Mission Tanzania: 150 Years of Jesus' Gospel
“FAITH IS GOD’S PRECIOUS GIFT… A GIFT NOT RESERVED FOR THE FEW BUT OFFERED WITH GENEROSITY. EVERYONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO EXPERIENCE THE JOY OF BEING LOVED BY GOD, THE JOY OF SALVATION!”
4 November • Tanzania, East Africa
4 November marks 150 years of Catholic Evangelization in Tanzania, East Africa. Of this century and a half, 85 of these years were were marked with the Pallottine presence; in which St. Vincent’s spirit greatly shaped Catholicism as it is seen today.
With 9 Pallottine parishes, a rehabilitation center, schools, and a formation house for postulancy and philosophy, Fr. Allan Bukenya SAC recounts the celebration, and days past.
1868 • Tanzania’s Catholic Pioneers • 2018
Fr. Allan Bukenya, SAC
An African proverb says, “You may not need an old man’s stick, but you cannot ignore his word.” In the Book of Sirach, the author advises his readers in similar terms: “Reject not the tradition of old men which they have learned from their fathers; from them you will obtain the knowledge and how to answer in time of need” (Sir. 8, 9).
In African tradition, the word of an elder- especially that of a father or mother- always indicates the right path to obtain genuine happiness. Thus, we learn from such proverbs, and try to put them into practice long after an elder’s death; passing them from generation to generation, never losing their memory.
History tells us that Bishop Armand Maupoint, from Reunion Islands, assigned his vicar general Fr Armand Fava Zanzibar to found a mission. On December 22, 1860, Fr Fava- accompanied by Fr Jego, Fr Casmir, a surgeon and six sisters of the Daughters of Mary- arrived in Zanzibar. This very mission opened a door towards evangelization to Tanzania’s mainland, and the interior of East Africa in general.
Bishop Armand then requested the Propaganda Fide to create a Prefecture in Zanzibar, which was granted, though with the condition that it was only run by expert missionaries. At that time, there were no other missionaries with such experience other than the Holy Ghost Fathers.
From Zanzibar they moved to Bagamoyo, a strategic point to penetrate the interior of East Africa. It’s vital to remember that although the rest of Europe was abolishing the slave trade, in Africa it was almost beginning, and the regional slave market was active in Bagamoyo.
On March 4, 1868, Fr Anthony Horner opened Bagamoyo Catholic Mission, which became home to liberated slaves. This prominent event marked the beginning of Christianity in mainland Tanzania, and the very reason why we are celebrating 150 years of Evangelization in our country today.
The first missionaries believed that the success of their mission depended on a balance in prayer life, work and Christian instruction. These men will be remembered especially in their successful interreligious dialogue with the Muslim communities under Arabic sultans; otherwise, if they did not enter into amicable dialogue with sultans- such as the Lord Sultan Said Majid of Unguja, who had a successful dialogue with Fr Fava- perhaps there would have been no chance of others learning the Gospel.
Interestingly, these missionaries also brought one of the world’s most beloved drinks: coffee! Missionary Fr. Horner brought coffee seeds and them in Bagamoyo; however there was no good result. He then planted some to Kilimanjaro, where they not only grew well, but it became the villager’s cash crop! These missionaries further championed culture by creating a French-Swahili Dictionary and they left a great heritage in their writings.
It was on their foundation that almost 82 years later, our own Pallottine Missionaries- Bishop Patrick Winters, Fr James Mullen, and Fr Vincent Callaghan- built up Christianity in Tanzania. They had already established missions in Gallapo and Mbugwe, with a considerable number of Christians in Mbulu Diocese. As the Church in Tanzania celebrates 150 years of Evangelization, many of its key players have been the Pallottine Fathers; who for over 75 years have faithfully handed on the gospel of liberty not only to the physically enslaved, but also the spiritually enslaved.
The seed planted by our forefathers have produced great fruit. Slavery was abolished, schools were built, many missions were founded, and we have many Christians, accompanied by a considerable amount of committed clergy. Thanks to these courageous men and women, civilization in its real sense came to the mainland. People learned how to read, write, and and grow in the skills of arithmetic. They really brought the Gospel to the captives! How grateful we are for the work they did!
On this 150 years of evangelization, let us keep the memory of those missionaries who brought us light, remain faithful to the Gospel they brought us, and always pray for them.
By Allan Bukenya, SAC.
Director of Promotions
To read more about our missions in Tanzania, you can follow these links: