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“Vagabond of God”: The beatification cause of John Bradburne

If all goes well, an English missionary who was killed during Zimbabwe’s civil war will be soon be named a saint.

Martrydom in Rhodesia

Perhaps it is best to begin John Bradburne’s  story with his death. In early fall of 1979, Rhodesia was embroiled in a 15-year civil war that was nearing its end. The war pitted the white minority ruling government against the military wings of two African nationalist parties, including the Zimbabwe African National Union led by Robert Mugabe.

Although they had not been told to do so, some of Mugabe’s soldiers captured Bradburne, an Englishman and World War II veteran who had served as caretaker of the Mutemwa leper colony since 1969. The rebels took him to their commander, who upbraided them for their action. They replied their prisoner should be killed because he was white and therefore an oppressor.

The commander retorted that their prisoner was well-known and loved in the surrounding district for how faithfully he had served not just the lepers but the area’s poor. Additionally, killing a white civilian would certainly bring down the wrath of the national security services, the last thing they needed at this stage of the war.

The commander and his men argued for hours. Finally, the commander demanded the prisoner’s release, and sent him away—ostensibly to his home—under guard.

It was the night of September 5, and as the soldiers escorted Bradburne back toward Mutemwa, their leader decided to disobey his commander. They pushed Bradburne to the side of the dirt road into the brush by a river. There, evidently knowing what was coming, the prisoner knelt for a while. Then, as he started to rise, the leader gave the signal to one of his men. That man emptied his AK-47’s magazine into Bradburne’s back.

The men later reported that at that moment they heard beautiful singing. Fearing it was nearby villagers, they fled, leaving the dead man’s body, although their intention was to bury it where no one would find it.

They came back later in the evening. At first there was silence. Then, as they neared the body, the singing began again, louder and seemingly closer than before. Again the rebels fled.

Later they returned a final time. This time three lights surrounded Bradburne’s corpse and ascended into the night sky—one red, another white, the last blue—and as the three rose, they fused into one.

Now thoroughly frightened, the panic-stricken soldiers from the scene, leaving locals to find the victim’s body after sunrise.


Read more at Catholic World Report. 

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