Provisional profile of Fernand Gruber

Here is Fernand Gruber’s provisional biography, the final one will appear later in the Petit Echo.

Fernand was born on June 10, 1934 in Ingwiller, diocese of Strasbourg, in the Bas-Rhin.Alsacien, and proud to be so, Fernand has always loved being with his family, with his two sisters, with his mother. She remained a widow because Georges, her husband, was mobilized by the Germans in 1944, and no news of him was ever received afterwards; probably disappeared on the Russian front. Despite much research and consulting many archives, Fernand did not succeed in elucidating his father’s fate, which had a strong and lasting impact on him.

His primary school was first in German from 1940 to 1944; then, from 1945 to 1948, in French. As for his secondary studies, they were first held at the White Fathers’ minor seminary in Altkirch in Alsace, and then continued in Bonnelles in Seine-et-Oise.

This was then the normal process: philosophy at Kerlois – novitiate at Maison Carrée; his theology, begun in S’Heerenberg (Netherlands), was interrupted by military service in France and Germany; demobilized, he then went to Totteridge for three years of theology. He was ordained a priest on 29 June 1963 in Strasbourg.

Then began six long years of study. Given Fernand’s intellectual abilities, accompanied by good language skills (French, German, English), the leaders of the Society wanted to prepare Fernand for a particular service of mission: he was oriented towards the study of the problems raised in our missions by the presence of churches of diverse denominations, especially Protestant, and more generally, it was to bring him into the field of ecumenism.

He first studied Catholic theology in Paris where he obtained a degree in theology in 1965. Then a year spent at the Protestant Faculty of Theology in Paris for a doctorate. He then moved to the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Celigny, Switzerland, after which he spent a semester with ecumenical bodies in the United States. And, finally, two years of study at the Institut Supérieur d’Etudes Œcuméniques in Paris. We are then in June 1969. The gates of Africa will open for Fernand. Zambia welcomed him.

Since September 1969 Fernand has been at the Ilondola language centre where he learns Bemba, which he speaks very well; this allows him to be at ease as a curate in Chiboté, in the diocese of Mansa. He enjoyed the daily contact with the parishioners, taking an interest in their way of life and their concerns. However, he had to provide an “interim” at the minor seminary in Bahati for two years. After that he found himself vicar in the parish of Nsakaluba – and religion teacher in the boys’ college.

But his doctrinal skills led him to be appointed to the National Major Seminary of Zambia, first in Kabwe and then in Lusaka. He taught dogmatic and pastoral theology, liturgy, ecumenism and… the Bible. While being dean of studies, and in charge of a rural parish.

It was with regret that he left Zambia for Saint Anne of Jerusalem on September 16, 1981. His main activity until July 1998 was the “Revue Proche-Orient Chrétien” of which he was the administrative secretary. In charge of the library, he was also “vicar” of the German parish of Jerusalem. This lasted 18 years.

From September 1998, his life will take place in Europe. First in France, where he was provincial secretary for five years. Then, in December 2003 in Germany, in Frankfurt where he devoted himself to parish ministry.

Tired, he then settled in Mours, where, for five years, he provided the “reception” service, while ministering in the area. He gave himself totally to it; and Brother Muratet, treasurer of the house, told us: “Fernand leaves an excellent memory at the service of the White Fathers community as to the visitors; he knew how to raise a lot of affection, friendship and esteem”.

The time for retirement came in 2012. First in Bry-sur-Marne, from 2012 to 2015. Then, wishing to get closer to his family and the Alsatian area, he was appointed to the retirement home of the African Missions in St. Pierre. He was hospitalized in the summer of 2018 at the Sélestat hospital from where he left us on July 16, 2018.

Brother Gabriel Muratet, who gave the homily at the funeral, underlined Fernand’s influence until the end of his life. This is witnessed by this group of men, telling him on the porch of the church: “Not all of us are good practitioners, but we come to the church this day to gather the moral heritage left to us by this child of the country, the missionary Fernand Gruber. We will miss him”

Thank you, Fernand, for having been an excellent confrere and a good worker in the different fields of apostolate that were yours. God welcomes you to his home, where you have found your father, whose memory has remained alive in you all your life, and your mother.

