of their children. It may even be better to talk of his motherly love, a love coming from the womb.

Words, words, words! This, in a way, is our world. But we would do well to remember that the most eloquent way to speak in our age is not in words but in actions. Fr Unzeitig gave his all, his strength, talents, time and energy, willingly and joyfully, for the sake of others, the neediest in particular. In him we see a concrete image of our Mother-God’s extreme mercy.

Fr Engelmar feeds us in many ways with God’s abundant mercy. He was just 30 when he was sent to Dachau in 1941. His crime? He encouraged his parishioners to be faithful to God and to resist the lies of the Nazi regime, showing thus that he was in no way a racist. He took the initiative to study Russian to be able to help the influx of prisoners from Eastern Europe. And when a wave of the deadly typhoid fever swept through the camp, he and 19 other priests volunteered to do the impossible: to nurse prisoners in the barracks affected by the epidemic, bathing and caring for the neediest, consoling them, praying with them and offering them the last rites.
This profoundly human and priestly response was an almost certain death sentence – for Fr Engelmar did die from this disease on 2 March 1945 at the age of 34. No wonder that he is called “the Maximilian Kolbe of the Germans,” but also the “Angel of Dachau,” and “Martyr of charity.” His inmates bore magnificent witness to his holiness. One said of him: “He im-pressed me immediately, for he was radiating simplicity, humility and modesty as well as a constant inner joy.” Another declared: He “was the personification of love. More I cannot say about him. That is what he was: Love!”

The treatment of the priests at Dachau was unpredictable.
Sometimes they were allowed to worship; at others they were severely treated. On one particular Good Friday, dozens of priests were selected for torture to mark the occasion. Here one can only guess at the kind of unimaginable atrocity and horror he and others faced every day. Yes, Dachau was hell on earth.

How to explain then that Fr Engelmar did not become deeply depressed, even insane, in this inferno? He found sustenance in God’s own mysterious presence, in his tremendous faith in God’s goodness and in his service to the neediest.

Fr Engelmar was simple, humble and modest, and recollected. Even innerly joyful! How could he applause and acclaim God’s goodness and see everything as a grace while all that appeared around him indicated that this was the triumph of evil. His writings confirm this. He was a missionary at heart, blessed with a truly saintly life! A God-given gem!

In the light of these events we are faced with an inescapable challenge: are our hearts wide open to let that grace disturb, trouble, stir and foment the innermost depths of our life? It is useless to know and even admire a saint if we do not even come close to wanting this connec-tion… and even wanting to imitate the saint.

As I am saying this, I feel terribly ashamed when I consider the compelling message of Pope Francis. He reminded that we are all called to “go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.” Are we willing to learn to “love as our God loves us and make of our lives a free gift, a sign of his goodness?”

For this to happen, we need to convert from the smugness, insensitivity, even indifference, in which we shut ourselves away in our contemporary world, with all its human misery and tragedy, situations that call for our personal involvement in acts of compassionate mercy.