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Missionary news

News   -  11  ( 28.02.2006 )

In English-Speaking
East Africa


Damaso Zuazua, ocd - Secretary for the Missions

           En route to Africa


         We are on our way to Africa, West Africa, which is English speaking: to Kenya and Uganda. On the plane I sit next to Fr. Stephen Watson, one of the General Definitors, and take the opportunity during the long flight to read the Papal Encyclical Deus Caritas Est. The second part, in particular, made me examine my conscience about how I have served the Carmelite Missions.  “…the exercise of charity became established as one of the Church’s essential activities, along with the administration of the Sacraments and the proclamation of the Word…” (#22) – “For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity…, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression her very being” (#25).  He goes on to speak about the relationship between love and justice (#26-27).  And Benedict continued to disturb my conscience: “Love – caritas – will always be necessary, including in the most just societies…Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such…”(#28).  His penetrating and insightful words leave a lasting impression.




           This land used to belong to the Sultan of Zanzibar, who in 1877 offered it to the British government. The secret society of the Mau-Mau tribe is still remembered even today. In 1963 Kenya became a member of the Commonwealth. 


         The Consolata, Combonioni and other missionaries Congregations are very much present here.  Nairobi has a large number of religious houses for the formation of young members.


         We were accompanied to the Priory by the local Carmelite Superior in Nairobi, Fr. Dennis Geng, and Fr.Philip Thomas, the Provincial of the Washington Province. The short night does not really allow time to rest and sleep. But the lively hymn for morning prayer took away our sleepiness. 


         In our house situated along Langata Road we meet the five formators of the international community, which consists of 38 members, including Kenyans, Nigerians, Malawians, and Americans: 9 Priests and 29 Brothers in formation. The students frequent a college, situated next door to our residence. It is affiliated to the University of West Africa. There is also an Institute of Spirituality, whose new director is Fr. Stephen Payne, of the Washington Province.  Admiring this African reality I thought of Fr. Philip Sainz de Baranda.  During his two sexenniums as General (1979-1991) he dreamed of creating a centre for students to study in this city to help assure the formation for Anglophone Africa. With the seed of this idea was born other formation centres, in Nigeria and Tanzania.


         At the end of 1992 the great undertaking in Nairobi began.  In 1995 responsibility for this was given to the Washington Province.  It has now become a tradition for the Superiors in English-Speaking Africa to gather together here once a year. Soon it is hoped that a representative from South Africa will also come.  This year the theme for the encounter will be special: the preparation for the next Congress on Carmelite Formation in English-Speaking Africa. This will take place between July 5th to 7th and the General will come to preside.


         Our Carmelite Nuns are also to be found in this city as are other communities from the Carmelite family.  We leave Nairobi having just heard of the next Carmelite missionary foundation in Kisii.  Nairobi has many native vocations which augurs well for the future.


         To Uganda, flying over the Equator


         This is a country in conflict, especially in the region of the great lakes. The President has just been elected for a third term. Before the election the Religious in Uganda wrote a joint letter criticizing the fairness of the elections.


         It was here in 1860 that the Englishman, John Speke, discovered the source of the Nile.  The primitive religion was monotheistic. Catholicism entered the country with the White Fathers, the Mill Hill Missionaries and the Comboni Missionaries. There are the famous Ugandan martyrs: 12 died between 1885 – 1887.  About a century later Pope Paul VI came to commemorate them. At the time he said: “You Africans should now have your own missionaries..That is to say that you, Africans, should continue the building up of the Church in this continent”. 


         In the land of Carmel


         Before I speak about Carmel in Uganda today I would just like to recall the story of Fr. Patrick Perjes, a Hungarian Carmelite, who died in 1993.  As a young man in Hungary he offered himself as a missionary.  He went to our missionary seminary in Rome and in 1939 he was sent to our mission in Iraq.  During the Second World War he was made a prisoner by the British.  In 1942, as a prisoner, and after a long and epic journey, he reached a prisoner of war camp in Uganda. There he received a formal invitation to found a Carmelite mission.  He was released in 1947, and two years later ended up in Tucson, Arizona, together with the Carmelite missionaries from the Catalan Province in Spain. On February 16th 1947 he wrote in his diary: “The mystery continues…”Speaking about the Carmel in Uganda we should not forget this Hungarian Father who remained in this land for five years.


         Regarding the present situation, we should first mention the Nuns in Mityana.  The community came from Welden, Germany, in 1967.  Mityana is the home of three of the Ugandan martyrs.  The convent is very close to the original Cathedral, and built in a typically Ugandan style. The Sisters have courageously survived revolutions, dictatorships, and attacks by guerillas. Today there are 13 nuns: 6 German and 7 Ugandans.  The local Church sees Carmel as an exceptional spiritual support and truly very welcome. The convent has a beautiful large, green and cultivated garden.  


         There is no talk of the Carmelite Friars in Uganda. They arrived quite recently, in 2002, and have begun modestly and discreetly. The house, in Kyengeza, is located in the same diocese of Mityana, 15 kms from Kampala. The Parish, perched on a hill is like a beacon welcoming people to come closer. Only part of the exterior has been painted.  The rest and the entire interior is brick without plaster or paint, and will remain as such until they receive more money to pay for the completion of the work. The Church, constructed in 1975, became a parish with the arrival of the Carmelites from California-Arizona.  There are 15,000 parishioners within a radius of 15 chapels. The community consists of Frs. David Costello and Colm Stone, both almost in their seventies. Accompanying them is Fr. Edmond Shabani, from the General Delegation of the Congo, and a diocesan Priest, Fr. John Mary Vianney.  Here in the community there is harmony, in the surrounding countryside there is ecological poetry and to solace the spirit there is music from a clarinet.


         The shortage of electricity is supplemented by energy from solar panels. This is a place without home comforts. There is no internet, magazines, television; the community is isolated from the outside world, but integrates well with the people they serve.  Water is collected in the cisterns when it rains. Showers of rain are so welcome in such a hot country.  But the community carries on valiantly, in spite of these shortcomings.


         Then there is the community of four sisters of “Marienschwestern vom Karmel”, from Linz in Austria. They were founded in 1861.  This is their first missionary effort and has led to a revival in their Congregation. Brothers and Sisters come together each day for the Eucharist and the Office of Readings. Already they are expecting to be joined by a Postulant, as, indeed, are the Friars: in Nairobi a Priest and a simply professed are studying at our College.


         The Parish is responsible for the local schooling.




           It is now time to return.  I can make a general report.  When I visit these missionary communities (Nairobi and Uganda) I am struck by something in particular. In times past the universality of the Order was represented by missionaries.  Today the native vocations, which are the fruit of mission, are the expression of the richest form of the cultural universality of Carmel. The ethnic centrality of the Order has today disappeared automatically.  And the Order, that was once attached to conditions of the past, has overcome them and taken on a new reality.


         All young Carmelites from any Province with a missionary vocation have a place in this corner of the world, in Kyengeza.  The only thing that is left to be done is to decide to volunteer. The Mission continues to generate mission. 


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