Jean-Marie Vasseur, M.Afr.

Profile of Pierre Du Suau de la Croix

Here is the provisional biographical note of Father Pierre Du Suau de la Croix. The final notice will be published later in the Petit Echo.

On March 4, 1923, Pierre was born into a doctor’s family in Houga d’Armagnac in the Gers. He was the fourth in a family of 7 children. He lived a happy childhood and adolescence where, in a very Christian context, a strong personality developed, helped by Scouting. From that time on, his artistic vocation became clearer. His family gave him painting lessons in Auch, where he lived at the time.

The missionary call rang out very early. He matured at the seminary in Auch, which accompanied him up to the philosophical studies. He then went to the novitiate of the White Fathers at Maison Carrée (1941-1942).

It was then the classical White Father formation, interrupted however by the war, which led him to participate in 3 landings: Corsica in September 1943, Italy in January 1944 and Provence in September of the same year. The Alsace campaign followed, which led him to the summer of 1945, when he was demobilized. He then devoted four years to studying theology in Tunisia. He was ordained a priest in 1949 and was appointed to Upper Volta Burkina Faso, where he went in 1950 to the diocese of Nouna.

Le Sourou was his first post, transferred in 1952 to Zaba, the parish he founded. He learned three languages. The apostolate, with its different aspects: worship, catechesis, etc., absorbed him totally, and he kept a good memory of these thirteen years of rural pastoral work, including the time spent in Tansilla. He returned on leave in 1957 and 1963, but the very hot climate that weakened him made him realize that a change of country was necessary. It was Rwanda that welcomed him.

He lived there for 25 years, a country he loved very much. The landscape, of course, but above all the population whose difficult language he learned. This allowed him to be an active pastor in Rwaza in the volcano region. He carried out an overwhelming pastoral activity there. But in 1990 he was asked to put the parish apostolate on hold to take care of the decoration of the churches full-time: mosaics, stained glass windows and paintings. Before setting up his studio in Kigali, from where he radiated throughout Rwanda, he worked with a master glassmaker in Paris who introduced him to the stained glass technique. He would have liked to continue this work that he enjoyed and that many visitors admired, but the events of 1994 forced him to accept the regional’s invitation to take advantage of the evacuations of foreign nationals by French soldiers. In April 1994, he was back in Paris.

He was 72 years old at the time and felt fit. Also, after a good rest period, he accepted the proposal that the provincial sent him, a proposal from Fr. Louis Blondel in South Africa: “You must come and join me because I have a training centre and we want to create an art workshop there”. So in June 1995 he landed in Johannesburg, and headed for OrangeFarm 80 km away. He bravely switched to English, and very quickly, orders poured in so that he was often absent from his community (2 French, 1 Irish and 1 Canadian) and had to abandon the Art workshop project. His car then took him for several weeks to Transvaal, Lesotho, Swaziland,… A work that was particularly close to his heart was a Way of the Cross with 15 stations and a Way of Light with 15 stations. It took him four months. Alas, “climbing scaffolding sometimes several metres high to paint frescoes and mosaics began to become a problem at the age of 80”. In June 2005, the decision was made to return to France. Pierre had spent 9 years in South Africa and it was hard for him to get away with it.

In September 2005, Pierre was in Billère. It will be difficult for him to become sedentary after years of independent living in different countries. But the studio that was reserved for him allowed him to continue his artistic work: mosaics at the entrance of the house, various paintings, among others, Notre-Dame d’Afrique. He then wrote: “the fraternal help of the community, prayer and the daily Eucharist are a source of optimism and joy”. And in fact, the testimonies concerning this period tell us about a Pierre with a certain spirit, commenting on television, always a fan of car racing and football.

But, the infirmities, the old age, brought an addiction that Pierre lived with difficulty, making his life painful for him and for his entourage yet very considerate.

