Tanzania is a republic in the Indian Ocean in East Africa with a population of 35 million people of whom 9 million are Catholic. The Spiritans in Tanzania work with both local and refugee populations, who mostly make their living from the land. As part of its mission to work with the poor and the oppressed, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit has made first evangelization and refugee ministry among its top priorities in Tanzania.
In his memoir, Christ Before Literacy, Fr. Ralph J. Poirier, C.S.Sp., wrote of his experiences as one of the first Spiritan missionaries among the Maasai Tribe situated in Tanzania, and is one example of these first evangelization efforts and life as a missionary.
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.
Spiritans attempt 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 U.S. 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 the better part of a half century, Father Ned Marchessault, CSSp, has been in Africa as a Spiritan missionary. His past 25 years have been in Tanzania where he conducted over two thousand Maasai baptisms with the establishment of six active Christian communities. In addition, Fr. Marchessault has addressed the near lack of education among the Maasai, and his activities are detailed on his Website, Ned’s Mission. 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 Maasai 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 more than thirty 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.