By Gerard Gough

“MY PRESENCE in Scotland must be seen as an asset to the Church in Scotland, a gift from the Church in Zambia,” Fr Bernard Makadani Zulu, Missio Scotland’s Mission Development Co-ordinator, said during the course of our conversation. Fitting words for the season and Fr Bernard is indeed a man with plenty to give.

Beginnings

Born in 1967 to parents Macrina and Bartholomew—one of their four surviving children including sisters Mary and Agatha and his brother Joseph—Fr Bernard might not have expected to leave his hometown of Chipata and end up in the less than sunny climes of Scotland some 50 years later, but it seems from an early age that God’s plan was for him to live out his call to be a missionary to the fullest.

“After completing my schooling, I briefly enrolled in the University of Zambia, in education, specialising in Geography and English, but not too long after that I decided to leave to go to the seminary in 1989,” Fr Bernard explained. “I believe that was part of a growing desire within me. My father taught in the mission schools so I was brought up in an environment where I interacted with priests and sisters and catechists. So I felt a strong connection to the Church from a very early age.”

Called to serve

After his years of formation, the young priest didn’t have time to catch his breath.

Almost immediately after his ordination in 1996, he was appointed parish priest for Chadiza in his home diocese of Chipata, a move that he himself describes as ‘highly unusual,’ Not only that but his curate was a man who had been a priest for more than 40 years and his new parish covered an area in excess of 400 square kilometres!

“I owe the man who was my curate a lot of gratitude, because he gave me great support,” Fr Bernard said. “It was a ministry that called for maturity at a tender age, because the amount of work I had to undertake and the are we had to cover were massive.”

Around the same time, Fr Bernard was asked to teach in a Catechetical Training School. This was also a huge responsibility for a young priest given that Catechists are seen as a very powerful force in the growth and implementation of the Faith in Zambia due to their closeness to local communities. Parishes in Zambia are divided into out stations and the out stations into prayer centre constituting small Christian communities. The Catechists look after the out stations and often their funding comes from the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) and donations to its many worldwide branches, such as here with Missio Scotland.

“Out stations are places where a couple of times a year, priests will come and celebrate Mass,” Fr Bernard said. “It’s not easy, it’s not possible to have Mass every Sunday, so an out station will have Mass five or six times a year and during the other times they will have prayer sessions animated by prayer leaders or catechists. So in the absence of priests, the catechists take care of the life of the Christian community in a very concrete way. The prepare people for the sacraments in terms of faith formation, they bury the dead, they help people renew their faith. It’s a very involved programme and it’s worthwhile to devote time, energy and resources to it because it’s really at the heart of the life of the Church.”

Pontifical Mission Societies

As well as this Fr Bernard ran the pastoral centre and the local Marian shrine, but his bishop had big plans for him too, relating to the work of the PMS in the country. He was asked if he could work for Missio and embarked upon two courses, one in Rome and one in Malawi before beginning his role as a diocesan director. During those courses, his eyes were opened up to the plethora of excellent work that Missio undertakes not only in Zambia, but throughout Africa and worldwide.

“I was made a diocesan director in 1997,” Fr Bernard said. “Learning about Missio’s contribution to the life of the Church via Missionary Children was truly humbling. It is now the biggest association for children in our country—we are talking about thousands of children. Many of those children then became animators so it has contributed to the life of the Church in Zambia and elsewhere in a very concrete way.”

Fr Bernard was then appointed to the National Office in 2003 and through that elevated position his eyes were opened further to just how crucial the work of Missio is in his home country, going so far as to describe it as ‘the most important charity in Zambia.’

“The evidence of the participation of Missio in the life of the Church in Zambia is everywhere,” Fr Bernard said. “The formation of the Catechists, the seminarians—both major and minor—the religious sisters and brothers in our country, they all receive support from Missio for their formation. We provide infrastructure, books and media. All the major community radio stations in Zambia have been supported from the word go.

“Missio is the most important charity in Zambia in terms of growing the Church. I would say that without hesitation. There are other organisations that have so much money, but they are not involved in the actual building of the Church in terms of faith formation and the basics of the life of the Church.

“Look at all the priests that are emerging from the seminaries, Missio supports them. Look at the infrastructure that we provide for the diocesan curia, which host other Church organisations. Missio has been there to promote the growth of the Church in very concrete ways. It provides infrastructure, resources for the administration of the dioceses. We are the only organisation that provides a resource to the diocese and say here is money, were are not telling you how to use it, but it is money to help you meet your expenses as a diocese. Missio is the only organisation that does that. We are everywhere. I am a product of the work of Missio. Missio contributed greatly to my formation as a priest. We are a powerful force in a positive sense. The Church in Zambia has counted on it to realise its primary responsibility of evangelising the people of God.