However, through his suffering, he keeps a serenity underlying one of these last writings: “For me, old age is not a shipwreck as General de Gaulle said. It is rather the forthcoming view of the port after a crossing full of pitfalls from which I have been protected by the Lord. Also, my prayer is a magnificat, that of Father de Foucault: “Lord, I surrender myself to you. Do with me as you please. Whatever you do with me, I thank you.”

Thank you Pierre. You leave us the memory of a confrere whose works continue to be admired by visitors, both at the entrance to the house (mosaic) and in the chapel (Notre-Dame d’Afrique), a memory of a confrere zealous for the apostolate, full of an artistic ardour that has allowed him to embellish our lives.

Jean-Marie Vasseur, M.Afr.

Provisional notice of Rolf Rosin

This is the provisional biography of Rolf Rosin. The final biographical note will be published later in the Petit Echo.

Rolf was born on May 6, 1940 in Karlsbad, in the province of Sudetenland, created as an autonomous province in 1918 by the German speakers. The Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy was in decomposition and in order not to be integrated into the Czech Republic, founded on 28 October 1918 in Prague, the German speakers preferred relative autonomy. After the Second World War, Sudetenland’s autonomy was abolished and most German speakers took refuge in Germany. Rolf’s family has chosen Bamberg in Bavaria as their new place of residence.

He grew up with two brothers in a very Christian and musical family. He attended the Deutsche Gymnasium in Bamberg and on July 18 he passed his baccalaureate. His religion teacher testified that he was one of the most attentive to religious themes and was therefore not surprised that Rolf decided for a missionary life.

In September 1962, he returned to the Major Seminary of the White Fathers in Trier. From 1964 to 1965 he did his novitiate at Hörstel and then, for theology, he went to Totteridge. On June 26, 1968, he took his missionary oath and was ordained a priest in Bamberg on June 29, 1969.

He was then appointed to the Diocese of Kasama in Zambia. He attended the language course in Ilondola and, in February 1970, began pastoral activities in the Mulobola parishes, then Chilubi and Malole for more than thirty years. In his letters to relatives, friends and benefactors, he speaks mainly of three realities of his life in Zambia: the political and economic situation, the parishes with a few dozen branches, the small Christian communities and their glorification in Europe.

His formators found that Rolf was noticed for doing the tasks required well without exaggeration. In his pastoral work, he suffered from this quality. With the exception of six months as a replacement for the diocesan treasurer in Kasama and as a treasurer in the language centre in Ilondola, he has worked in the three very large parishes of Ilondola, Chilugi and Lubishi. All three consist of a centre and a few dozen branches or sub-centres, visited only two or three times a year by the priest to celebrate the Eucharist. The Bishop came irregularly to the branches to give the sacrament of confirmation. Pastoral care was provided by catechists.

After the Second Vatican Council, the Church developed the “small Christian community” as the vital organism of pastoral care by creating small groups that met every week to read the Gospel in the given social context. Rolf was well aware of the situation in Zambia and when he was on holiday in Germany and Austria, he was surprised by the enthusiasm of Christians who, from afar, saw these small Christian communities as miraculous solutions to pastoral problems both in Africa and in Europe. He talked about it in all his letters to friends.

When Rolf arrived in Zambia, the country, which became independent in 1964, was in search of its identity. Politics proclaimed a “Zambian humanism” to solve economic difficulties. In August 1979, Christian church leaders issued a statement opposing scientific socialism, hidden in “Zambian humanism”, which would not help to overcome underdevelopment and would not guarantee the human rights of the people. Rolf, himself a refugee from Soviet communism, regularly mentions this problem in his letters. His concerns for the political and social situation surely have their origin in the fact that he had gone through the loss of his childhood country, exile and integration into another environment accompanied by material poverty.

Rolf interrupted his pastoral work three times, twice to go to Jerusalem, in 1979 to make the Great Retreat and in 1999 for the Bible course, the third time when he returned to Europe in 1985 for four years. He was appointed to Axams, 10 km from Innsbruck in Tirol where he lived in a community, newly established as a new project, with two confreres, Fr. Anton Mettrop, a Dutch confrere and Fr. Walter Vogt. The team was in charge of missionary and vocational animation. It will put in place all the means to make the Society known, not only in the parishes of the diocese and Catholic movements, but also beyond the diocesan borders. The confreres will open the doors of their homes by organizing reflection days for young people.

