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John Bradburne recalled on anniversary of his death

By Sarah Mac Donald - 06 September, 2014

John Bradburne

John Bradburne

Courtesy Independent Catholic News – http://www.indcatholicnews.com

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the death of John Bradburne, poet, lay Franciscan, musician, a friend of lepers and all outcast and poor people.

He was killed by unknown assailant near Mutemwa in Zimbabwe, the leprosy village where he lived and worked.

There will be a special Mass for him there this Sunday. Up to 25,000 are expected to attend.

John Randal Bradburne was born on 14 June 1921 in Skirwith, Cambrian, the son of a Church of England vicar.

After secondary school in Norfolk he joined the army in 1939, and served in Malaya and Burma, before being invalided home. Something in Malaya – a conversion experience, it is said – turned him from adventurer into pilgrim.

He became a Roman Catholic in 1947 when staying at Buckfast Abbey. After some months with the Carthusians, he felt the urge to travel, and for 16 years wandered between England, Italy and the Middle East, living out of a Gladstone bag.

A charismatic figure, Bradburne once walked to Rome, lived for a year in the organ loft of a church and tried to live as a hermit on Dartmoor. He also served at Westminster Cathedral.

He wrote to his friend Fr John Dove in Zimbabwe asking, “Is there a cave in Africa where I can pray?”

Soon after his arrival, in 1962, he confided to a Franciscan priest that he had three wishes: to serve leprosy patients, to die a martyr, and to be buried in the habit of St Francis.

From 1964 he was caretaker of a new centre near Harare. Then in 1969 he was appointed warden at Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement, in Zimbabwe.

The single-minded loving care he gave the residents eventually brought him into conflict with the management committee.

He refused to put number tags around the patients necks and reduce their already small diet, so he was sacked. He then lived in a prefab tin hut, lacking water and sanitation, just outside the leprosy compound. From there he continued to help the lepers as much as he could.

As a lay member of the Third Order of St Francis, he obeyed its rule, singing the daily office of Our Lady. He lived its hours, rising at dawn for Matins and ending the day with Vespers and Compline. This discipline provides the context for many poems written at the turning-points of the day.

During the Zimbabwean civil war, his efforts to prevent exploitation of the leprosy patients brought local hostility and suspicion. Friends urged him to quit Zimbabwe as the war against white rule escalated in the late Seventies but he refused.

He was abducted and on Wednesday 5 September 1979, he was shot. His body was found by the roadside near Mutemwa.

At his requiem Mass, eye-witnesses saw three drops of blood fall from the coffin forming a pool beneath the coffin. The coffin was reopened, but no sign of blood was found.

Since his death many unusual events have been reported in relation to his name. His lasting legacy is that Mutemwa is now a place of pilgrimage, and there is a growing movement in support of his cause for sainthood.

The John Bradburne Memorial Society was founded in 1995 to support the work of the leper settlement.

Celia Brigstocke, director of the Society, is also leading calls for John Bradburne’s beatification.

Since Bradburne’s death there have been claims of at least two miraculous cures linked to him.

A woman in South Africa regained the use of her legs and a man in Scotland was cured of a brain tumour.

For more information see: www.johnbradburne.com/

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