Thousands of Christians in Tanzania are walking up to 15 kilometres to get to Church – in temperatures that can rise higher than 90° Fahrenheit.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need Bishop Bernardine Mfumbusa of Kondoa said: “Despite a high temperature range of 20-34°C (68-93° F), some Catholics walk 10-15 kilometres (9 miles) to Holy Mass – this is especially true for a large number of Catholics in the rural dioceses.”
The bishop described the hardships endured by the faithful as they travel to celebrate their Catholic Faith in Tanzania.
He said: “The roads permit the use of bicycle but the roads become almost impassable in the rain season – from November to April – without a 4×4 vehicle.”
But despite these obstacles the Church is thriving, the bishop said: “The Church is flourishing and growing… 800 people are attending Holy Mass, the four masses are full on Sunday.”
Bishop Mfumbusa also spoke of the challenges for clergy travelling to reach isolated Catholics villages in the countryside.
He said: “Although Tanzania is such a big area, there is no public transport.
“ACN sponsored vehicles permit me to visit parishes weekly – for Holy Mass, confirmations and to take medicine to dispensaries as well as spiritual books and staple foods to religious Sisters convents.”
Bishop Mfumbusa stressed the impact of these visits on the faithful: “Travelling to two parishes per day or up 50 kilometres (31 miles) in two days… encourages small Christian communities of up to 20 families in the rural villages.”
Assessing the benefit of transport assistance provided to priests, he added: “Without a vehicle it would be very difficult… the priests would become tired and then neglect office duties and pastoral functions.”
Christians are travelling to gather together to pray despite the fractured history of religious harmony in Tanzania.
Speaking about interfaith dialogue in Tanzania, the bishop said: “Muslims and Christians have live peacefully for many years, now there are elements of tension.”
But according to Bishop Mfumbusa media reports are increasing tensions between religious groups.
He said: “The media do not reflect the situation on the ground, this creates problems in inter-faith dialogue and a small issue is blown out of portion.”
Describing the area containing his diocese as 90 percent Muslim, he said: “In Kondoa, we meet to resolve issues with a Muslim and Christian dialogue forum.
“We have always lived peacefully [in Kondoa] and in general in Tanzania we co-exist peacefully.”
The bishop concluded by thanking ACN benefactors for their support.
He said: “Thank you. This help is very important to the Church in Africa. The result of this support is that we are able to develop the Church in Tanzania.”
Neville Kyrke-Smith, ACN UK National Director said: “Thanks to ACN benefactors the charity is able to support Bishop Bernardine in his work with Catholics families in Tanzania and for his considerable efforts in maintaining interfaith dialogue in his diocese.
“We pray for the bishop and our Christian family in Tanzania and for the suffering Church in the Africa – at a time of anxiety but also an opportunity of building peace for all.”
ACN is giving vital help to the bishop’s diocese, including the construction of a multi-purpose pastoral centre and a rectory for priests in the Holy Spirit Cathedral parish.