In December 1989, Rolf returned to the diocese of Kasama, but had to interrupt his stay several times to get treatment in Germany. In December 2006 he was appointed in the provinces. From 2007 to 2018 he was in charge of the bursar’s office in Haigerloch, in the community of elderly confreres.

During the last year of his life, he had to endure one more ordeal when the area sold Haigerloch’s house, the second foundation after Trier. The community has settled in a CARITAS house in Hechingen, about ten kilometres from Haigerloch. In February 2019, Rolf entered the university clinic in Tübingen where he died on the morning of March 2 and was buried on March 8 in the Missionaries of Africa section at Haigerloch cemetery.

Hans Vöcking, M.Afr.

Herman Bastijns, Profile (provisional)

Herman has been very much involved in the formation and in spirituality. As a consequence, many people knew him and were quite shocked when they learnt of his passing. That is why I took upon me to translate provisionally the profile that was sent from Belgium in the Dutch language before it is translated officially for the Petit Echo. Continue reading “Herman Bastijns, Profile (provisional)”

Gerard Reynaert, R.I.P. (1925-2018) (EAP Flashes – 2018/08)

Fr. Gerard Reynaert (1925-2018) popularly known as “mukulu” passed away on 03.05.2018 at Nsambya Hospital in Kampala. He lived 67 years of Missionary Life and almost all of them in Uganda. At 93, he was still the local bursar/guest master at lourdel house-vocations centre and chaplain to a community of Little Sisters of Saint Francis at Nsambya. The following was written about him in the Order of Mass celebrating his life:

Gerard’s faithfulness and commitment to the apostolate up to the last drop of his life and strength remain for us a powerful reminder of the strong recommendation of our founder, Cardinal Lavigerie: “My dear children, you are not explorers or ordinary travelers… You are apostles and only apostles. All your other interests must derive from that fundamental fact. I beseech you, revive within yourselves these great thoughts of the apostolate.”

This reminder is even more meaningful when put in the context of the 150th Jubilee of the foundation of the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (Msola). Fr. Gerard’s faith has been ‘a down-to-earth and practical faith’. It is, therefore, not by chance that he passed on, on the day when we were celebrating the feast of St. James, whose teaching strongly emphasizes such a faith: “Faith without good deeds is dead”. (James, 2:26)

Gerard’s way of life corresponded well to the life that all Missionaries of Africa are invited to embrace: ‘Simple way of life’. He was a real Biblical Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I will depart.” (1:21) He departed from this earthly life “naked”; he left behind almost nothing! What a powerful message and legacy in a world full of greed of all sorts of earthly things! What a powerful message and legacy in a world where the “culture of grabbing” is on the increase everyday! Jokingly, Fr. Gerard used to speak of himself as “Ow’empisa ennungi” (someone with good manners). May we too, in spite of our human weaknesses, always aspire to be ‘abantu ab’empisa ennungi’ (people of good manners).

Fr. Gerard was laid to rest at Nabulagala parish where he helped out for masses until his dead. The faithful together with some confreres kept vigil and celebrated several masses throughout the night praying for Gerard. The Archbishop of Kampala, his grace Dr. Cyprian Kizito Lwanga celebrated the funeral mass surrounded by a great crowd of people that came to bid farewell to jjaja (grandfather).

MAY FR. GERARD REST IN PEACE!naert (1925-2018)

Some testimonies after the death of Herman Bastijns

The Provincial Delegate of Belgium published some testimonies received at the announcement of the death of Father Herman Bastijns. We thought we should share them with you.

It is with emotion that we receive here the news of Herman’s unexpected death. The news reached us just at the time of the Eucharistic celebration of the community at 6:15 pm. We thanked the Lord for his presence among us and for his contribution to the Society and beyond. During the meal that followed, with Stan, we talked about Herman, his family bond, the ways he marked us, his place in the history of the Society. His contributions in the fields of initial and ongoing formation have enriched many. And later his retreats, and also his recollections published on the web. His life and legacy are an encouragement to us all. In communion of prayer, while we also think of his own.

