This secular Franciscan lived among lepers. Could he become Zimbabwe’s first saint?

Light of truth

British-born John Bradburne, who died in Zimbabwe 40 years ago, could be on his way to be-coming the country’s first canonized saint.

Bradburne is a revered figure among the Catholic community in the landlocked southern African country of Zimbabwe. According to reports, Bradburne was shot in the back after he was abducted from his hut in Mutemwa in the north-east of Zimbabwe. Born in 1921 to Anglican parents in Cumbria, England, Bradburne converted to Catholicism in 1947 while living with Benedictine monks, after he had a religious experience during World War II.

He lived after his conversion as a pilgrim, shuttling between England, the Middle East and Italy, living out of one bag. He was a prolific poet. Bradburne joined the Secular Third Order Franciscan in 1956.

He later made contact with Fr John Dove, a Jesuit friend living in Zimbabwe. Bradburne asked whether there was a “cave in Africa” where he could pray. Dove encouraged him to move to Zimbabwe, where he arrived in 1962.

In Zimbabwe, he told a Franciscan priest the three desires of his life: “to serve leprosy patients, to die a martyr, and to be buried in the Franciscan habit.”

In 1969, seven years after his arrival in the country, Bradburne’s desire to care for leprosy-afflicted patients was fulfilled, when he was appointed the lead caretaker at Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement, a center that cared for leprosy patients.

Bradburne spent hours with patients. He rose at 3:00 each morning, and washed patients, bandaged them, ate with them, and talked with them. Some of them he carried to Mass. But he clashed with leaders at the centre over the conditions in which patients lived, and eventually, he was fired.

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