“I’m very proud of Missio and have great respect and appreciation for the organisation. From the very beginning it has always been a movement of Christians. It wasn’t born Pontifical, it was born as a result of people trying to understand and live their Christian faith. The Church then understood their authenticity and placed the societies under the care of the Holy Father and the bishops. So essentially Missio is a charity for the people.”

Scotland calling

His role as National Director brought him into contact with other National Directors, including those from Scotland, Ireland and England, with whom he formed very close ties and had hosted in Zambia. Those links and the good relationships he had forged were pivotal in Fr Bernard eventually deciding to come to Scotland.

“When I completed my tenure in Zambia, the natural direction to go was home to my diocese in Chipata and to live parish life, a simple ordinary Christian life,” Fr Bernard explained. “But after working in the National Office for so long, I thought there was maybe a need to do a sabbatical to rejuvenate myself and prepare myself for future commitments in my diocese. During this time I thought about devoting some of my time to Missio Scotland just to help tell the story of how Missio Scotland is helping the Church to grow.

“The strength and the character of Missio lie in its universality. It connects us to the whole world. There is a natural attraction and admiration and I’d attribute that to my relationship with Missio Scotland, England and Wales and Ireland. They have been friends for a long time and have contributed greatly to the building of the Church in Zambia and to my own personal growth in my ministry, so I can’t say enough about how gracious friends they have been to be. So I asked if I could be here and do some work for Missio.”

“I want to use the little experience that I have as an animator,” he continued. “I don’t consider myself as an administrator. I want to be in the public domain and interact with people and tell the story as to why Missio must be supported, because it has a made a huge contribution to the growth of a Church that is in need. I would to love interact more with people here so that I can highlight and promote the work that we do. Missio Scotland does so much; it’s a reflection of the mind and spirit of the Church here. We need space to profile stories that reflect the contribution that Missio Scotland makes in the life of the Universal Church. It is always there. Over 1000 dioceses depend on Missio. So I am here to give testimony and to try and promote its work.”

Never a man to shy away from responsibility, Fr Bernard was also appointed to St Bernard’s parish in Shawhead, not far from the Missio Scotland offices in Coatbridge. Although that may have come as a surprise to some, Fr Bernard has said that it was always part of his plans prior to coming to Scotland.

“This is something I planned,” Fr Bernard said. “There are three things I wanted to do during my sabbatical: have a bit of time to rest and work for Missio; to do pastoral work; and also a bit of education part-time that would have some pastoral bearing on the life of the Church. Two of my plans have come to fruition as I’m at St Bernard’s as an assistant priest but also I’m here at Missio Scotland as the Mission Development Co-ordinator. I’m happy to be here. It has taken me a little time to settle but we’re on the right path now.”

“Scotland is a great place,” he added. “People are very friendly. Even people you don’t really know will greet you warmly and say ‘how are you son?’ That’s a very affectionate way you are addressed and received. I find that a very affirming part of my life in Scotland. I find the interaction easy and the lifestyle is good.

“The language aspect is a plus too. I’m not a native English speaker. I speak many other languages (Zambia has 73 languages), about 8, but my vocabulary is good enough to interact and to celebrate Masses for the people without annoying the people. When I first arrived it wasn’t easy to understand Scottish expressions. I remember sitting at a table with colleagues and struggling to make out what they were saying, but slowly I’ve come to understand the accent and the language itself. I feel at home here and I’d recommend that other Zambian priests come over and experience life here. I’d encourage anyone to come and experience the life of the Church in Scotland. It’s enriching. I’d also encourage Scottish people to experience Zambia and the life of the Church there. It’s a young, dynamic Church. People’s commitment there is massive.”

One thing that Fr Bernard might not have expected to encounter during his time in Scotland is the small but vibrant Zambian community that exists here, but having made contact with them and attended a recent ceremony held by the community to mark Zambian independence, he has been pleasantly surprised in having found a little bit of home in Scotland and plans to hold a Mass in St Bernard’s every couple of months for Zambian Catholics.

“I was delighted to be invited to the independence celebrations. The Zambians who are here are a very innovative group. They are based all over Scotland and are in a variety of different professions. It’s good to see that they are part of the fabric of this nation and they are trying to contribute to it.”

We are similarly blessed to have Fr Bernard as part of the fabric of Missio Scotland and have no doubt his experience will help us to grow as a charity in the coming years.

PIC: GERARD GOUGH

gerard@missio.scot