3,000 people attend funeral of murdered Flemish priest in South Africa

Fr Jozef Hollanders murdered in robbed in South Africa

No less than 3,000 people gathered on Wednesday to attend the funeral of Jef Hollanders, the 83-year-old priest originally from Flanders who was found murdered in his home in South Africa on 13 January.

The funeral took place at the Klerksdorp cathedral in the town of Bodibe in South Africa and saw no less than 100 priests, some of whom were close colleagues and students of Hollanders, attend.

“Father Joseph led a sober life. He was still enthusiastic, he wanted to build another church and renovate another one. He did not hesitate to go to remote areas to visit the sick and elderly,” bishop of Klerksdorp, Victor Phalana, noted during the ceremony.

Armed robbery

The 83-year-old priest is believed to be the victim of an armed robbery that went wrong,” VRT explains, adding that there had been a recent wave of muggings and robberies in the area. Authorities suspect that the priest died from strangulation.

The day after the priest’s body was discovered, authorities arrested a 20-year-old man who was found in possession of the priest’s phone.

Authorities have more recently arrested a second suspect in connection with the murder.

The 83-year-old priest, originally from Flanders, had worked as a missionary in South Africa since 1965.

 ‘The Oblates of Mary Immaculate in South Africa, OMISA are devastated by the death of Fr. Jozef (Jef) Hollanders”, says a statement reported by Fides News Agency. “His body was discovered on Monday afternoon by a parishioner. The police are fully involved in investigating his murder”.

“We are deeply affected by what has happened. Jeff was found tied hand and foot and with a rope around his neck. A terrible death for someone who dedicated his whole life to his mission,” said Fr. Daniël Coryn, provincial superior of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary, from Blanden in Belgium. According to His Exc. Mgr. Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp, Bishop of Bodibe, the missionary probably died of a heart attack or strangulation.

It is not excluded that Fr. Hollanders suffered a robbery attempt, but according to Archbishop Phalana, the robbers were misinformed: “Everyone knows he had no money. He served a poor community. He used every penny he ever owned for his people. He gave away everything he had”. According to the Bishop, the ecclesial community has been hit hard. Fr. Hollanders was “full of enthusiasm, life, and dedication” and spoke fluently Afrikaans and Tswana, a Bantu language spoken in South Africa and Botswana. “He was part of people’s lives.”

55 years with the poor

Fr. Hollanders was born in Belgium on March 4, 1937. He professed his first vows as an Oblate on September 8, 1958, and was ordained a priest on December 26, 1963. He arrived in South Africa on January 31, 1965.

“For 55 years was a dedicated and faithful missionary in the Tswana-speaking area, now North West Province of South Africa”, underlines the statement. “He liked to create new Christian communities, which have become parishes or parish stations in what has become the diocese of Klerksdorp.”

“We were reminded that Jesus died at the hands of others and we imagined that Father Jef would say:” Forgive them because they do not know what they are doing,” concluded the OMISA statement.