Pilgrims Gear up for Our Lady of the Bushveld
By Erin Carelse – Rustenburg diocese will hold its annual pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Bushveld on May 26 at Sesobe, north of Zeerust and in the heart of the Madikwe Game Reserve.
Buses will transport parishes into the reserve as the park allows no private vehicles, to combat rhino poaching, and for passengers’ safety, as Madikwe is “Big Five” territory.
Only two buses outside the diocese are registered to attend. One is from Gaborone, and the other from Klerksdorp, accompanied by Bishop Victor Phalana.
Inside the reserve is the Lourdes grotto, a permanent structure made of stone and a remnant from a mission there, built in 1926.
When the statue of Our Lady of the Bushveld was placed in the grotto, a Holy Family Sister recorded the event: “The lifesize statue of Our Holy Mother now stands in the rocky niche overlooking us, silently inviting us to approach and lay our petitions at her feet…who can say what graces may come to the people scattered over the bushveld through Mary’s intercession?”
The day-long May 26 pilgrimage will include Stations of the Cross, visits to the wells, the Blessed Sacrament chapel, and the shrine to St Therese, with its wood-carved cross. Confessions and adorations will be followed by Mass at 11:00.
The roots of the now-abandoned mission go back to April 16, 1879, when 11 Jesuit missionaries set out north from Grahamstown to establish mission stations along the Zambezi River valley. Along the way, on June 30 that year, they outspanned their oxen at Sesobe, the home of the Bakwena BaPhalane BaSesobe.
Fr Henry Depelchin SJ wrote in his journal: “We camped near an African village…which we went to see by moonlight. The chief came to see us and welcomed us with great kindness…the disposition of the people…marks this place out as a favourable spot for a mission…”
This came to pass on December 8, 1884, when the first Catholic mission church to survive to this day was dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception at Sesobe.
The first recorded baptism among the BaTswana people, that of Mariam Ramothuana, was celebrated on May 25, 1885, in the same chapel.
The Holy Family Sisters visited Veeschfontein in 1913 to see if it was feasible to establish a convent in such a remote area. A Sister recorded a particular moment in her diary: “When the children left the church they were accompanied by a woman with a radiant smile.”
Experiencing this gave the Sisters the reassurance they needed. A convent was established in Sesobe — in part through the power of a smile.
Over the next 60 years the mission flourished under the Society of Jesus, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Holy Family Sisters, and King Dominican Sisters respectively.
The mission closed down in 1950 when people were forced to leave their homes and settle elsewhere.
Bishop Kevin Dowling CssR established Sesobe as a diocesan pilgrimage site in 2003. Kgosi chief Albert Mokoka of the BaKwena BaPhalane BaSesobe proudly observed: “We have reclaimed our spiritual inheritance.”