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Spiritan Chapter reflects new challenges

All those who are involved and especially those in authority do whatever can possibly be done to win the honour of hosting such an event. There are many reasons behind this passionate endeavour, making a name in history, honour, popularity, potential investment, publicity, etc. One thing is certain - it would indeed be a unique honour for any group and country to be given permission to host any international event.

For the first time ever, since its existence of over 300 years, the General Chapter of the Holy Ghost Congregation of priests and religious brothers (Spiritans) is being hosted in Bagamoyo, Coast region. According to Father Joseph Shio, the Provincial Superior of the Holy Ghost Congregation, Tanzania Province, this Chapter can be seen as nothing short of a new beginning for the Congregation.

“Indeed one can call it a third phase of this religious Congregation”, he adds. Father Shio says that the first phase started with Poullart des Places; a moment of the three pillars of Devotion to the Holy Spirit, unity (Cor Unum et Anima Una) and love of the poor.

“The second is what is called the Libermann moment with devotion to the Holy Spirit, devotion to the Most blessed Virgin Mary and love of the poor. Spiritans are now in the third moment of Renaissance - a new beginning and rethinking about the charism of this Congregation in the light of the paschal mystery”, he says.

Father Shio proudly says that members of the Congregation who belong to the region of East Africa, and in particular to the Province of Tanzania, should truly be proud as they hold this important meeting. A total of 115 delegates from different parts of the world including France, Germany, USA, Portugal, Holland, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana among others are attending the meeting that will also be addressed by President Jakaya Kikwete tomorrow.

For the first time ever, since its existence of over 300 years, the General Chapter of the Holy Ghost Congregation of Fathers and Brothers is hosted in Africa, specifically in Bagamoyo where early missionaries came before spreading to other parts of eastern Africa. To honour this meeting, former President Benjamin Mkapa recently donated two cows to enable the Congregation feed the delegates.

“I am among the students who received secondary education at Pugu Secondary School, which was by then owned and run by the Holy Ghost Congregation”, says Mkapa. “I studied at this school which was by then owned by this religious order. I am thankful to them for educating me. As a sign of gesture I am donating these fatty cows to them,” he adds. Apart from missionary work, the Holy Ghost Congregation is dedicated to social services, especially in education and health.

When the first missionaries came to Tanzania over 100 years ago, they opened schools in various parts of the country including the one located in Wete, Pemba. Other schools that were opened are Saint Peter’s Seminary in Morogoro, Saint James Seminary in Moshi, Saint Joseph School in Zanzibar, Umbwe and Pugu secondary schools in Dar es Salaam and Moshi respectively.

The following teacher training colleges were also opened by the Holy Ghost congregation - Singa Chini, Mandaka, Kigurunyembe and Mhonda. Currently, the congregation runs primary schools located in Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Morogoro, Bagamoyo and Zanzibar. The prestigious Marian Girls in Bagamoyo is owned by the Holy Ghost under the leadership of Father Valentine Bayo, a widely respected priest in Tanzania who command great respect.

Other secondary schools run by this order are Marian Boys (Coast region), Tengeru Boys (Arusha), Kasumo Secondary School (Kigoma), Mang’ola (Mbulu) and Usa River Seminary (Usa River - Arusha). Delivering homily to officially open the Spiritan’s Chapter on Sunday, the Archbishop of the Dar es Salaam, His Eminence Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, called upon the government to arrest and take to task hooligans who torched churches in Zanzibar recently.

“If hooligans triumph over strong government of the people, where shall we go?”, he asked. He also challenged Spiritans to support Bishop Augustine Shao of Zanzibar, who has been labouring in the Isles for the past sixteen years. Bishop Shao has established schools in the Isles (both primary and secondary schools) and he has also built dispensaries in various villages of Unguja and Pemba Islands.

He is a great champion of interreligious dialogue, an important factor needed in areas where Muslims and Christians live in the same
neighbourhood. Bishop Rogath Kimaryo is another Spiritan Bishop doing wonderful work in Same diocese, Kilimanjaro region. Though he is new in Same, his efforts to intensify education and health services are vividly seen. But of all the Spiritans who have done a commendable job in East Africa, Father Joseph Babu, now in his mid 90s leads the chart.

This religious priest built Kibosho Hospital in Moshi. He also founded Kibosho Girls Secondary Schools, before proceeding to Arusha where he opened Saint Elizabeth Hospital and Ngarenaro Secondary School in the late 1980s. Though not labouring in East Africa, Father Michel Robert (Also a Spiritan) left a visible sign at Esilalei village in Monduli district, Arusha region, after he constructed water well in 1989, which serves pastoralists with water during dry season.

East African Spiritans are also working in different parts of the world today, including Zambia, Australia, France, United Kingdom, Ghana, USA, Germany, among others. Many of them believe that the Spirit of the Chapter will revitalize their commitment to serving the humanity worldwide. The Spiritans have a rich history of serving the poor and marginalized. In the 1840s, the Spiritans dedicated themselves to working with newly freed slaves on the islands of Haiti, Mauritius and Réunion.

In East Africa, where most of the American Spiritans now serve, they began work in the 1860s by buying men and women out of slavery in Zanzibar. They opened schools and hospitals, taught people marketable skills, and gave property to those who needed it. The Spiritans pioneered modern missionary activity in Africa and ultimately sent more missionaries there than any other religious institute in the Catholic Church.

In other countries, such as Mexico, the Spiritans were invited by the local Catholic bishops to minister to Catholics in remote areas where there were not enough diocesan priests to serve the growing numbers of faithful. Today, Mexican-born Spiritans outnumber Spiritan missionaries from other countries. The seminary programme is a vital aspect of the Spiritan presence in Mexico. The Spiritans were founded in Paris in 1703 for the purpose of preparing missionaries for the most abandoned souls, whether in Christian or non-Christian countries by a young, holy ecclesiastic of noble Breton birth and of brilliant talents, a wealthy young Breton lawyer, Claude-François Poullart des Places.

Having opted for the priesthood himself, he wanted to form a religious institute for young men who had a vocation to become priests but were too poor to do so. From the very beginning of his ecclesiastical studies he manifested a particular attraction for lowly and neglected works of charity. He became especially interested in poor, deserving students, on whom he freely spent all his own private means and as much as he could collect from his friends.

It was with a dozen of these gathered round him that he opened the Seminary of the Holy Ghost, which afterwards developed into a religious society. The community, formed in dedication to the Holy Spirit to minister to the poor and to provide assistance in hospitals, prisons, and schools. After the founder’s death, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost continued to progress; it became fully organized, and received the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. It sent missionaries to the French colonies, and to India and China, but suffered much from the French Revolution.

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