KUDOS to my good friend, Petros Masakara, for writing a befitting obituary to Father Oscar Wermter SJ, who died on October 12, 2023 in Harare.
Wermter was my teacher, friend and spiritual guide. He was also an indomitable defender of the Catholic faith and champion of evangelisation.
To Greater Glory of God
When thieves broke into his office in Mbare and stole his computer and CDs, Wermter commented: “This will not discourage me. The spreading of the gospel must continue,” adding: “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” – the Jesuit motto which means “To the Greater Glory of God.”
Media, a weapon of evangelisation
Himself a journalist of note, Wermter believed in the efficacy of the mass media as an instrument of evangelisation. To him, the Sunday Mass was a limited platform for spreading the good news of salvation.
- Chamisa under fire over US$120K donation
- Mavhunga puts DeMbare into Chibuku quarterfinals
- Pension funds bet on Cabora Bassa oilfields
- Councils defy govt fire tender directive
Hence, he believed: “The church must come to the people. With the media — magazines, radio, television and videos — we enter many homes and meet many people we do not have a chance to meet otherwise.”
Like many of his Jesuit colleagues, the phlegmatic and soft-spoken Wermter, was a staunch supporter of the Liberation theology — the principle that the Catholic Church should be involved in the struggle for social justice. Liberation theology, widely popularised in Latin America in the 1960s, is a theological approach emphasising the liberation of the oppressed people of the world and the amelioration of socio-economic conditions to create a better life for the poor. Liberation theology also seeks to eliminate racial discrimination. Wermter embraced all these values.
Courage and tenacity
While he was an uncompromising defender of the basic tenets of the Catholic faith, Wermter had the guts to criticise colleagues or seniors whose personal views tended to dilute the basic principles of the church.
He criticised Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for his views on sexual abuse. Ratzinger, Wermter’s German compatriot, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, had expressed views that belittled the shattered lives of victims of sexual violence.
That was Wermter! He criticised those in authority when it was necessary to do so.
I remember when Pope John Paul II visited Zimbabwe in 1988, Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa tried to impose restrictions on the taking of photographs and the movement of people at the venues of the Papal masses.
Wermter rejected the archbishop’s attempt arguing that such restrictions would be contrary to the celebratory spirit of such a watershed event.
Even the late former President Robert Mugabe acknowledged Wermter’s courage and tenacity. In one meeting with his advisers where they were thrashing out the content of an official government document, Mugabe said: “Munyore zvataurwa na Wermter. Mukasadaro, munomuziva, haasi kuzonyarara,” meaning “You must include what Wermter said. Otherwise he won’t keep quiet. You know him.”
Eye to eye
Wermter and I saw eye to eye on many issues.
Together we analysed the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe.
Together, we analysed the global economic system and concluded that African countries needed foreign direct investment to lift their people out of poverty and backwardness.
We agreed that although the Bretton Woods institutions are instruments of Western hegemony, they are necessary partners in the development of the resource-rich African countries.
Wermter and I discussed and noted the decline of some institutions of the church in Zimbabwe notably the deterioration of infrastructure at the Chishawasha Major Seminary, Chikwingwizha Secondary School , St Ignatius College, Loreto Mission and St Luke’s Hospital.
Also of concern to Wermter was the running down of the iconic Mambo Press and its bookshops. His view was that just like in the State, there should be good corporate governance in the church.
Wermter was also concerned that the Catholic Church throughout the world is losing ground to the evangelicals. To counter this trend, he argued that the church’s Liberation theology agenda must be pursued more vigorously.
In September 1988, Wermter and I planned the electronic media coverage of the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Zimbabwe. The two of us did the live television commentary on the Papal visit during which the Pontiff celebrated mass in Harare and Bulawayo.
And finally, if anyone doubted my closeness to Wermter, suffice to say my third son, Oscar, is named after him.
Rest in eternal peace, Father Wermter!