There are a small group of students and myself getting ready to travel to Tanzania and help out at one of the Jesuit schools in Dodoma. Tanzania is a relatively stable country in East Africa thanks to the legacy of their great president at the time of independence, Julius Nyerere. Amongst that generation of independence leaders in Africa,Kenyatta, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe – Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere stands head and shoulders above them. He became a Catholic at the age of 21, and when independence came in 1961 it was achieved without bloodshed, partly due to Nyerere’s widely recognised integrity and respect and also his good relationship and co-operation with the British Governor Sir Richard Turnbill. Although many would argue that his policy ‘ujamma’ (extended familyhood) was economically disastrous, as were his links with Mao’s China. However he relinquished power peacefully, unusually for that generation of leaders, and although Tanzania was a poor and one of the least developed countries in East Africa, it was peaceful and has since proven to be safe from the bouts of tribal violence that have affected surrounding countries and is threatening to rear its ugly head again in neighbouring Burundi.
The capital Dodoma is in the center of the country (275 miles away from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest and richest city and economic hub). Nyerere moved the capital from Dar to Dodoma in 1974 in order to create a centralising force in the country to unify the different tribes so they didn’t feel isolated from the coastal Dar. In January 2005 the Catholic diocese of Musoma opened a case for the beatification of Julius Nyerere. Nyerere was a devout Catholic who attended Mass daily throughout his public life and was known for fasting frequently. Last years visit by Pope Francis rekindled hope that Nyerere may be one day declared a saint – link. The Jesuits have established a parish and schools in Dodoma, and when I used to visit with groups of sixth formers from London we would stay with the Jesuits and help out in the school. The last time I went in 2011 we were privileged to have an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister of Tanzania Mizengo Pinda. Pinda, an ex-seminarian would attend Sunday Mass at the Jesuit Parish and then had the reputation for being clean, and straightforward. He retired in 2015 from being prime minister and political life after allegations of corruption (BBC link). Maybe my question at the beginning of the interview, although uncomfortable was a little prescient? The video quality isn’t great but the questions and answers are informative. When we put the video on YouTube back in 2011 on returning to the UK is was rapidly taken down by someone …. maybe it will stay up this time!
Apologies to those who have been sending messages asking me what’s happened to the Blog. Now that the University Semester has ended I think I have the time and energy to pull it out of the deep freeze….. This year happens to be a special anniversary for the Jesuits, it is 200 years since the universal restoration of the Society. Somehow I found myself agreeing to design a website and a blog to commemorate this – at the request of the General Curia in Rome. By Feb I realised that I didn’t have the time / energy to keep the two blogs running so I focused on the Restoration Blog.
Pombal expelling the Jesuit from Portugal
Cutting a long story short, in the 18th Century, the Jesuits found themselves inside a perfect storm – as the world moved out of the medieval world, with the authority of church and king being challenged, Tradition and faith were often portrayed as being opposed to reason, individual enquiry and the scientific method, The old order was being challenged – some monarchs tried to respond by creating a political system ‘enlightened absolutism’ or ‘enlightened despots’ which seems to be a bit of an oxymoron. In religious terms, many thinkers, sick of the wars between Catholics and Protestantism that had torn Europe apart, There was a backlash against the political influence of organised religion, and new ideas were suddenly debated including deism and atheism.
In this climate, the Jesuits were under serious pressure, Their influence was seen as to great, their thriving missions were too successful and often a thorn in the side of Colonialists, and an emerging trading class who were making a lot of money. So starting with Portugal they were expelled from a succession of European Countries and their colonies. This political expulsion was followed by a canonical suppression, as Pope Clement XIV universally suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1773. The Empress of Russia refused to promulgate the papal bull – so the Society of Jesus was left in limbo until their universal restoration in 1814, hence the anniversary this year. If you want to read more, the blog is at www.sj2014.net
There has been a very interesting development with our Foodbank the last couple of weeks. We are suddenly receiving a lot of referrals from the Probation Service. As they attempt to reintegrate former prisoners back in to civilian life, it is famously hard for those used to an institutional life to cope on their own again. We know that the recidivism rate is a source of concern (the rate of ex-prisoners re-offending on release), and that there are many strategies attempting to reduce this. So it is great if the Foodbank can assist in anyway. Our ‘front of house’ students are trained to be non-judgmental of anyone who is referred to the Foodbank. It is the job of our referral agencies to decide who is in genuine need, not our job. We just assist in giving out the food and offering advice about where else to go. Usually people are incredibly grateful for the help they get, and the students do a great job at welcoming them, making them feel relaxed, helping to ‘signpost’ them on to other support.
However last week there was interesting development. One guy, referred by the probation service, came in and was very angry at being given a bag of Tesco-value tea-bags. ‘I’m not an animal’ he said angrily to the students. Another guy came in and rejected half of the food that was given to him. The emergency food provision – is carefully measured out, nutritionally balanced, under guidelines given by the Trussell Trust. So having half of it thrown back in their faces, because the guy didn’t like tomato sauce or couldn’t be bothered to carry cans was a bit galling. However they all kept their cool, and today we all got together and had a brief reflection on the experience. It was interesting to consider the issue facing ex-prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate, maybe they are a bit institutionalized after years locked up, used to the same menu. Another possibility is perhaps a ‘chip on their shoulder’ about being locked up – and how they feel civvies view them. Also with the first chance to exercise choice in a long time it maybe that their reactions are a bit exaggerated.
It also more evidence that as the state rolls back it support, and there is no strong family unit in place to takes is place – more and more pressure is being put on voluntary groups, often faith-based ones to fill in the gap.