By Howard Craig
Earlier this year, Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ, and Howard Craig, provincial assistant for advancement, visited partners in the Eastern Africa Jesuit Province. Below are Howard’s reflections on his pilgrimage.
Our journey began at the Mwangaza Jesuit Centre in Kenya. Many priests and religious come to Mwangaza for their annual retreats. Serving on the frontiers of African society, they are often approaching personal and spiritual burnout when they arrive. Mwangaza provides these ministers to the poor and people on the fringes of society a place for spiritual renewal.
An example of this service on the frontiers occurs at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in the heart of a slum called Kangemi, a large community in Nairobi, Kenya. The thriving parish supports many programs and ministries, including elementary and secondary schools, the latter of which teaches marketable trades to help children find employment and leave the slum.
There is also a center for women to learn sewing and tailoring skills, as well as a home for AIDS orphans and children of parents with addiction. At the African Jesuit AIDS Network, the Jesuits support endangered and vulnerable children as they enter adolescence and face new challenges, often without parents by their sides.I saw Jesus’ face in the children at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School in the Kibera slum in Kenya. The Jesuits at St. Al’s also support children who are affected by HIV. Having encountered this horrible condition in so many places throughout our travels, I feared I would be overwhelmed by the specter of AIDS. To my surprise, I was uplifted — by bright faces, beautiful smiles, and youthful energy. The children of St. Al’s truly reflect the magis.
Tanzania introduced me to a “new” Society of Jesus. The average age of the 214 Eastern Africa Jesuits is 42, and 67 percent of them are still in formation. The province is very large, and its young Jesuits are fulfilling their calling, setting the world on fire. Working with volunteer lay partners like Detroit native Aghogho Edevbie, they serve where the need is greatest. Frederick Meela, a Jesuit regent whose job is to oversee preparation of 890 lunches at St. Peter Claver High School in Dodoma, Tanzania, completely revamped the meal service to be more effective, all for the greater glory of God!
Jesuits are also pursuing their vocations in Uganda, where people have suffered bloody rebellions and uprisings at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for more than 25 years. The LRA is
|Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ (third from left), with Frederick Meela, SJ, Fr. James Strzok, SJ, and Fr. James Andrew Ayaga, SJ, at St. Peter Claver High School in Dodoma, Tanzania
notorious for kidnapping children and transforming them into “child soldiers.” The scars are especially evident in Gulu, a city in Northern Uganda, where the Jesuits have stepped in to help orphans and former child soldiers at Ocer Campion Jesuit College. The Eastern Africa Jesuits gave the school its name (“Ocer” means “resurrected” or “risen”) in honor of their Midwest Jesuit collaborators’ former ministry at Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, Wis.The Mother’s Day Mass I attended at the school was a fitting reminder of the depth of our relationships with Jesuit partners across the world. Children beautifully sang “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” which happened to be my mother’s favorite hymn. I lost my mother two years ago, and as the children sang, I thought of her, my own childhood, the gift of family, and the fact that this school and the Jesuit community represent the only family some of these children have. Their extraordinary voices were a moment of “divine encounter” for me and a high point of my pilgrimage.
As I returned home, I felt inspired by the Jesuits’ dreams and plans for a bright future. I left Eastern Africa changed and encouraged. God’s mission is in good, strong hands. The Jesuits continue to make an impact where the need is greatest, serving the poor and those who serve the poor. I am encouraged and emboldened to continue to support our friends in Eastern Africa with my prayers, efforts, and gifts.
Howard Craig is the provincial assistant for advancement for the Midwest Jesuits.
Return to Partners Fall Winter 2015 Index