KEVELAER

OUR LADY. CONSOLER OF THE AFFLICTED

HISTORY

Kevelaer in South Africa is situated near the village of Donnybrook which lies alongside the road leading from Ixopo to the Drakensberg. A traveller will see, on the right hand side a group of buildings dominated by a tall red brick church-tower. This is the mission station of Kevelaer, founded 1888 by Abbot Francis Pfanner of Mariannhill. He called this place after a town in Northern Germany. Kevelaer, which had been a well known place of Pilgrimage since 1642. A benefactor from Kevelaer in Germany wished the new station to be called this. It was the custom of the Founder Abbot to call his new foundations in Africa after famous places of pilgrimage in honour of Our lady scattered all over Europe.

 

KEVELAER IN GERMANY

Near Christmastime in 1641, on three separate occasions while praying at a crucifix in a field outside the town, a certain Henry Busman heard a voice calling on him "Build here a little chapel for me." Shortly thereafter his wife had a vision in which she saw an image of a picture similar to that which she had seen on two small copper prints in the possession of two soldiers from the town. These soldiers were engaged in the Thirty Years War between France and Germany and had visited the shrine of Our lady of Luxembourg to pray for the safety of their captain who had been captured. Before leaving, they had purchased the small prints of the picture, known as "Our Lady Comforter of the Affiicted". This was the result of special devotions which had taken place in Luxembourg during a major epidemic in 1623.

The following words appear on the prints which measure about 75mm x 110mm: 'True copy of the picture of the Mother of Jesus Comforter of the Afflicted - as it is well known through the many miracles and venerated by many in the neighbourhood of the city of Luxembourg.' One of these prints was subsequently - as a result of the request from above, kept in the chapel at Kevelaer in Northern Germany built in 1642, and since that date many confirmed miracles have been recorded.

 

KEVELAER IN SOUTH AFRICA

In 1932 the then missionary at Kevelaer, Fr. Vitalis Fux of the Congregation of the Mariannhill Missionaries was allowed by his Bishop. Mgr. Adalbero Fleischer to go to Switzerland to raise funds in order to build a larger church at his mission station The ever growing number of Christians necessitated this. When Fr. Vitalis thought to have fulfilled his task, his superiors asked him to stay on and help build up his Congregation in that Country During a break from this task he made a pilgrimage to Kevelaer in Germany in order, to place before "Our Lady, Consoler of the Afflicted" all his worries and especially his people and the station of Kevelaer in Natal. There he saw for the first time the miraculous picture of Our Lady and he also had a chance to preach to the pilgrims about Kevelaer in the mission lands He got to know the history of this shrine and also that the second picture was still in the possession of the descendants of the second soldier, Because of the wonderful and miraculous cures wrought at the shrine, this other picture was much treasured and was handed down through the family for nearly 300 years. The last owner, an elderly lady in her seventies, was approached by Fr. Vitalis in August 1933 and asked to donate the picture for a shrine that he wished to erect at Kevelaer in Natal. She refused however as after the First World War their family business had been brought to ruin and this picture was her only treasured possession.

After a visit to Our lady's shrine in lourdes in France, Fr. Vitalis received a considerable sum of money from a lady to whom he had shown kindness during this trip. Her intention was to support him in erecting a shrine in honOur of Our lady in South Africa. Thereupon he once more visited the elderly lady and showed her and her husband a series of coloured slides of the missions in Natal. Their hearts were touched and the lady brought the treasured picture. With a last kiss she gave it to Fr. Vitalis to take back to South Africa The family's name was Strucken-baur, living at Suchtelen near Kevelaer in Germany. In October 1933 the happy Fr. Vitalis when returning to his Missionhouse in Brig, Switzerland, paid a visit to the famous visionary Therese Neumann in Konnersreuth, Germany. She was com pletely unable to see, as two streams of blood were coursing down her face from her eyes. However, as soon as the picture was held in front of her she placed her finger on the spot where 1640 was printed and then slowly moved to the face of Our lady, saying: "This is the Mother of Our Redeemer, Consoler of the Affiicted ." The priest felt sure that there was no doubt as to the authenticity of the picture.

Before Father started his return journey to South Africa. he was again approached by a kind lady who wished to donate the ornate frame plated with gold and silver and studded with precious stones in memory of her husband who had been killed in the First World War. For at least 2 years artists and craftsmen worked on this beautiful shrine at the firm of Kosters and Seegers in Kevelaer. After hundreds of hours of work it was completed, an exact replica of the original at Kevelaer in Germany. ready to come to South Africa. Another benefactor. Franz Hof. paid for the expenses of the wooden altar and the sepulchre under the mensa. This was made by the sculptor Anton Mussner in Ortisei, Southern Tyrolia.

In the meantime work was going on to build the new church at Kevelaer. The successor of Fr. Vitalis, Fr. Felix Seeger, was working with his own hands and the help of some African builders, at this structure while Fr. Vitalis was still in Europe. But the lord demanded a great sacrifice. The zealous missionary followed the call to visit a sick man. He came back home drenched to the skin. He contracted pneumonia and died as a result of this in the year 1938.

