Sunday, 5 April 2015

Fr. Simeon Mapeera, M.Afr.

Father Lourdel, baptised Siméon, was originally from the diocese of Arras in the north of France. He was born on the 20th December 1853 in the village of Dury (Pas-de-Calais) into a well-to-do and very Catholic farming family; one of his brothers would become a Carthusian. After his primary schooling at the 'Séminaire des Saints Anges' at Arras, he continued his secondary studies at the junior seminary of the same town. Expelled for lack of discipline, he completed his studies at Saint Bertin College at Saint Omer. In his youth, he read the life of Father Vénard (1829-1860), who died a martyr at Tonkin (Indochina). It awakened in him the desire to become a missionary, a desire that he would later share with his friends at Saint Bertin College, Léonce Bridoux (1852-1890) and Anatole Toulotte (1852-1907). The three friends would enter the Society of Missionaries of Africa after a meeting in 1873 with Father Charmetant (1844-1921), a Missionary of Africa sent to France to look for candidates for the plan to evangelise Africa, launched at Algiers by Archbishop Lavigerie (1825-1892) in 1868. 

After going through the various stages of his training with the Missionaries of Africa, Lourdel, then a major seminarian, was ordained a priest on Easter Monday the 2nd April 1877 at Maison Carrée, near Algiers. At the beginning of his priestly life, he taught for a few months at the junior seminary of Notre-Dame d'Afrique, and then in November 1877, he joined the community of Metlili in the Sahara. The following year, Archbishop Lavigerie appointed him a member of the first caravan heading to Equatorial Africa. He formed part of the group consisting of Archbishop Livinhac (1846-1922), destined to evangelise the peoples of the Lake Victoria region. He and Brother Amans Delmas (1852-1895) were the first to arrive in Buganda on the 17th February 1879, after a journey lasting 10 months. Their caravan had left Marseilles on the 17th April 1878. From then until his death, Father Lourdel evangelised the Baganda with a view to founding a Catholic kingdom among them, according to the instructions of Archbishop Lavigerie. By 1890, in spite of the 1886 persecution, the Catholic community even then numbered some 1,200 baptised and 10,000 catechumens.

In Buganda, Father Lourdel was called 'Mapeera', the local pronunciation of the French 'mon Père'. According to the testimony of his confreres, he impressed his circle of friends with his physical qualities: he was tall, muscular and had rugged good looks. He was a man of action, extremely strong and active, a leader with a rare will power and the solid faith of country people. This description from his contemporaries does not compare much with the angelic image of Father Lourdel on his most famous photograph, a portrait noticeably retouched to satisfy the religious sensitivities of French Catholics at the end of the 19th century.

Pray for us all Fr. Mapeera.

Joseph Odhiambo Obunwa