André-Léon SIMONART, General House – Rome

Bethlehem, 09/08/2018

Thank you for informing me of Herman’s death. He was one of the formators when I came into contact with the White Fathers in Leuven. Since then, he has always inspired me with his deep prayer life and dedication. My deepest condolences.

 +Jan De Groef, M.Afr.

I am very touched by the return to the Father of Herman Bastijns with whom I had started the Ruzizi seminary and whom I had even had for a time as a formator at the Vital Decoster in the past. He also prepared me to succeed him for the Roman sessions 8 years ago. He had become for me a brother, a friend and a spiritual advisor. I can’t measure everything I owe him. May the Lord welcome him in his tenderness.

Bernard Ugeux (Bukavu)

Thank you! I immediately transmitted the announcement to all our sisters. This is a death that will surprise many, for Herman was well known to many! We pray with you and with the confreres of Varsenare. Two deaths in a few days is hard to live with. Courage to manage all this…

Friendly regards, Suzy Haderman (MSOLA)

Receive my condolences for the death of Herman Bastijns, the great philosopher. I spent a good year with him in Kahangala in 1989 and learned a lot. I appreciated his intellectual, material, liturgical and spiritual talents. I will be in union of prayers with you at his funeral.

Patrick Bataille, Provincial delegate for France

Herman Konings 1937 – 2018 (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

Herman was born on the 7th March 1937 at Essen in the Province of Antwerp very close to the Dutch border. His parents were farmers and over the course of the years they had ten children. After secondary school at the Junior Seminary of Hoogstraten, Herman entered the White Fathers at Boechout in September 1956. It was the same year that his older brother René (+2017) left for Burundi. After the novitiate in Varsenare, Herman went to Heverlee to study Theology. He took his Missionary Oath there on the 28th June 1962 followed by priestly ordination on the 29th June 1963. Herman was described as a modest, helpful, friendly and very sociable person. He was not very talkative, but was interested in others. He was an unobtrusive man, always in the same good mood. He radiated benevolence and kindness. He did not get mad, but one should not push him too hard. He was pretty unshakeable, a little sceptical perhaps. He had practical common sense and he had undeniable artistic gifts.

Herman was appointed to Burundi. He left on the 22nd December 1963. He studied Kirundi at Muhanga. Fr. Michel Braekers (+1979), the Regional wrote, “He is a happy man who likes making people laugh. He loves making puns. He’s pretty good in Kirundi.” He was put in charge of the catechetical programme and youth work. Quite early on, it was noted that he did not enjoy great health and he had to rest a lot. In September 1965, Herman was sent to Giheta then to Bukirasazi (1966). After his first home leave in 1968, he became curate and bursar at Kibumbu. Fr. Louis Quintard (+2012) the Assistant Regional wrote, “As bursar of the post, he has never enough money, and he quarrels with the Treasurer of the Diocese over it.”

At the end of 1972, the Hutu rebellion was put down in what has been called the Hutu genocide in Burundi. In January 1973, Herman returned to Belgium traumatised by these events. He taught religion in a secondary school in Borgerhout and lived in our community in Berchem. He went to Greece with a group of young people. He took some sabbatical time following a Bible course and studying catechesis always with a view to teaching. After the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in 1980, he was ready to return to Africa.

Herman arrived in Ituri, Zaire (now the DRC) at the end of 1980. He taught religion in Bunia College. He had a full timetable and was much appreciated. However, at the end of the academic year in 1983, he decided to leave. He wrote to Jan Lenssen, Provincial of Belgium,” I still teach with the same enthusiasm but the mentality here is much too different from my own.” For some unknown

reason, because he had never been expelled, his application to return to Burundi was turned down. Maybe Rwanda?  The Regional Council of Rwanda agreed to accept him only after a long discussion. Herman had a reputation for being “progressive”. He arrived in Kigali in January 1984. After studying the language at the Language Centre, he was appointed curate at Kaduha in the Diocese of Butare. Herman dreamed of forming authentic Small Christian Communities. So he was allowed to join the parish of Rusumo in the Diocese of Kibungo, where Father Stany de Jamblinne worked along the same lines in the Eglise-Monde movement. Herman felt comfortable in this pastoral ministry. He painted tableaux and decorated churches. He supported local artists, who made decorative panels in bas-relief, characteristic of the region.

