Pope Beatifies Priest, Visits Victims of Bus Hijacking

Times Staff Writer

“Some call me the Rider of the Maluti, the blue mountains where the Basotho live,” Father Joseph Gerard wrote not long before his death in 1914. “Now, in my 80s, every day I’m lifted into the saddle to go visit the sick and to catechize children and adults until nightfall.”

On Thursday, in the aftermath of violence, Pope John Paul II paid homage to Father Gerard’s missionary selflessness.

Standing at a white altar below gathering storm clouds, John Paul launched the dogged French priest on the road to sainthood--according to a plan worked out months before the Pope left Rome on a 10-day trip that will take him to five African countries.

Later Thursday, in a last-minute change of schedule, the Pope stopped at the government hospital here to visit victims of a terrorist incident that erupted near him Wednesday night. He paused at the bed of each of 20 pilgrims wounded when South African commandos stormed a bus in which four guerrillas were holding 71 hostages.


Conductor’s Legs Amputated

Gently, the Pope placed a rosary on the pillow of the 29-year-old bus conductor. Doctors had amputated both his legs the night before.

Four guerrillas and two pilgrims were killed in the incident, which broke out just after the Pope’s motorcade had passed. John Paul did not learn of it until several hours later, his spokesman said.

At the Mass of Beatification for Gerard, the Pope described himself as “a pilgrim of peace.” He told the wet, cold and sparse crowd that he was “saddened to learn that others on their way to join me in this pilgrimage have been the victims of a hijacking that caused such anguish and ended in bloodshed.”


Later, at a meeting with young people on the last day of his visit to this little kingdom of 1.5 million people surrounded by South Africa, the Pope denounced violence.

“You must renounce every form of violence and hatred,” he said. “Violence only begets further violence. Hatred closes us off from others, making communication and reconciliation impossible.”

His words had been written weeks before, at the Vatican, but seemed particularly pertinent in violence-numbed Lesotho.

He urged the youths to shun those who “claim that it is cowardly not to use violence against what is wrong, or to refuse to defend with violence the oppressed.”


“There is nothing passive about nonviolence when it is chosen out of love,” he went on. “It has nothing to do with indifference.”

He said nonviolence is an active means of combatting wrong with right.

“To choose nonviolence means to make a courageous choice in love,” he said, “a choice which includes the active defense of human rights and a firm commitment to justice and ordered development.”

Father Gerard, a missionary of the Oblate order, brought Roman Catholicism to what is now Lesotho in 1864. He is honored as a holy man and a patriot in a nation where the first baptism took place 124 years ago and where nearly half the people are Catholics today.


Mass at Mission

On Wednesday night, John Paul said Mass at a mission station Gerard built at a place called Roma. It is the site of Gerard’s grave and of Lesotho’s national university.

With beatification, bestowed after extensive research certified a miracle ascribed to his intervention--restoring the sight of a blind girl--Gerard now becomes known as “blessed.” If a subsequent miracle is proved to the Vatican’s satisfaction, Gerard could join the church’s roll of saints.

“Father Gerard is certainly rejoicing today at the vitality of the church in this country which was so dear to his heart,” the Pope said.


He wished worshipers at the Mass for “ khotso , pula , nala "--peace, rain and abundance.

Today, John Paul will move on to the kingdom of Swaziland, where he will spend eight hours before flying to war-torn Mozambique. He will return to the Vatican on Monday.