John Bradburne: The Vagabond of God
by Bishop Paul Swarbrick
My dear friends in Jesus Christ,
Welcome to this week's Bishop' Blog!
I’ve never had leprosy, but I have met people suffering from it. I recall stretching out my hand to offer the sign of peace to some elderly women in a rather dark corner of the bush chapel, rural Zambia, getting hold of what was left of their hands. They were delighted; I was startled.
Another parishioner was Paul Maambo. He was always one of the first to arrive at Nkonkola, waiting for people to gather for Mass. He’d walked two miles on his crutches. He had no feet – a rather good excuse for missing Mass, I’d have thought. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It is several months since my last confession, and I accuse myself of missing Mass.” “Why did you miss Mass?” “Because I’m old, because I have TB, because I have two miles to walk, . . . and because I have no feet . . .” “Good excuse!” The Mass obviously meant so much to him that he made the effort. He must be a saint. He remains one of my heroes.
By the time I arrived in Africa John Bradburne was already counted amongst the saints, gone to God. It was some time before I learnt of him and his inspiring life, his early childhood just up the road in the north-west of England, in Cumbria, in the tiny village of , in the shelter of Cross Fell and the northern Pennines. ‘Beyond Shap’ carried a profound sense of remoteness – other-wordliness even - prior to the coming of the M6, and yet it was the Vale of Eden, God’s own country, worth a look if you can get there. Best to find a guide, or thank the Lord that a guide has found you, to guide your adventure, your exploring.
Being ‘locked down’ is bad enough; being ‘locked out’ is something else. I guess that’s what leprosy does to you, locks you out of life, closes your world down, confines you robs you, ostracises you. John found Mutemwa and its discarded residents. They became his guides to heaven.
Seen by some as lepers, to him they became companions for the journey . . . who happened to have leprosy. It slowed them down so that he could catch up. He never let their affliction define them. He never let their restrictions restrict them. He saw them and saw more than we see because he saw them, made in the image and likeness of their Creator. They were never less because there was ‘less of them’.
At times such as these when the world becomes more complex, John, Servant of God, comes to us as a welcome friend. We may not have leprosy, but most of us feel terribly afflicted. The beauty of any Servants of God is that they do not stand between us and the Lord, as though obscuring our sight of Christ. Their gift is to enable us to see Him more clearly, to sense Him as closer to us.
I commend this man’s life to you, particularly at this time, particularly in your present circumstances. May his cause prosper because it is of God. It is Beatitude. May the work of the John Bradburne Memorial Society flourish.
Bishop of Lancaster