The first Christian missionaries to reach Lesotho were the Paris Missionary Society, a French Calvinist group. They arrived in 1833. The Catholic Church in Lesotho started with the arrival French Oblate Missionaries in 1862. The foundation period lasted up to 1933. At that time, new missionaries arrived from Canada, they also were French speaking. Until 1961 they worked in expanding and reinforcing the structures of the Church. A third period of the history of the Church in Lesotho can be seen from 1961 to today. This is the time when the Church has become more and more indigenous and the people of Lesotho have taken the responsibility for the local Church. They do so by engaging local people and local leaders. All the bishops are now Basotho. This is also true for religious congregations, who are all led by local personnel. Our Church is working to be self supporting, self reliant and self sustaining. We struggle to be really local but also truly Catholic. The challenges we see in front of us are those of inculturation, of self reliance, of maintaining the physical structures we have inherited from the past. We cannot forget the challenge of Hiv/Aids, a great problem here, and the resulting issue of orphans.
In Lesotho the Church has worked a lot in the social area. The infrastructures of health and education were built mainly by the Catholic Church. In 1945, we opened the first Catholic University in Africa, it was dedicated to Pius XII. Many local leaders throughout Southern Africa studied here. The contribution of Lesotho is very great and it is felt in the whole region. At least five South African bishops studied here. There are now 600 Catholic schools all over the country, and we have the only vocational schools in Lesotho. There are also many health infrastructures built and managed by the Church. We are present both in the low land areas, and in the mountain areas, where it is difficult to operate.
Much of our involvement in social action is now in partnership with the government.
The government pays the salaries of teachers; we take care of building and maintenance of schools. The government is also expanding in this sector, but much is still on our shoulders. Schools are free and compulsory. One of the initiatives of the Church is the creation of the credit union movement, which has helped the formation of cooperatives. In most parishes, Sisters have been teaching women, empowering them to become real leaders of their homes. Missionaries also insisted in forestation of our barren mountains. Each mission station became an example on how to use the land to become self reliant by producing vegetables needed by each family.
We have a Justice and Peace commission which has the mandate to educate people in political participation. We wish people to realize how important this is, how important it is that they take part in politics and express their choices through voting. Also we are interested in those who are politicians, people elected to serve the nations. We are conscious of our social responsibility, I line with the social teaching of the Church.
This Church has been blessed in many ways. If we still are an independent country, this is because of the role played by the Church. We formed men and women of high calibre, not only for our own country, but also for the region and beyond. We have sent missionaries to many countries, they represent this Church and its will to share its faith.
Based on an interview with Gerard Lerotholi, OMI, Archbishop of Maseru, Lesotho