Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Hippie Saint

Have you met a saint and martyr recently? I haven’t, at least as far as I know, but I did have a very interesting opportunity this morning. I interviewed a Franciscan friar who has been asked to begin collecting information about John Bradburne.

If you’ve never heard of John Bradburne, don’t worry. I hadn’t until I found myself living in Zambia. Time and again I heard his name mentioned and even the most unlikely people spoke of him with respect and something approaching awe. I was intrigued. They spoke of him as if he were just down the road.

It turned out that Bradburne was, in a manner of speaking, down the road. He’s buried in Zimbabwe. I wasn’t very impressed by the photos that I saw. He looked like a hippie with his long hair and a sweatband tied around his head…but then I began reading and heard of a dreamer who spent his life praying and looking for deeper meaning. He was a poet who ended up in Zimbabwe looking after people with leprosy. He refused to give them numbers and called them by their names. In 1979, guerrillas who didn’t want him to return to the village and his patients shot him from behind.

The more I hear of John Bradburne, the more am I convinced that there is something very special about him.

As a result, this morning’s interview was both fascinating and moving, so much so that I decided to walk part of the way home. As I crossed a ridge over the Tiber, I passed a young couple. The girl had several rings and studs piercing her face. The young man had dirty-looking dreadlocks, an unkempt appearance, the inevitable paper cup for donations and four dogs. Dogs (especially puppies) are the current number one way of attracting funds. Frankly, even if his rottweiler DID have a shiny pink ribbon around its neck, it didn’t look any the less fierce and its owner didn’t receive any money.

Yet, as I walked away, I wondered. I probably wouldn’t have put money into John Bradburne’s hand had I met him begging on the road, and yet I’d have turned away a saint. Might there not be just a possibility that there could be a few more ‘hippie saints’ along my road? As the song says, “Sometimes saints don’t look like saints at all!”

God bless,
Sr. Janet