In April 1994, the genocide exploded in Rusumo and with other confreres, Herman was evacuated to Brussels on the 13th April. In September 1994, he spent many months at CREC-AVEX (Centre for Research and Communication) in Lyon, France. He was being thought of for the Audio-Visual Centre in Burundi. This projected appointment did not come to anything.  In September-December 1995, he followed the Discipleship course in Jerusalem and he returned there in March 1996 to work in the Archaeological Service and the Museum where, among other things, he highlighted the famous collection of oil lamps. His only complaint; “For four years, I had to manage without a budget!”

In October 2000, Herman was appointed to Rome in charge of Ongoing Formation and the organization of the Mid-Life Renewal programme.  He took on several administrative tasks in the city or in the Vatican and collaborated with Brother Karl Stärk in the photo library. He underwent heart surgery but made a complete recovery.

In July 2006, he returned definitively to Belgium where he joined the community in Namur and helped Gus Beeckmans in the Photo-Service restoring old historical photos. He stayed there for 10 years, always as thin as a rake, true to himself and a bit of a joker. He was a tad special, a critical observer of events who never raised his voice. However, he began to have serious breathing problems that required respiratory physiotherapy.

In October 2016, Herman asked to go to Antwerp. The Photo Service was being transferred and he wanted to be closer to his older brother René who was seriously ill. At the beginning of 2018 his breathing problems got worse and on the 9th March, he joined the ‘Avondrust’ community in Varsenare.

Herman was very grateful for the prodigious care he received and enjoyed breathing the pure air.  He joyfully pored over his art albums while preparing himself for the inevitable. He immersed himself into Carlos Mesters’ commentary on the Suffering Servant. In a notebook, he wrote, “Yes, the inevitable suffering of man, projected onto one person, Christ, in me”. He suffered terrible crises of suffocation. Towards the middle of April, he felt that the end was near. He noted, “Resurrection does not follow death, it takes place the moment of death itself. It is this beginning of a ‘different life’ that I am looking forward to.” He died on the 20th April 2018 at the hospital of Saint-Jean in Bruges. Marc De Wulf, superior of Varsenare was at his bedside.

On the 26th April 2018, we laid Herman to rest in Varsenare, surrounded by his family and many confreres. May he rest in peace.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.


Marcel Peeters 1925 – 2017 (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

Marcel was born on the 5th July 1925 at Vremde in the Province of Antwerp, Belgium. He attended primary school in Boechout where his parents had settled. His father worked in the big port of Antwerp. He went to the Junior Seminary of Hoogstraten for his secondary schooling. In September 1943, Marcel entered the White Fathers at Boechout and followed the usual White Father training programme at the time, novitiate in Varsenare and Theology in Heverlee. On the 21th July 1949, he took his Missionary Oath in Heverlee and he was ordained priest in the parish church of Heverlee on the 8th April 1950. His professors underlined his solid devotion, his dedicated character. He liked order and cleanliness! He was not a great intellectual but he was a hard worker. He had a lot of practical knowledge. He was not considered a leader; in fact, he needed to be supported as he lacked self-confidence. He had a nervous disposition and often spoke without thinking, criticising things readily. One little fact, which made him stand out, was that during the scholasticate he began to study Kiswahili quite seriously.

