On July 15, 2015, the Congregation of Holy Cross expanded its mission in Tanzania, assuming pastoral responsibility for Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Sombetini, in the Archdiocese of Arusha. It is the second parish administered by Holy Cross in Tanzania.
“Our District is growing quickly in numbers, and we are one of the fastest growing sectors in the Congregation,” said Fr. Patrick Neary, C.S.C., the Superior of the District of East Africa. “All in the District of East Africa are excited by our assuming this new parish in one of the more beautiful and fastest growing cities in East Africa.”
The great growth in vocations in the District of East Africa had created not just the possibility, but the need to expand the Congregation’s work in the region, which includes Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Tanzania was chosen as the place for the expansion at this time because prior to assuming the responsibility for Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Holy Cross had only one apostolate in the country. The new parish strengthens the Congregation’s presence in Tanzania, which has been a steady source of vocations for Holy Cross.
“This parish is only a two and a half hour drive from St. Brendan’s Parish in Kitete, Tanzania. It will now afford our brothers in Kitete a Holy Cross community where they can visit, run errands in Arusha, or simply rest,” explained Fr. Neary. “It has also allowed the District to create a new region in Tanzania, meaning that the men in Kitete no longer have to travel to Nairobi for regional meetings, which will save much in terms of time, distance, and expense.”
As for the particulars of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Sombetini, it was established by the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) as an outstation in 2001 and became a full-fledged parish only in 2007. Located in the Northeast of Arusha, Sombetini is a steadily growing suburb of the city. Most of its residents are low income earners, some of them working as casual laborers in small business enterprises. In the words of the parish’s new pastor, Fr. Prosper Tesha, C.S.C.: “As a growing slum, it poses both blessings and challenges for ministry.”
At a meeting between the leadership of Holy Cross and the Divine Word Missionaries in June, the Most Rev. Josaphat Lebulu, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Arusha, remarked that he always wanted Holy Cross to serve in his diocese. He mentioned that he attended a rosary rally in Moshi, Tanzania, when he was thirteen and saw Servant of God Patrick Peyton. He quoted Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C.’s famous maxim that “the family that prays together stays together.” He concluded his remarks by stating, “At long last, it is happening.”
Archbishop Lebulu’s warm welcome of Holy Cross was certainly echoed by the parishioners when Fr. Tesha arrived to Sombetini with his assistants, Fr. Silvester Makwali, C.S.C., and Fr. Linus Nviiri, C.S.C. Seminarian Innocent Mwesigwa, C.S.C., is also serving at the parish this year.
“I want to admit that so far the Holy cross community here has witnessed and has been treated to the Tanzanian hospitality,” said Fr. Tesha. “Great has been the reception, and with joyful hope, the future of Holy cross is bright and assured in this part of East Africa.”
The parish is known for a history of strong lay leadership, a quality that the Congregation is known for fostering in its parishes. Fr. Tesha points out that in a parish of around 5,000 members, there are 27 small Christian communities that already gather weekly for prayer and Scripture readings. He and the other Holy Cross priests at the parish see this as “a fertile ground for ministry and evangelization.”
“Since we are all called to nourishment in Word and Sacraments, and following the vision of our ancestors in Holy Cross, we hope to continue building a community of faith that is conformed to the image of Christ and Holy Cross charism and spirituality. Through our employment of new evangelization, we hope to deepen the prayer life and ministerial work of the parish,” said Fr. Tesha.
Drawing on the importance of the family in the Holy Cross tradition, as well as from the current focus that Pope Francis has placed on the family, Fr. Tesha sees a particular focus on the family in this work of evangelization.
“Our hope is also to continue awakening and rejuvenating the centrality and importance of family as an indisputable cell of parish life through faith-based programs, since our parish family is indeed made up of many families. For, the ‘family that prays together stays together.’ Without active prayerful families, the parish risks losing its potential and vibrancy,” he said.
In addition to its spiritual vibrancy, Sacred Hear of Jesus Parish is also known for an unusually high level of financial contributions from parishioners. To date, parishioners have funded a new Marian grotto, a 3-story health center/dispensary that is nearing completion, and the beginnings of a new parish church. They also renovated the rectory shortly before the Holy Cross religious arrived.
While much work has been done, much work remains, especially on the new church building as well as the parish grounds.
“For any organization to have a brilliant future, structures must exist and should be functional,” said Fr. Tesha. “Being a young parish, a lot waits it. We are grateful to the Divine Word Missionaries for the structures laid so far in the running of the parish. As Holy Cross, we even hope that these structures will be strengthened and improved for better performance and self-reliance. Our aim is to have a healthy parish.”
Even with all the work that remains, one can sense a great sense of excitement at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, both in the Holy Cross religious serving in the parish as well as the parishioners themselves.
“As Holy Cross men we continue putting our efforts, skills, and talents to make God known, loved, and served,” said Fr. Tesha. "It is my hope and wish that since the mantle is in our hands now, even greater things will happen as we continue being men with hope to bring.”