30 October 1984 is a date I just can’t forget. It was the day that I had to leave the Catholic Mission of Balfour as the last resident priest. The church, together with the little farm on which it stood, was bought up by the government, which, on its turn, gave it to the new homeland Ciskei in the hope that some development would take place in that area.
With a bleeding heart I emptied the presbytery and the sacristy and I went off to Lumko in order to become also there the last resident priest….
The rest is history: Ciskei did not know what to do with it and all possible projects ended in hollow words. People came to live in the old presbytery and left it very soon afterwards. Slowly, the fields which were formerly so intensively cultivated, changed into thorn bush plantations while the only “improvement” on the house was a poster, hanged up in the former living room with the words: “Vote ANC”….
About 5 years after the “take over”, some desperate Catholics approached the bishop begging for a priest.
Bishop Lenhof appointed the priest of Whittlesea to look after that “neglected flock” but very soon Fr. Schöder detected that the Holy Remnant of Balfour was not that fanatically keen to come to church. So he brought the Church registers of Balfour back to the Chancery with the compliments that they had to look for another priest….
For quite some time, Balfour was now administrated from Ntaba Maria where the bishop lived. A newly ordained priest, who stayed also in Ntaba Maria, went now and then to Balfour to look after the local Catholics.
When this new priest got his first parish in the Queenstown area, a further looking after in Balfour became for him impossible, and finally Balfour came under the pastoral care of the resident priest in Cathcart.
Father Thulani Gubula, who lives in Cathcart, got the opportunity to visit Europe and asked me to go once to Balfour during his absence: an invitation I accepted with both hands!
That Sunday I went to Balfour became a Sunday of peace and joy. Slowly, some old memories came up when I approached the old mission at the foot of the Katberg. I saw some faces, some houses, some situations etc…
When I finally arrived, a small group was waiting, and some of them recognised me immediately. First we had the Mass in church where I found a new altar, tabernacle, ambo and baptismal font.
Although the congregation was small, they did their uppermost best to make something nice from the Liturgy. They sung with heart and soul and on their faces I could see how happy they were.
After mass we stood for some moments together speaking about the past and telling what happened during the last 29 years…..
They told me who had died, who had moved to Queenstown, to Humansdorp, to Kumga, to Friemersheim , to Fort Beaufort and to East London….
Names like Bles, Seun, Kanyi, Ciskali, Charlot, Hilary, Nokoperasi and Lorraine were mentioned and amongst the excited people stood “Boytjie”, one of the “pillars of the Church” who is always there, doing what he has to do and that without making big fuss of it.
Also upon his face we could see some joy but it was a kind of matured joy. I am sure that he also was thinking on the Balfour from so many years ago. He was there when the first catholic seed was planted in Balfour and he experienced the ups and the downs of catholic life in that part of the world and it gave him the necessary wisdom which he needed to love that Church in which he was born and in which he wants to die.
Fr. Edward Tratsaert SAC