By Paul Flanagan, Special to The Catholic Virginian

The Church of the Ascension, Virginia Beach, has been blessed for the past four years by the ministry of its pastor, Father Daniel Malingumu who is from the Archdiocese of Tabora in Tanzania, Africa. His Archbishop, the Most Reverend Paul Ruzoka visited Virginia, New Jersey and Connecticut for four weeks during April and May. He was impressed by the friendliness and warmth of the people, but was unprepared for the chill of the weather. He brought a message from his homeland: Keep up the faith! He was profoundly impressed by Mass attendance here and the fervor of the singing at liturgies.

In Tanzania, the Archbishop is deeply involved in addressing the needs of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been pouring into Tanzania from nearby Rwanda, Congo, Uganda and Burundi for the last 40 years. He brings this experience to his position with the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. He explains that refugees come with differing ideas, expectations and lingering resentments. He agrees with Episcopal Bishop Desmond Tutu that there is no peace without forgiveness.

Archbishop Ruzoka believes that the Tanzanian government made a good decision by organizing the refugee camps by country of origin. This has made it easier to investigate the background and the claims of those who have fled political unrest. Also, integration into the Tanzanian society is easier when one is surrounded by friends.

Tanzania has a multi-party political system which is not connected to religion. Muslims and Christians intermingle freely and without rancor. This is highly attractive to those who are fleeing sectarian countries. One important factor that makes the society work so well is an interfaith committee that cooperates in bringing about economic justice and the “integrity of creation.”

The Archbishop has found his stateside visit exciting. He has dined in parishioner’s homes, local restaurants, and even in the St. Joseph’s University cafeteria in Connecticut with its President, staff and students. He found the University’s program for children with disabilities very unusual in its focus on one-on-one care. In Tanzania, care is done more through groups. In the school for deaf children in his Archdiocese, there are 150-200 students.

In his own country, Archbishop Ruzoka has seen how much difference individuals can make. He has opened his home to a married couple from the United States who are building a school for albino children, a group that is rejected because of the lack of color in their skin.

When asked what he had found most surprising about being in America, he confided that he had never been in a tunnel in an automobile. It was a “happy surprise” he said, to travel the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. He had been in the Chunnel between France and Britain, but that had been by train. He was also unprepared for the flat terrain.

The Archdiocese of Tabora has been generous in sharing its clergy with the Diocese of Richmond. The Archbishop also visited with another priest from his Archdiocese. Father Eduard Ntunde is pastor of three parishes in the central part of Virginia: St. Catherine of Sienna, Clarksville, St. Pascal Braylon, South Boston and Good Shepherd, South Hill. Archbishop Ruzoka celebrated Mass at each.

The message from our Catholic brothers and sisters in Africa is a reminder that we are all One. The Great Commission, to go into the whole world and spread the good news, the Archbishop emphasized, was not just for the Apostles, but for everyone of us. “The Holy Ghost Fathers brought Christianity to eastern Tanzania in 1868 and the French, ten years later. In 2018, we will celebrate 150 years of Christianity in Tanzania. We cannot keep the faith to ourselves. We must share it with others.”

It is faith that has brought Africans to America and Americans and Europeans to Africa, all bringing the good news that Christians are not here on earth to perish and disappear. “There is a larger mission,” the Archbishop says. “Life continues beyond the grave. We all die, but there is more life. The good news is about life, life with the hope for the future.”