Remembrances for our Deceased Brothers
Bishop Donal (Raymond) Lamont, O.Carm. (1911-2003)
Given at the Reception of the Remains in Terenure College on August 17, 2003, by J. Murray, O.Carm.
Welcome as we gather to welcome the remains of Bishop Donal Lamont to Terenure College.
Bishop Donal is in very familiar surroundings here. An Antrim man and proud of it, he came here as a boy to complete his secondary education. After ordination in 1937 he taught at the College until 1946 when he went to the missions, in what was then Southern Rhodesia. He was consecrated the first Bishop of the Diocese of Umtali in 1957. As bishop he presided over great developments in the Catholic life of the Diocese. He knew his people and understood their need for education and integration. He encouraged African vocations and in 1959 founded a congregation of African sisters, the Handmaids of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
My earliest and most abiding impression of him was when he called into our class at school. It was prior to his ordination as bishop, and as he spoke to us I could see a face that was full of determination combined with an infectious enthusiasm. Tonight we thank God for someone who was passionately concerned about the Church’s mission to preach a credible Gospel. Each day on our missions life begins with the recitation of the Divine Office followed by the Eucharist. That gave him, and those who worked with him, the strength which made it possible to exercise fearless opposition to the injustice which they saw all around. They were thus expressing the very essence of the Christian message.
Concern for the Church’s mission to preach a Gospel for all the people dominated his thinking and actions. He found no difficulty in accepting that the Church had a role as watchdog, that it should concern itself with the fortunes of its people. He saw his commitment to social justice as part of the message of the Church and he thus became very vocal in his opposition to racism and continued oppressive legislation, such as the Land Tenure Act, against the Rhodesian Native African. In his pastoral, Purchased People, a classic on racial injustice, issued in 1959, he took a prophetic and courageous stance on the issue of civil rights. It was a plea for justice and peace. His desire for peace was motivated by his indignation at the injustice of the system.
The road that the prophet takes is a lonely one and prophetic messages are, by definition, unwelcome, especially when they challenge the status quo. Prophets, like Bishop Donal, tend to cause trouble to themselves and those to whom their message is addressed. But, as he himself said, the Christian Gospel compelled him to speak out.
Engaging and articulate, from now on he was to become the single most influential voice for justice and freedom in that part of the world. He would speak for God and humanity as and when he thought it appropriate.
Courageous, scholarly, erudite, outspoken, challenging and with prodigious energy and commitment he continued to represent the un-represented in a series of pastoral letters which sought to redress the situation before it was too late. It was becoming a struggle about property rather than principles. As he saw it, morally, no race is entitled to regard another as inferior. No minority has a right to impose its rule on the majority. One side may not decide the criteria by which another is judged and use the conclusion to deprive them of its natural rights. He saw how racial discrimination was bringing about massive discontent and he warned the government that ignoring the problem would lead to violence and that communism would become an attractive alternative. He now began to use the international forum to highlight the injustices of the social system then in existence.
An impressive and sure-footed preacher, he seldom used notes. He could be stridently intolerant of all opposition and his open letter to the Rhodesian Government in 1976 was characterised by candour and compassion. A revolutionary document, it inspired the displeasure of the powers that be. It had far reaching affects and it triggered the government’s prosecution of him.
Those who wished to discredit him accused him of being a communist. He reminded the government that the Church didn’t condone violence anymore than it could ignore its causes. He defended the Church’s right to give help to anyone who asked for it. He was now taking a serious risk which he seemed to relish as he defended the morality of his actions. At his trial, at which he was charged of ‘exciting disaffection against the government and constitution of Rhodesia’, he declared that in over thirty years he never preached anything but peace. Then he continued, ‘I am glad to be here today to bear witness of the practical concern of the Church that God’s will, manifested in social justice, be done in Rhodesia’.
At the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in 1965 he said, ‘No land is so primitive as to be unfit for the Gospel, nor is any so uncivilised as not to need it’.
During all this time the affect of his personal charisma and his own faith was incalculable. His Episcopal motto was Ut Placeam Deo, ‘That I may please God’. I’m sure he did! I think it very appropriate to extend a special welcome to those of you who are here from the missions for you are the ones who continue to give enduring life to his vision.
On his retirement he gave retreats and assisted a number of Dioceses by administering the Sacrament of Confirmation in many parishes each year. On such occasions he would inspire all who heard him with his deep commitment to the Gospel and the Church. He had a way with words, and could become quite theatrical, as he captivated his audience with his reflection on the Gospel story.
A man of passionate inclinations, he was always the bishop who so often with reason and rage tried to keep all of us Carmelites in toe! On a social occasion his vitality and charm would bubble to the surface. His love and knowledge of literature would become obvious as he downloaded poetry or large sections of Shakespeare from his great memory. Poetry can be a way of distilling the essence of life and he knew how and when to use it.
A week before he died he quoted to me that piece from the play, Macbeth, where he reflected on the brevity of life:
‘Our, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.’
Then he added with a smile: ‘Wasn’t it a pity that Macbeth didn’t have a spark of faith which might offer him some hope after that very poetic and insightful observation’.
As I already said, he had great devotion to the Eucharist and since his retirement he celebrated Mass each Monday here for the local people. His last public Mass was only eight weeks ago. In his latter years he was always thankful for acts of kindness done to him and so it is appropriate to thank the College staff who cared for him and who care for us. In a special way I would like to thank his friends and doctors, the College matron, and the Sisters and nursing staff of Mount Carmel Hospital.
His leaving reminds us of the leaving of the prophet Simeon:
‘Now you can dismiss your servant to go in peace,
According to your word,
For my eyes have seen your Salvation,
Which you have prepared for all the nations,
The light to enlighten the gentiles
And give glory to Israel, your people’.
In iothlann Dé go gcastar sinn.
Go rabhaimid le cheile
I gcríoch na beatha buaine.