By Petros Masakara
The untimely death of Fr Oskar Wermter, SJ, has left the Catholic Church poorer. Fr Wermter was undoubtedly a religious and social giant, and what is more – he was a prayer warrior.
I had known Fr Wermter for almost 35 years. He was my spiritual director, and over the years, he had become a family friend. He visited us quite often, and we amicably chatted for hours on end.
He was a prolific writer and an effective communicator. He wrote several books and I have with me two of them: Politics For Everyone and By Everyone: and – People, Power and Participation. He published Mukai/Vukani Magazine and Mbare Reports. He had a lot of interest in the publication of the magazine: Catholic Church News where he also wrote many articles.
Initially, I mainly interacted with him as a Catholic journalist. For some 15 years, Fr Wermter was the Social Communications Secretary at the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, at Africa Synod House. In that capacity, he interacted with the media quite often, clarifying the position of the Church on many issues and he appeared to be the voice of the Church. When I was at ZBC, I invited him to participate in various Radio and TV programs. I remember when the late former president – Canaan Sodindo Banana, made newspaper headlines by proposing that the Bible should be re-written, I invited Fr Wemter to partipate in a heated debate with Banana and some UZ lecturers from the Religious Studies Department. Fr Wermter acquitted himself well in the debate.
He actively participated in debates on social, political and cultural issues on radio and on ZTV. On one occasion, I invited him for a tv discussion on the Witchcraft Suppresdion Act. One of the panellists was the then ZINATHA President and UZ Vice Chancellor – Professor Gordon Chavhunduka. During the debate, Prof Chavhunduka alleged that there were many witches in Zimbabwe and that they were so powerful that they could fly from Harare to Masvingo and back to Harare the same night. Now Fr Wermter did not believe in witches and so he replied in Shona: ” Kuwona huroyi hwemumwe kureva kuti newe unahowo.” Kkkkk. On many occasions, he brought me tapes with the Pope’s Easter message for broadcast. I ensured that the Pope’s message was timely broadcast.
Fr Wermter believed that there were many false prophets in the country. The other day he drew my attention to a message on one of the trees in Glen Norah which read: “Huyai muwone muporofita anorapa zvese.” He laughed and said this must be one of the numerous fake prophets. How could he claim to be able to cure virtually every ailment?
Although Fr Wermter appeared soft, he gave vehement criticism – constructive criticism of how the government handled some political and social issues. He was particularly concerned about the plight of the poor, the downtrodden. He expressed his views verbally and in black and white. He emphasised that the media shoud say the TRUTH even if that hurts the powers that be. Occasionally, he clashed with politicians becaùse he was forthright; he called a spade a spade. And rest assured: the man could not be silenced.
He read widely and made a lot of meaningful research. He was ready to substantiate whatever statements he made.
As Catholic journalists, we formed ZICAMWA – Zimbabwe Catholic Media Workers Association, and Fr Wermter was our director. We held monthly meetings at Africa Synod House or at times, at Fr Wermter’s residence – Campion House. This group had the likes of Joyce Kazembe, Chris Mhike, Eddington Mhonda, Mike Hamilton among others.
Fr Wermter strongly felt that people should share information if they were to develop. My wife and I had been sent to Nairobi, Kenya by the Archdiocese of Harare to attend a workshop on Family Life Values. When we came back, Fr Wermter invited us to Mabelreign to share information with young couples. After our presentation, he organised a question and answer session. He then made arrangenents for us to meet couples in a few other parishes.
Zvaingokomborera kuita nguva uchitandara naFr Wermter. Pakagadzwa Bishop Dieter Shultz kuChinhoyi, Baba vakanditi handei tese kuChinhoyi tichikurukura. Pakakurukurwa.
So in short, Fr Oskar Wermter SJ was humble, industrious, transparent, forthright, participatory, tolerant and caring.
As if to bid me farewell, he phoned me some 3 weeks ago and invited me to come and meet his sister who had visited him from Germany…
Undoubtedly, in his work as a priest, he touched the lives of many people. The poor people – the downtrodden, commanded a warm and special place in his heart. His numerous writings bear testimony to his views. Go well Father Wermter! You fought a good fight. Go well Father!
By Petros Masakara