Final Farewell for Fr. Robert Lavertu in St. Gabriel’s Parish, Namushakende
Sunday, February 5, 2017, was an emotional day in St. Gabriel’s Parish, Namushakende, as parishioners gathered to bid farewell to their veteran priest, Fr. Robert Lavertu. After 54 gallant years of zealous service in different parts of Zambia Fr. Robert has been called back home to Canada to continue to serve as a missionary. He made his last missionary journey to the Lozi land on Saturday 04/02/2017 to goodbye the people he loves so much. This was his final farewell because a big farewell was organised for him in 2014 both at the diocese and parish levels when he was transferred to work in FENZA, Lusaka.
Robert presided the Sunday Mass in Namushakende, accompanied by Fr. Alfred Awogya and later went to celebrate Mass in the nearest outstation, St. Theresa’s, Namboata. After a few years out of the Lozi milieu, it’s amazing how he managed to celebrate Mass in Silozi and gave inspiring words to the Christians in his homily on his own missionary vocation and experience in Zambia. People had time to express their sentiments of gratitude to him in dramas, poems and songs. They blessed him in the Lozi traditional way by spitting water on him and offering him profound words of thanks and good wishes for the future.
Robert was part of the pioneer Missionaries of Africa group (together with Frs. Charles Obanya and Henry Byamukama) to arrive in Mongu in 2001 to start Namushakende Parish. He worked as pastoral coordinator of the Diocese for 10 years and later served as Parish Priest in Namushakende for two years. In all these years he has been very close to the people of Namushakende. The people remember him for his zeal and passion for the mission, for his closeness to the people and his simplicity, for his push for self-sustainability and for his passion for the Marriage Encounter Program.
Later on Sunday evening, we organised a small “last supper” for him. The Bishop of the Diocese, Evans Chinyemba and a few priests, sisters and church members joined in the celebration. Again, it was marked by deep sense of gratitude for the selfless work of Robert and his dedication to duty. We will miss him dearly. We pray for him and wish him well in his ministry in Canada. He goes but his words and actions lives on in the hearts and lives of the people of Namushakende and Mongu Diocese at large. Mu zamaye hande mutanga’ Mulena. Mulena a mi etelele shangwe.
With a very limited time left, Robert travelled back to Lusaka on Monday after the celebrations. Upon arrival, he sent the following inspiring words in an email addressed to the parishioners of Namushakende.
Being 80 years old with some health problems, the Superiors of the White Fathers in Canada have asked me to go back home. They will offer me some easier kind of work though I would have liked to continue to remain for a few more years in Zambia. That is why I came this weekend from Lusaka to pray with you here in Namushakende for a last time and offer you my farewell.
I am grateful to you and the Catholics of Namboata with whom we celebrated Mass together yesterday February 1st and could offer my goodbye. I would have liked to visit all the Christian communities of this beautiful parish, but it is not possible for lack of time. Indeed, I must prepare my journey home which will be on 14th February. To you all, dear Catholic parishioners, I offer my farewell and assure you of my prayers. I will always remember you and the happy times I was blessed to spend twelve years with you. May our loving God continue to bless you and help you to grow and give Him witness as His beloved children.
Note: Father Lavertu came to Zambia in 1963 and spent most of his missionary life in the Bemba land speaking Chibemba. But he went to Namushakende in 2002 up to 2014 and learn the Silozi language. To say to least, Father Lavertu accomplished a remarkable life as a missionary and learnt in death local cultures making then an important contribution to denounce the vices of witchcraft. He will also be remembered for his great generosity. We wish him a fruitful mission back home to Canada.