Marcel was appointed to Burundi. First of all, in order to fulfil military service requirements, he had to follow a course at Louvain University. In April 1951, he became Warrant Officer-Nurse First Class in the reserve of the colonial Force Publique in the Congo. He left for Bujumbura on the 17th April 1951 with the now defunct Sobelair. He first went to Gatara and a few months later to Musenyi in the Diocese of Ngozi. He courageously got down to learning Kirundi but his shyness did not help. His first real appointment was to the new foundation of Buraniro where he was put in charge of schools. It was a parish with a lot of schoolchildren and endless sessions in the confession box. At the beginning of 1960, Marcel went on his first home leave during which he did the Long Retreat at Villa Cavalletti, near Rome. In December of 1961, on his return to Burundi, he became Superior of Buraniro. The Regional, Fr. François Thevenon (+1991) noted that Marcel was hanging in there despite the political tensions afflicting the country in 1961-62. Indeed, Marcel was falsely accused of playing politics and he was obliged to quit Buraniro. He stayed for some months in Muramba and Kisanze before returning to Katara, a place he did not particularly like. In January 1965, he was appointed bursar at Kasenyi.  He complained about its penury and the high cost of living. According to him, his books were always in the red which was not the case at all. His Regional commented, “He’s a born beggar; he knows how to get everything by his doggedness,” When he learnt about big expenses somewhere else, he could not stop himself from being extra critical. Yet the way he reacted scarcely troubled the confreres. It was his style and the confreres went along with it. In fact, on the contrary, they greatly appreciated him for his thriftiness. All over the country, Marcel was known and teased as being the “rich priest…”

Appointments followed one another. In July 1965, Marcel was Superior in Muhanga and in June 1968, he returned to Gatara but was on his way again after a few months, this time to Ijene, who’s Superior he became in 1970. He was always the devoted and caring pastor but was never the leader in a community. However, he was always ready to render a service. A confrere remarked, “In Ijene, he was a man of peace, loved and respected. The local authorities were afraid that he would be appointed elsewhere. Why? Why? Because he was the building block of peace and unity in the village community and throughout the district.” Much to his disappointment, Marcel was transferred to Buraniro in 1978. The parish now counted 42,000 Christians. As part of the catechumenate, the fathers organised reading and writing classes as well as some basic arithmetic with a view to improving the lot of the people. Bishop Kaburungu wanted to start “hill councils” so as to prepare for an eventual diocesan synod. At the end of 1979, Marcel did the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem. When he returned to Burundi, he was appointed curate in Gatara. No matter where he was, Marcel could count on the support of his family, and especially on the organization in Boechout called “Bricks for God” which helped him build churches and schools, construct bridges and reservoirs and buy school materials. In 1985, when tension mounted between President Bagaza and the Catholic Church, Marcel was one of the many confreres who received from the Government “permission to stay at home”. On the occasion of his departure, the Flash Burundi spoke of a “wise man, a fine connoisseur, an informed observer of so many things in the country, a charming man in community who could stand being teased constantly by his confreres, the White Father who for 35 years patiently built the Church of Burundi by accompanying thousands of young people on the path of faith”

On his return to Belgium, Marcel joined the community running the parish of the Sacred Heart in Antwerp. This meant that he was able to visit his old mother frequently. She died in 1987 at the age of 92 years. However in September 1988, Waly Neven, the regional in Burundi wrote to the Belgian Provincial,  “As for Marcel Peeters, the confreres are practically unanimous in saying that he would still do very well around here and that we would all be very happy to receive him among us.” Marcel still needed time to digest the events in Burundi and did not reply straight away. However, in December 1990, at the age of 65, he decided to go back to Africa. He returned to Ijene as curate. Apart from a short interim period in Giharo in the Diocese of Ruyigi, he was to stay there until 1997. His last appointment in Burundi was as chaplain to the community of Contemplative Dominicans at Rweza where he assured the pastoral services with the late Alex Verpoort (+2005) and Theo Neven (+2016). In 2003 the region decided to end this project and Marcel and the two confreres returned definitively to Belgium. Marcel joined the community in Antwerp. He always remained true to himself, the eternal but happy grumbler. Until the end of his life, he continued to financially support the nuns of Rweza…

At the beginning of 2016, his health declined significantly and he moved to the Nursing home of “Our Lady of Antwerp” a few streets away from our community house. He died of a heart attack on Friday 12th May 2017. The Liturgy of the Resurrection took place in the Parish church of St. Charles Borromeo in Antwerp on Saturday 20th May 2017 followed by burial in our cemetery of Varsenare.

