Lesotho, The Catholic Church in
LESOTHO, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Kingdom of Lesotho is located in Africa, completely surrounded by the Republic of south africa. A mountainous region, it consists of highland plateaus, rising to hills and thence to mountains at its perimeter. Featuring a temperate climate, Lesotho's natural resources consist primarily of water and pasture land from which its small farming concerns raise corn, wheat, barley, sheep and goats. Between 45 and 65 percent of the adult male labor force travel to South Africa to work in the mines, sending home a portion of their pay to their families. Lesotho also has a small reserve of diamonds, as well as small quantities of minerals.
Welded together from scattered Basotho tribes by Chief Moshesh in 1820, Lesotho resisted European claims until 1871, when it was annexed to the Cape Town colony. From 1884 to 1966 it was a British protectorate administered by a high commissioner, together with swaziland and botswana (formerly Bechuanaland). Following over two decades of military rule, the region established a constitutional government in 1993. Lesotho is inhabited primarily by a single tribe, the Basotho, which has helped it maintain peace.
History . The first Catholic mission was established in 1862 by the oblates of mary immaculate from the Vicariate Apostolic of Natal. Having sought the help of the British as a means of avoiding Dutch incursions, Basuto Chief Moshesh welcomed them and chose the site for the mission, later called Roma, which benefited from the efforts of Father Joseph Gerard (beatified 1988). The Prefecture Apostolic of Basutoland, created in 1894, became a vicariate apostolic in 1909. In 1924 the Oblates established at Roma a seminary, and in 1945, Pius XII University College. In 1951, when the South African hierarchy was established, the vicariate became the diocese of Maseru. In 1961 Maseru was made an archdiocese and metropolitan see for Basutoland, its first archbishop the great-grandson of Moshesh. In 1963 the University College became nondenominational, but the Oblates remained in charge of Pius XII College.
In 1959 the Church helped to found the Basotholand National Party (BNP), which was instrumental in the region's move toward independence. In 1966 Lesotho became an independent constitutional monarchy, its national assembly working with the region's tribal chiefs. By the late 1970s, under BNP leadership, Lesotho was able to stabilize its economy, but strains on its small economy increased due to the steady influx of South African refugees seeking escape from their country's racist apartheid policies; Lesotho's international airline flights were not subject to the scrutiny or control of South African police. A military government gained power in 1986, whereupon the national assembly was dissolved and replaced by a military council that ruled with the king. A democratic constitution was enacted in a bloodless coup in 1991 and elections held two years later.
In addition to its active role in the nation's health care system, one of the reasons for the predominance of the Catholic faith in the region was the early establishment of a network of Church-run schools, which by 2000, with over 490 primary and 75 secondary schools, accounted for 75 percent of all schools in the country. Lesotho's bishops were members of the South African Bishops' Conference, an organization that worked diligently to bring about racial peace and justice in the whole region. Theological disputes between Catholic and Lesotho's evangelical Protestant leaders made ecumenical efforts rare, although during a 1996 ad limina visit with Pope John Paul II the bishops were exhorted to engage in such outreach.
By 2000 there were 78 parishes tended by over 50 diocesan and 80 religious priests. Other religious included approximately 45 brothers and 600 sisters, who cared in particular for those families whose breadwinner's worked in South Africa. Beginning in the mid-20th century, the Church in Lesotho adopted some elements of local culture, such as tribal call-and-response singing, in its services and performed services in the native language. The pope urged that such "inculturation" be controlled so that Church doctrine be interpreted correctly. Catholics continued to wield political influence at the beginning of the 21st century, due to both their relative affluence
and their position as a majority voice in the dominant BNP.
Bibliography: w. e. brown, The Catholic Church in South Africa, ed. m. derrick (New York 1960) 207–223. Annuario Pontificio (1965) 235, 266. Bilan du Monde, 2:120–123. For additional bibliography, see africa.
[j. e. brady/eds.]