Tanzania is a republic in the Indian Ocean in East Africa, of 35 million people, about 25 percent of whom are Catholic. The Spiritans in Tanzania work with both local and refugee populations, who mostly live in rural areas and make their living from the land.
Fr. Paul Flamm, C.S.Sp., works in Tanzania with refugees from neighboring Burundi. The Spiritans work with more than 30,000 Catholics; perhaps half of them are active in the church. With this many people, the Spiritans spend most of their time on sacramental ministry, working hard to unify the community and strengthen its leadership. Fr. Flamm writes:
"Perhaps the greatest burden the refugees bear is the uncertainty of their lives. They spend months and even years without news of loved ones left behind in a country torn by war. There is pressure on them to return home. But the situation in Burundi remains very dangerous. No one knows if they will be able to recover the land and property they left behind."
We represent a spiritual presence.
- We are a helping hand that offers a link to the outside world for a refugee community that is too often forgotten.
- We try to be a unifying presence that chips away at all that divides the refugee community and Burundian society as a whole.
- We are advocates on their behalf, a voice of hope in an otherwise very difficult setting.
"In June 2000, the year of the Jubilee of Christianity, we celebrated the Jubilee for Migrants and Refugees. The church was decorated with all the items from the refugees' daily life: pots, pans, plastic cups, a blanket covering the altar and mosquito nets hanging from the rafters. We had asked people to bring religious articles which had helped them to remain faithful during these difficult years in exile and place them in baskets in front of the altar. At the Offertory, many brought beans and corn, filling four big sacks and spilling out in front of the altar. They held all these up in the air as we incensed them as a symbolic offering of their lives to God. It was one of the most powerful experiences of liturgy I have ever experienced."