A Tribute to Fr. Emil Blaser OP by Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM
I got to know Fr. Emil Blaser through his work at the Bishops’ Conference, where a number of his confreres were also engaged. Some were teaching at St Peter’s Seminary, Hammanskraal, which was then run by the Dominican Order; another was Secretary General of the Conference; still another was Bishop of the Diocese of Kroonstad, which at that time was staffed by the Order of Preachers; still others were engaged via Justice and Peace in activism against the injustices of apartheid.
This meant that for many years there had been a very close working relationship between the Bishops of Southern Africa and the Dominicans.
Given this close association it was not a surprise when the Conference called on a Dominican to lead its efforts to engage in radio broadcasting. And that Dominican was none other than Emil Blaser.
What was special about Emil Blaser?
First of all, his keen interest in broadcasting the Word of God. As a member of the Order of Preachers (OP) preaching in whatever form had to be his bread and butter. As a Dominican and a priest, Emil had a natural bent for communicating the message of the Gospel. Then he had an excellent and natural radio voice and the kind of personality suited putting across the message of the Gospel as “The Good News for a Change”. Fr. Emil did this so smoothly and naturally that listeners felt compelled to tune in and listen, again and again!
When the SACBC took the decision to enter the field of broadcasting it was only natural that they should turn to the Dominicans in general and Emil Blaser in particular. His first venture was television, which went very well, but as far as I remember proved to be just too expensive for the small Catholic audience to maintain without massive funding from abroad. Hence the switch to Radio, and the birth of Radio Veritas.
In its early days Radio Veritas was able to cover the entire country. As a result it made a huge impact on Catholic South Africa. Unfortunately that didn’t last and Radio Veritas was limited to broadcasting on Medium Wave only, which severely reduced its listenership.
On the plus side the arrival of internet opened up new possibilities, which Emil took up immediately and was making a good go of it until he suffered a severe breakdown in his health. Eventually he was forced to give up the love of his life, the broadcast ministry which brought him into the lives of so many of God’s People, who had a special place for him in their heart.
Fr. Emil brought comfort to many house-bound people until he himself joined them in his latter years.
During my years of formation in Ireland, it was a living custom for the Dominicans and the Franciscans to regard each other as religious Cousins rather than simple associates. Thus we would celebrate the feast of St Dominic as that of “our Father, Dominic”, to which the Dominicans would reciprocate by celebrating the feast to their “Father Francis”.
With all this in mind that I offer my sincere Sympathies in the first place to Emil’s confreres, but I must immediately add those for whom Emil was the purveyor of the “Good News for a Change!. Today I pray that he is the recipient of the best news possible: “Good and faithful servant, come into the kingdom of your Lord!”
Emil rest in peace!
+Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM
Archbishop of Durban
18th November 2020
Tribute to Father Emil Blaser OP by Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS (SACBC Secretary General
I would like to give a short history of who Fr. Emil was. I am sure those who worked with him during his days in Khanya House would describe him better than me.
This morning as Khanya House Staff members would like to offer this special Mass for the later Fr Emil Blaser, a member of Dominican Community – Our sincere condolences, a big tree has fallen!
Fr. Emil Blaser took office as the SACBC Associate Secretary General in mid-1992, when he replaced Sr. Brigid Flanagan, a Holy Family Sister. He held the position up until 1997 when Fr Richard Menatsi was appointed to the same office during January Plenary session.
The office of the SACBC Associate Secretary General had many portfolios, but Fr. Emil prominently features in our records in matters pertaining to the Office for Social Communications.
Early in 1993, the SACBC sought to appoint a full-time secretary for the Office for Social Communications. In spite of his other duties as the associate secretary general, Fr. Emil shouldered a lot of responsibilities in that office – in the absence of the required Secretary. He subsequently took a leading role in the dissemination of the Christian messages through mass media platforms that were available at the time. Public broadcasters such as the SABC and M-Net allocated radio and television airtime for weekly religious programs and Fr. Emil was at the forefront of the production and presentation of the Catholic Church programs.
In early 1996 the SACBC Bishops decided that Fr. Emil should become a full-time head of the Office for Social Communications, but that decision had to be delayed as there was a delay in appointing a new Associate Secretary General. Influence by the demand of the new office he had also tried to resign from the office of the Associate Secretary General in pursuit of his growing involvement in Social Communications activities, but his attempt was not successful.
From 1997 onwards Fr. Emil continued to serve the SACBC as Secretary of the Office for Social Communications where some of his prominent tasks included setting up a Catholic Community Radio (Radio Veritas); producing and conducting media presentations; and making sure that other SACBC Radio and television presenters were adequately trained on their roles. This was his passion. He also served on the Religious Broadcasting Panel and was also a board member of the Independent Forum for Religious Broadcasting (IFRB).
In his own words, Fr Emil wrote: “The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) established the Radio Veritas Trust in 1998 when the bishops asked me to investigate setting up a Catholic Radio Station. This was my life’s dream and I immediately started consulting people and putting together initial structures which were presented to the bishops.
In 1998, Radio Veritas applied to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) for an FM Community Radio License. It marked the beginning of a long and often frustrating road to the Radio Veritas permanently on air”. In 1999 the station was officially launched.
“We thank Fr. Emil for his determination. His voice has fallen silent but the Word of the Lord resounds. Fr. Emil was a visionary and inspiration of Radio Veritas, bringing the Good News to the people of South Africa. A gentle person on the radio”. These were the words of the SACBC Spokesperson Archbishop Slattery.
We shall remember him. May God give him that place he had prepared for him.
Rest in Peace Fr. Emil. Radio Veritas the Good News for a change! Will continue.
By Sr Hermenegild Makoro CPS
SACBC Secretary General
19th November 2020