New beginnings in southern Africa

POST BY GClapson

Children at Makumbi Mission, Zimbabwe
Children at Makumbi Mission, Zimbabwe

As Jesuits in southern Africa realign their structures, Heribert Mueller SJ reflects on their history and their hopes for the future.

“We are at a new beginning and feel like pioneers. Indeed, we experience a 'kairos', a moment of grace, in our history as Jesuits in southern Africa.”  Those were the words of Fr Chukwunyenum Afiawari SJ (Fr Chuks), the Rector of Arrupe College at an historic meeting in Harare on 8 January 2015, exactly one month after Father General in Rome announced that the Zimbabwe Province and the Mozambique Region were to be merged into one Province. 

There is a lot of hope in the air. The guiding question is 'what is the Lord calling us to do?' In our common search the Ignatian dispositions of generosity and joyful service to the poor will show us the way forward. During intense moments of prayer and sharing, a vision statement for the new Province emerged: we are committed to being a body of men centred on Christ, joyfully united in mind and heart, called to building the Church in collaboration with others and to serving the Kingdom of God at the frontiers by setting the minds and hearts of the people of Zimbabwe and Mozambique on fire through promoting faith that does justice. 

With the merger of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the new Province now has 187 members, spread from Maputo in the South to Lifidzi in the North, from Bulawayo in the West to Beira in the East. Statistics show that more than 50% are younger than 40 years and about 80 are still in formation. Jesuits are working in three of the ten Provinces of Mozambique, in Maputo, Sofala and Tete.

Missions

The Society of Jesus has a long and rich history in Mozambique. In 1542, on his way to India, Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Mozambique and stayed there for about six months. In 1560, venerable Father Goncalo da Silveira SJ, together with his companions, made the first attempt to evangelise in the interior of the country, penetrating as far as the court of Monomutapa where (in present day Zimbabwe) he was martyred.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, along the Zambezi valley, the Jesuits evangelised in the difficult context of invading gold and silver seekers and unscrupulous slave traders. Persecution the Portuguese First Minister, the Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782), forced the Jesuits to abandon the whole of this promising mission area. But they returned in 1881 and were integrated into the Zambezi Mission.  They took over the management of several parishes in Quelimane, Mopeia, Sena and Tete, founding the College ‘Bom Jesus’ and, in 1885, the Mission of Boroma.
In 1910, with the Republican Revolution, the Jesuits were once more expelled from Mozambique by the Portuguese government. But in 1941, six Jesuits sailed from Lisbon and arrived in Angonia in the Province of Tete in Mozambique. This time they came to stay.

Zimbabwe-Mozambique Jesuit Missions

Formation

Many Jesuits in Zimbabwe (formerly a Region of the British Province) and their works are known to supporters of the Jesuits in Britain; not so our fellow Jesuits in Mozambique, where men are working in three of the ten Provinces of the country: in Maputo, Sofala and Tete.
The headquarters of the former Portuguese Region of Mozambique are based in the capital, Maputo. Fifteen kilometers outside Maputo, in the town of Matola, the parish of St John the Baptist is run by Jesuits. In general, our parishes aim at forming the whole person through adjacent formation and vocational promotion centres. St Ignatius Centre in Satemwa, for example, is used by all surrounding parishes for retreats and the formation courses for catechists.

In Sofala, not far from the city of Beira, 11 young men are undergoing their initial Jesuit training in the novitiate in the Manga district. The Padre Joao de Deus Kamtedza Vocation and Spirituality Centre and the Padre Cirilo Cultural Centre welcome young and old for educational programmes, prayer and reflection and social get-togethers. Both centres are linked to our parish of St John the Baptist in the Matacuane district of Beira.

In the town of Tete, Jesuits take care of the Cathedral parish and in the altoplano of Angonia, they are responsible for the parishes in Fonte Boa and Msaladzi, the St Francis Xavier Mission in Lifidzi (which is more than a century old) and the parishes in Domwe and Chabwalo.

Development

It has always been the desire of our brethren in Mozambique for a long time to develop the Society's own infrastructure with specifically Ignatian apostolic works. Out of the 68 Jesuits working in Mozambique, 44 are in formation and 19 of them are in studies outside the country in Brazil, Congo, Kenya, Spain, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Social outreach to the poor is carried out by Jesuits who seek to collaborate in schools and colleges run by the state. Others are involved in the farming sector and in caring for orphans whose parents have died of AIDS. There is also a project that helps to build small communities which support vulnerable children who are cared for by specially trained women.

Among the new apostolic ventures in Mozambique at the moment are the creation of an agricultural project in Satemwa for the development of surrounding farming communities, the building of a secondary boarding school for Msaladzi in Tete Province, and a multi-purpose social centre for retreats, civic education and media productions in Maputo.

There is certainly a feeling of new beginnings in the new Zimbabwe - Mozambique Province. There are many challenges ahead. But we trust in the Lord, appreciating each other's traditions and languages and giving a joyful witness of God's presence in the world today.

A shorter version of this blog post was published in the Spring 2015 edition of Jesuits and Friends. Photo: Children at Makumbi Mission, Zimbabwe. Credit: Jesuit Missions