Farewell Father Oscar Wermter

It is not usual for a protestant man to be close friends with a Roman Catholic priest, but that’s how it was between me and Father Oscar Wermter.

We were good friends. Usually Catholic priests are bent on converting protestants to Catholicism because they believe that protestants are not real Christians.

They don’t even allow them to attend mass with them and if they do, they don’t allow them to partake of the Eucharist.

This was not the same with Father Wermter.

He regarded me as a Christian and we often prayed together.

Our denominational difference did not matter.

We were friends who accepted each other as Christian.   

What brought Father Wermter and me together was our love for writing.

His writing reflected exactly what I would have written no matter what the subject was.

We were both out to change the world for the good.

One day, I was arrested for the third time for writing the truth in The Standard.

After spending three days in a filthy cell at Harare Central Police Station, I was brought before a court and the magistrate found me not guilty of committing any crime.

I took this in my stride since I sincerely believe that Christians should be prepared to suffer for the truth.

After I was freed I got together with Father Wermter.

 After shaking hands, he looked at me for a long time without saying anything.

Then, he said, “Pius, I wish all Christians were like you.” I felt humbled.

I first met Father Wermter at some book launch.

We immediately gravitated towards each other.

This was the beginning of our friendship, which lasted until he died.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend his funeral because I was not feeling well.

Father Wermter loved to come to our house for tea.

We would invite him together with Professor George Kahari, who was also a Roman Catholic who loved reading and writing.

Our discussions were mostly about how the government was ruining the country and how that was negatively affecting the people.

We also discussed articles, which we had written and things that needed to be written about.

Father Wermter was not concerned about social and political issues only.

He was equally concerned about the environment and believed that it was the duty of Christians to see to its preservation as one of God’s most precious gifts to mankind.   

Father Wermter loved the cakes which my wife, Winnie, baked.

After eating a few pieces, he would say, over and over, “You know, I am not supposed to eat things which are sweet because of my health. But, I just can’t resist Mai Wakatama’s cakes.”

Before Father Wermter left, he always asked us to pray.

He prayed for all of us, our families and his beloved Zimbabwe.

One day after saying, ‘Amen’ I crossed myself for the first time in my life.

Protestants just don’t do that. Father Wermter grinned happily while nodding his head in approval.    

Always, before he left, Winnie gave him two cakes to carry, one banana loaf and a chocolate or orange.

He loved our company so much that once in a while, he would call and say, “When am I coming for tea?” 

One day, just before he bade us goodbye, he asked me if I could write the foreword to his new book, Citizenship, conscience and the common good.

It was such an honour for me to be asked to do that.

 I read the book several times, not for writing the foreword, but because I so much enjoyed and empathised with it. It taught me many truths about the Christian life which I was not aware of.

 The foreword, which I wrote was straight from my heart.  

After writing the foreword, Father Wermter asked me to write a report on the work of the social communication department of the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA).

I was wowed. I am sure when the bishops read my report they must have thought that I was a Catholic because of my name, Pius, which was the name of the Roman Catholic Pope Pius.

I often wondered what the American fundamentalist evangelical missionaries, I worked with, would have thought if they had known that I was working for Catholic bishops who they all believed were all destined for hell because of their doctrines, which evangelicals took to be false.

Oscar Wermter was younger than me by three years.

However, because of his priestly calling, I called him, Father.

We both loved gossip and, like children, often mischievously talked about how stupid and foolish this or that minister or government leader was.

Father Wermter’s favourite injunction to priests and pastors was, “Don’t ask people to come to church.

“Instead, he goes where the people are for that is where God is.

“He does not live in man-made buildings, but among His people.”     

It was with shock and much sorrow that I heard that Father Wermter had died at Richart’s House where I last visited him, together with Prof  George Kahari, when he was sick.

Farewell, Father Wermter. Zimbabwe will miss you. Rest in eternal peace Baba Wermter.

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