The Congregation of Holy Cross’s District of East Africa is the fasting growing sector of the Congregation. The addition of two more parishes in 2017 to its list of pastoral responsibilities is a concrete sign of that growth.
Both new parishes are in Tanzania. The first is St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Nyasaka-Mwanza, and the second is St. Felista Parish in Utegi. That brings to four the number of parishes for which Holy Cross has pastoral responsibility in Tanzania. The other Holy Cross parishes are St. Brendan Parish in Kitete and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish Sombetini Arusha. The latter was just taken on by Holy Cross in 2015.
The Congregation’s District of East Africa encompasses three countries, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Of those, the Holy Cross mission in Tanzania is the newest having only begun in 2000. As a result, the Congregation’s mission in the country was the least developed of the three, and yet there has been a surge in vocations to Holy Cross from Tanzania.
This vocational growth, as well as the pressing ministerial needs in Tanzania, led the District of East Africa, under the leadership of the previous District Superior, Fr. Patrick Neary, C.S.C., to expand its work in the country. It is a decision that Fr. Constantine Changwe, C.S.C., the new Superior of the District of East Africa, fully supports.
“Tanzania is so big and has a big need for priests,” said Fr. Changwe. “People walk long distances to pray on Sundays yet centers are many without priests. In taking up two new parishes, Holy Cross has extended the services to the local Church. We feel needed out there and have an impact in people’s spiritual lives. It is a prophetic call to go and make disciples of Christ, as well as more vocations to Holy Cross, per our charism and spirituality.”
Prior to the arrival of Holy Cross, diocesan priests had run St. Felista Parish for its first five years. Fr. Jawiambe Arnold, C.S.C., arrived and was installed by the bishop as the first Holy Cross pastor of the parish on July 11, 2017. Along with Fr. Arnold, the initial Holy Cross pastoral team included Fr. Lawrence Barasa Mwenya, C.S.C., and Mr. Nocodemus Guarino, C.S.C., a seminarian on a pastoral year.
Among the many present for Fr. Arnold’s installation were the Religious Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Africa. They work in the parish, administering a nursery, dispensary, and a girls’ secondary school.
As a large, and very young parish, Fr. Arnold says that St. Felista “provides a good opportunity for the Holy Cross charism to be taught and experienced. Many opportunities are available for growth of the parish ministry, including the establishment of a school ministry as well as Holy Cross Family Ministries.”
Among the strengths of the parish, Fr. Arnold cites the community’s hospitality and its thirst for learning about the faith. Practically speaking, he says there is also enough land for expansion, as the parish currently has eight outstations that it would like to develop into centers.
The challenges, though are also many, including widespread poverty, little access to water, a low level of education, and a high rate of HIV infection. Fr. Arnold, however, remains very hopeful in the face of those crosses, rattling off a list of hopes and dreams for the parish, such as the completion of the main church, the founding of a primary and then secondary school, programs to sensitize Christians to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, policies regarding financial transparency and good stewardship, and lively liturgies and celebrations of the Sacraments.
He believes that “the Holy Cross charism has a bearing on all of these [challenges]” and that “through collaboration and teamwork” they will be able to accomplish their goals in the new parish.
Located about 250 kilometers southeast of St. Felista Parish lies the Congregation’s other new parish of St. Anthony of Padua. It is the newest parish in the Archdiocese of Mwanza, having been carved out of Christ the Good Shepherd Parish in Buzulaga, which is under the stewardship of the Claretian Missionaries.
St. Anthony of Padua was raised from an outstation or chapel and formally founded as a parish on July 16, 2017, in a colorful and joyful celebration presided over by the Most Rev. Jude Thaddeus Rwai’chi, OFM Cap, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Mwanza. The celebration drew over 6,000 people, including many of the lay faithful from the surrounding parishes who came to support their brothers and sisters in Christ.
That, of course, made Holy Cross’s first pastor, Fr. Linus Nviiri, C.S.C., also the founding pastor of the parish. It is a task that Fr. Nviiri greeted with great enthusiasm, believing that starting a new parish is a “good way to start nurturing the Holy Cross Spirituality and Charism.”
Joining Fr. Nviiri as the first Holy Cross pastoral team in the parish were Fr. Aristides Massawe, C.S.C., and Mr. Okuthe Patrick, C.S.C., a seminarian on a pastoral year.
Over a half a year into his new assignment and new pastoral responsibilities, Fr. Nviiri remains very hopeful about the presence and mission of Holy Cross at St. Anthony’s.
“We are thankful to God for this new parish, which is a fertile ground for evangelization,” said Fr. Nviiri. “As men with hope to bring, we are never pessimistic. The challenges we encounter present to us favorable ground for evangelization.”
Among those challenges, Fr. Nviiri cites an increasing rate of Islamization as well as growth in Pentecostal churches. The economy has also been going through a tough time.
“By the same token, the Parish is vibrant, in a growing and developing area and close to the city and airport. The Christians have been so welcoming, with open hearts ready to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ, to know him, to love him, to follow him and share that love with other people,” said Fr. Nviiri.
“My hope is to make Christ visible to the many in simple but profound ways and also to make Holy Cross known in the diocese as a distinguished Congregation,” he concluded.
The Congregation’s growth in East Africa is far from done. With large classes in initial formation at this time, Holy Cross will continue to discern how it can best respond to the local needs, as well as those far beyond.
“With these new parishes, we have also extended our mission as a missionary community. This prompts us to move beyond borders of all sorts,” said Fr. Changwe. “It encourages internationality as a tool for apostolic growth. Long live Holy Cross.”