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Zimbabwe-Mozambique Province (ZIM)

Jesuits arrival in Zimbabwe

If there is one fact that sticks in the mind of school children who studied the history of the nineteenth century it is that there was a “scramble for Africa” among European powers. The church too had its own more seemly scramble and looking at the map of the continent in 1879 Pope Leo noticed a yawning gap in the centre. His response was to set up the “Zambezi Mission” in a decree dated 16 February of that year. Events moved rapidly and on 16 April 11 Jesuits (6 priests and 5 brothers) set out north from Grahamstown by ox wagon at the average speed of 17 miles a day (though they travelled mostly by night). On 8 July they reached the River and on 23 July arrived at Chief Khama’s capital in what is now Botswana. On 17 August they made a foundation at Tati on the frontier of what is now Zimbabwe. It was the first mission of our province and was named Good Hope.

Our early brothers met huge obstacles. Sickness (fever and malaria despite Jesuits having “discovered” quinine), hostility (Lobengula refused permission to teach the faith) and their own ignorance of local conditions (ox drivers deserted and the superior [Fr. Depelchin] sent his men to the Shangaan and the Barotsi—both enemies of Lobengula)—all “committed the enterprise to failure” (Burrett). Besides, “bad” planning (moving too rapidly without consolidating, spreading men too thin, not replacing tired oxen) also contributed to their woes.

Failure? Maybe, but these were “seeds that must die” and proved in the end to be essential efforts in preparation for the next steps. By 1887 all our men were withdrawn for a rethink, except Fr. Prestage who begged to remain to keep Empandeni going.

In 1890 we returned riding, if you like, on the backs of the colonial administration. All sorts of “benefits” followed. The founding of missions and schools became straightforward and the telegraph and railways (the line from Capetown to Harare (Salisbury) was completed in 1899) provided communications. “Stations” were founded at Salisbury (1890), Chishawasha (1892), Bulawayo (1894) and Gokomere (1896). Sixty-eight other foundations followed north and south of the Zambezi. In time most were handed over and some were closed. Much of the physical work was done by our brothers who served as builders, blacksmiths, metal workers, carpenters and mechanics, electricians, farmers, gardeners, printers and bookbinders, administrators and more recently as teachers, retreat directors, AIDS counselors and youth promoters.

In 1894 the Zambezi Mission was handed to the care of the English Province and in 1927 it became the Salisbury Mission. 1957 saw the northern part come under the German Jesuits as the Sinoia Mission.

Fr. Arrupe called us to join up again as the Vice-Province of Zimbabwe in 1978 (two years before independence) and in 1983 we became a province.

Our works included or still include running or being involved in missions and parishes, a Teacher Training College, schools (18 today), the School of Social Work, the seminaries, technical schools, local congregations, Silveira House Development Training Centre, Justice and Peace, street children, HIV & AIDS, communications, prisons, intellectual work (including dictionaries and language manuals), university work and formation, especially Arrupe College.


Jesuit missionaries in Mozambique

The beginning of Jesuit missionary activities in Mozambique started immediately after the foundation of the Society of Jesus. On his way to Goa in 1541, St Francis Xavier and his two companions stopped on the Mozambican Island for six months. Although Jesuit ministries in this region were interrupted by human and political powers, the mission still survived. At the moment, Jesuits are in their “fourth period” of missionary activities in Mozambique.

The first period lasted from 1560 to 1572. This mission was started in Inhambane by Fathers Gonçalves da Silveira and Andre Fernandes, and Brother Andre da Costa. It is important to note that by then the mission reached to the Monomotapa Kingdom, which was located in present day Zimbabwe. Though apparently thriving, in 1572 the first mission was interrupted by the prevailing unfavourable political circumstances.

The second period of Jesuit presence in Mozambique lasted from 1610 to 1759. This phase of the mission enjoyed relative stability. Consequently, the Jesuits were able to expand the mission, spreading to different locations like the Mozambican Island, Sena and Tete. In these locations, the Jesuits attended to the different needs of the Mozambican people.

The third period of the mission lasted from 1881 to 1910. It was in this period that the (inferior) Zambezi Mission was founded. In 1890, this specific mission was officially transferred to the Portuguese Province of the Society of Jesus. Once again the mission was stable and, as a result, Jesuits from different European countries came to work in it. This internationalization of the mission allowed the creation of eight large missions and three canonically recognised parishes in Mopeia, Tete and Sena. However, with the installation of the republican regime in Portugal in 1910, the mission in Mozambique was interrupted once again.

The fourth period started on 20th August 1941 and continues to our day. During this period, Jesuits have established 11 missions and 10 other apostolic activities. It is said that, in 1966, the Zambezi Mission became the Vice-Province of the Society of Jesus in Mozambique. However, it was not until 1993 that the Mozambican Region of the Society of Jesus was born. Mozambique is now combined with Zimbabwe to a province.

Currently, Mozambique has two major missions (Lifidzi and Fonte Boa), one training centre for spirituality (Satemwa), and nine parishes. Six of the parishes are in rural areas and three are in cities, namely, Tete, Beira and Maputo. It has two formation houses for the Novitiate and the Juniorate stages of Jesuit formation. It also has two Pastoral Training Centres, named after two Mozambican Jesuits of happy memory: Fathers Cirilo and Kamtedza. In the area of social apostolate, the Jesuits in Mozambique work in six houses for children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS. They also run a project of solar energy, which benefits rural areas. They manage community primary schools and libraries. Finally, the Jesuits are working in partnership with Danish Embassy to offer scholarships to young women of Tete, thus empowering them to access higher education.


By David Harold-Barry SJ and Roberto Albuquerque SJ

Source: JHIA diary

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