Jef Vleugels, M.Afr.

Erwin Echtner (1940 – 2017) (PE nr. 1092 – 2018/06)

Erwin was born on the 22nd March 1940 at Gross-Leschienen in the Diocese of Ermsland in what was then eastern Prussia. His family name, at the time, was Koschewski. His father was killed during the 2nd World War. In 1945, his mother fled with her four children towards the west and after a long journey they arrived in Hechthausen in the north of Germany. In 1947, Erwin began primary school. His mother married again with Franz Echtner, who adopted the four children and they took his family name. In 1952, the family moved to Krefeld on the banks of the Rhine. Erwin finished his primary schooling there in 1955.

Erwin began his commercial studies, which he successfully finished in 1958. He got a job but he felt called by God to go on the missions. According to the reference from his employer, Erwin was described as a conscientious collaborator, easy to get on with, punctual, and respectful of his co-workers.

Erwin entered the White Fathers at Langenfeld on the 1st June 1959 to begin his postulancy. In 1960, we find him at the novitiate in Hörstel. He took his 1st Missionary Oath there on the 4th February 1962 when he was just a month shy of his 22nd birthday. From February 1962 to March 1965, he continued his training at the Brothers’ Formation Centre in Marienthal, Luxembourg.

In November 1965, Bro. Echtner left for Kipalapala in the Diocese of Tabora, Tanzania. He only studied Kiswahili for a short time before going to work at the printing press nearby. On the 1st February 1967, he was appointed as editor and manager of the Catholic newspaper, KIONGOZI. He took his Perpetual Missionary Oath in Kipalapala on the 24th February 1968. He moved to the Social Training Centre in Nyegezi near Mwanza in July 1969 before returning to the printing press in Kipalapala later the same year. He also spent some time in the procure of Dar-es-Salaam from 1971.

After many years of service in Tanzania, Erwin began to look for other horizons. His first wish was to study for the priesthood and after a long period of reflection on all sides, he began studies for the priesthood in London in January 1974. However, already by the end of the 1st term,  Erwin had to face up to the fact reluctantly that this orientation was not for him. So he had to abandon his idea of becoming a priest.

In 1976, we find Erwin in Germany as bursar of the community in Trier. His training in book-keeping and accounts meant that he felt more at ease and he was able to render a great service to the community. In 1977, he was appointed to the Afrikanum in Cologne. Here he found his true vocation and for the next 33 years he was a committed worker in the area of receiving refugee children and young people from Africa. He had his own personal experience as a refugee and he could empathise with the children coming from Angola, the Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia. These countries were experiencing constant revolts, wars and revolutions. The revolutionary leaders were putting hundreds of children on planes for Germany hoping that they would receive a good education and be able afterwards to serve their liberated countries.

Supported by Caritas and other NGOs helping refugees, Erwin gained the trust of the public service tasked with the reception of war refugees. These organisations granted him the guardianship of more than 800 children over the course of the years. The authorities gave him the responsibility of looking for places in boarding schools, register them firstly in language courses and then in schools. From time to time, Erwin even had to accommodate some children in the Afrikanum on a temporary basis. Many of these children kept in contact with Erwin after receiving vocational training or studies. For the children, he was “their father” and they were, for him, “his children.” Erwin gave a great example of charity. He showed that in a State with a well-developed social service, personal initiative was still necessary and has a place in this society. On the 26th September 2010, Erwin received the honorary prize of the city “committed to Cologne.” On the 17th July 2013, the Mayor of Cologne bestowed on him “Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany”

On the 31st of August 1990, Erwin suffered a heart attack which obliged him to reduce his activities on behalf of his “his children” many of whom had since become adults. In April 2011, he was diagnosed with cancer and he was appointed to the community at Trier where he died on the 6th October 2017. The funeral liturgy took place in the chapel of the Brothers of Charity followed by burial in our plot in the city cemetery of Trier.

Hans Vöcking, M.Afr.