But the return of Fr. Vitalis was hindered by the outbreak of the Second World War. Only in 1947, after an almost 14- year break in his missionary work, could he go back to South Africa. With the precious picture in his luggage, his homeward journey was very eventful. He survived several serious accidents, but Our Lady was looking after her image. One of the accidents was an air crash over the jungles of the Congo basin, when flying on the final stage home to Natal. The engines failed and the plane had to make a forced landing. Providentially a clearing appeared in the sea of green which stretched as far as the eye could see. The pilot was able to land successfully with no injury to any of the passengers or crew. After camping near the wreck for several days they were rescued; and so a final chapter was written in the travels of the picture to its new home. Back in Mariannhill the precious picture was solemnly transferred to the new church at Kevelaer and put up on the wooden carved altar.

Since the year 1947 pilgrims from all walks of life and every racial group of South Africa began to make their way to this shrine of Our Lady and place their petitions before her. The number of pilgrims increased year after year so that the Bishop of Mariannhill, Rt. Rev. Alphonse Streit, thought of declaring Kevelaer officially a place of pilgrimage. This happened in the year 1953. He directed a Pastoral letter to the Clergy and faithful of the Diocese in which he pointed out how highly the Mother of God has been venerated throughout the missions of Mariannhill since its foundation. He also pointed out that his predecessor, Bishop Adalbero Fleischer, had dedicated the whole Diocese to Our Blessed Mother on 21 November 1943, in the midst of the unrest of World War II. Then he explained that the priests of the Diocese had wished, since Mary was the Patroness of the Diocese, that also a special place was offered, as a place of pilgrimage, where the faithful could assemble on certain days in order to praise God and honour Mary. It was the wish of the majority of priests that Kevelaer should be that place. This was not only because of its situation near a railway station and along a main route by car or bus, but especially because of the presence of the precious shrine of Kevelaer with its picture as old and venerable as that of the original Kevelaer in Germany.

It was resolved to celebrate the feast of the Assumption with special solemnity at Kevelaer. Under the title of the Assumption Mary was chosen as Patroness of the Diocese of Mariannhill. All the faithful were invited to join in these festivities by visiting the shrine - also on other occassions - to pray for their own intentions, for those of the Diocese and of the whole Church. In the year 1954 Bishop Streit, together with Fr. Ferdinand Holzner (later Superior General) visited Kevelaer in Northern Germany and established close contact between the two places of pilgrimage. In the year 1956 Bishop Michael Keller of Munster - in whose Diocese Kevelaer is situated paid a return visit to our own Kevelaer. He took part in the great pilgrimage of August 1965 and established a sponsorship between his Diocese and Kevelaer. He also took upon himself to support the many mission schools financially since they were without state help since the year 1954. The Bishop remained committed to his pledge till the end of his life in 1965.

Every year thousands of pilgrims visit Kevelaer especially on the weekend of the feast of the Assumption in August, when services take place from Saturday afternoon to midday on Sunday. In common with the shrine in Germany there have been numerous reports of prayers being heard as a result of devotions in the mission church.

The many plaques adorning the walls in the chapel of the shrine have been placed there by grateful people and families. Those who are not able to be present personally send their petitions by post. Thousands such letters are received year after year, showing great confidence and sincere devotion to Our Lady. The general contents of these letters range from personal needs and worries and distress in body and soul to apostolic zeal and sacrifice for their fellow men and for the Church in the present troublesome times. Many a mother offers to God through Our Lady her children with the petition that God might bless her with a priestly vocation, that her people might be served in their spiritual needs.

The actual picture of "Our Lady Consoler of the Afflicted", which came to us from Kevelaer looks inconspicuous and insignificant. It is a copper plate size 75 by 110 mm dated 1640, probably made in Antwerp. Yet it has been the goal of countless pilgrimages. It shows in the foreground the Madonna in a wide, open cloak, with the Baby Jesus with crown and globe on her left arm; a sceptre in her right hand, and a crown on her head. In the left background is the town of Luxembourg, on the right is the Chapel of Luxembourg which is outside the walls of the town. Above the picture is the inscription: "Consolatrix Afflictorum ora pro nobis - Comforter of the Afflicted, pray for us".

However, a further image of Our Lady as sorrowful Mother and Consoler of the Afflicted is situated under the mensa of the altar. It is this image which inspires many pilgrims also to pray and to offer their gifts. The church harbours also an image of Jesus tied to the pillar after his scouring. This too is an object of much devotion and veneration. It was carved for Kevelaer by the Swiss sculptor A. Payer. Outside the church a beautiful fountain can be seen, above which is enthron~ ed the figure of Our Lady of Kevelaer as seen on the actual picture of the shrine. People love to take home some of the water pouring into the basin of the fountain from the mouths of four figurines. The whole is the work of the Munich artist Fischer.

Kevelaer is by now known far beyond the boundaries of the Diocese of Mariannhill and Natal. Pilgrims even come from neighbouring countries like Lesotho, Swaziland, Transkei and Transvaal. They love to come together as a great family of God, loved by Him and taking refuge under the mantle of "Our Lady, the Consoler of the Afflicted". Our Lady of Kevelaer, pray for us.

PRAYER TO OUR LADY, COMFORTER OF THE AFFLICTED

O Lord Jesus Christ. grant that your Mother Mary, Our Lady of Kevelaer and Comforter of the Afflicted. be our intercessor. Grant that through her your blessing may be upon your people who are in need of your help at your chosen place at Kevelaer. Praise be to your Father; let His Kingdom be fulfilled in this country; pour your love into our hearts so as to love all men and place our hope in our Comforter of the Afflicted in all the troubles and dangers of this life. You who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Remember O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection. implored your help and sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence we fly to you, O Virgin of Virgins and our Mother. Before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.


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