Tanzania is a republic in the Indian Ocean in East Africa, and almost 9 million of its 35 million people are Catholic. The Spiritans in Tanzania work with both local and refugee populations, who mostly make their living from the land.
One tribal grouping that was bypassed were the Maasai people, deemed to be “too pagan” and incorrigible, “unfit” for the Gospel. In the 1950s American Spiritans undertook the evangelization of the Maasai, Arush, and Sonjo (Batemi) peoples. At first beginning with elementary schools and medical services, the ministry moved into direct evangelization, i.e. First Evangelization, of primarily adult members of these tribes. Key to this effort was inculturation, using the languages and thinking of the people, incorporating the traditional cultural values and practices of these tribes to encourage the Gospel to be real and living for them in their own contexts continues to be the “modus vivendi” of this mission.
As part of its mission to work with the poor and the oppressed, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit has made refugees one of its priorities. In 1995 the Province of Tanzania responded to a call from the Bishops of Tanzania for help in offering pastoral care to the hundreds of thousands of refugees that fled Rwanda in the wake of the civil war and genocide in that country. From the very beginning, the US Province has been one of our primary supporters in that ministry.
These refugees are not only the poorest of the poor; they have witnessed horrors that most of us can barely imagine. Our ministry attempts to address their enormous needs for recovery from trauma, spiritual healing, and extreme physical deprivation.
In neighboring Burundi—a war-torn and dangerous region—refugees living in camps are experiencing every kind of poverty and fear. Their numbers are one-half active Catholics, and the Spiritans spend most of their time providing sacramental ministry, unifying the community, and strengthening leadership.
Father Paul Flamm, CSSp, a member of the US Province of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, has worked for twelve years with the refugee communities from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda living in the UNHCR camps in the dioceses of Rulenge and Kigoma in the far western region of Tanzania. Despite their suffering, these courageous Burundians deeply appreciate the value of life.
A number of refugees from Burundi have been relocated to Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, New York, where Fr. Flamm has visited with them during his sabbatical.
For forty-seven years, Father Ned Marchessault, CSSp, has been in Africa as a Spiritan missionary. His past twenty-five years have been devoted to working with the Maasi where he conducted over two thousand baptisms with the establishment of six active Christian communities.
In addition, Fr. Marchessault has addressed the near lack of education among the Maasi. As the young people receive an education, most of them return home to good-paying jobs and some now work for the conservation authority that governs the national park area in Tanzania. The Maasi have moved up to the status of middle-management employees on the game preserve, and several hold seats on the policy-making councils.
Father Pat Patten, CSSp, has spent twenty years as a bush pilot in Tanzania, the only Spiritan and only priest of four Flying Medical Service volunteers. They provide regular preventive, curative, and emergency health care and health education in areas far removed from ordinary medical facilities. The volunteers fly about nine hundred hours a year using two specially modified Cessna 206 aircraft. Last year they treated 17,554 patients and flew eighty-four emergency flights, treating everything from the common cold to injuries by hyenas and lions and spear wounds.