Zimbabwe: Jesuits give thanks for long years of service


Jubilarians concelebrate Thanksgiving Mass

Jubilarians concelebrate Thanksgiving Mass

A solemn Mass was celebrated in the Holy Name Chapel of Arrupe College, Mount Pleasant, Harare, on 31 August,  in thanksgiving for six Jesuit jubilarians, including two who had entered the British Province of the Society of Jesus and transcribed (transferred) to the Province of Zimbabwe when it was formed in 1978.

Fr Anthony Bex SJ from Britain completed this year 70 years in the Society of Jesus.  He was a teacher, parish priest and spiritual director.  He is the author of a small book about his time in St Peter's Mbare in the 1970s, a valuable source of information also about the social conditions in Harare (as Mbare was then called) before Independence.  In his later years he was spiritual director for the seminarians in Chishawasha Seminary and librarian.  He is now in charge of the Jesuit Archives (Garnet House, Mt Pleasant).  He is still a great reader and occasionally publishes book reviews in Mukai (the Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe).

Also originally from the British Province is Bro Joseph Mandaza SJ - the first Zimbabwean Jesuit to reach 50 years in the Society of Jesus.  He was a teacher before he joined in 1961, and has been a pastoral worker all his life, especially promoting Small Christian Communities.  He worked in Musami where he visited the remote rural communities on his motorbike; he is now based at Chishawasha Mission.  Bro Mandaza translated the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius into Shona to make the authentic Ignatian Exercises available to the Shona-speaking people.  He is well-known for playing the accordion and accompanying community singing with it.  He gave a display of his skills as a player of this instrument at the end of the Mass of the Jubilarians.  A very active pastoral worker who spends much time with ordinary Christians, he insists that nothing must interfere with his quiet time for prayer.

Fr Andrews Thekkekara SJ has been a Jesuit this year for 60 years.  He joined the Society of Jesus in the Madurai Province, India.  He taught philosophy for 43 years in India until he retired to Zimbabwe, first in Chishawasha, now at St Augustine's Seminary in Bulawayo.  In between he lived with seminarians (philosophy students) in Chimanimani for three years, sharing in the harsh living conditions of his students.  Fr Thekkekara is a popular spiritual director, directing people in spiritual exercises (retreats).  He expects priests and religious to live simple lives with the people, as he does himself, and can be very critical, in his outspoken way, of fellow religious who spend too much on themselves and their families, at the expense of their community or the Church.

Fr Oskar Wermter SJ has also been a Jesuit for 50 years.  He has always been a pastoral priest in parishes (Mhangura, St Albert's, Seke/Chitungwiza [part-time], and for the last nine years in Mbare) while writing for the press and editing magazines (at present as director of Jesuit Communications).  When the Jesuits in Zimbabwe first formed their own independent Province, he was Socius (assistant/secretary) to the first Provincial, Fr Henry Wardale SJ.

He said at his Golden Jubilee celebration: "When I was 15 - 16 years old I was very active in the Catholic youth movement in our parish, in charge of a group of boys three or four years younger than myself ; at the same time I was editor of the parish youth magazine.  Over 50 years later I am still in a parish and still writing and editing.  What has changed? A lot.  There were great political changes in my country of origin [Germany] and in Southern Africa.

"And also in the Church.  When Vatican Council II was opened in Rome on 8 October 1962, I was a second-year novice.  This was the only time that we novices were allowed to watch TV to see that ceremony.  I do not consider Vatican Council II to have been a revolution.  I prefer growth and development [as did John Henry Newman, see his famous essay on the 'Development of Christian Doctrine'], and regard the Council as a milestone in the growth and development of the Church which is still ongoing and not yet finished.  There is continuity and change, transformation without loss of identity.  Our God is forever the same, and yet, if we meet the 'ever greater God' ['Deus semper major'], we need to undergo constant transformation."

At the Jubilee Mass on 31 August, Fr Norbert Gille SJ celebrated 50 years as a priest in the Society of Jesus.  He was ordained a priest by Cardinal Doepfner (later an important figure at Vatican Council II) in Berlin in 1961.  His first assignment in this country was rural itinerant priest for the Mount Darwin area, based in St Albert's.  There he formed many Christian communities and built many village churches for them.  He was the "founding father" of the Church in the area now covered by St Albert's and Mount Darwin Parish.  Towards the end of the 'war of liberation' he was a 'displaced person' and developed many activities in Harare, especially for the youth.  He also served in Mhangura, St Rupert's Magondi, Chishawasha.  He is well known in Charismatic circles.  Fr Gille founded the "Shingirirayi Youth Centres" in Chinhoyi and Harare (Ardbennie) and other places which reach out to street boys and other neglected youngsters, and is still the director.  At present he is parish priest of a large rural parish, St Kizito's Murombedzi / Zvimba , in Chinhoyi Diocese.

Finally, Fr Stephen Buckland SJ , the present Zimbabwe Provincial, celebrated 25 years as a priest.  Born in Zimbabwe in 1952, he was educated at St George's College, joined the Society in 1976 (after studies in Cape Town) and was ordained a priest in 1986.  He obtained a doctorate in philosophy at Cambridge University.  He taught philosophy at Chishawasha Seminary and at Arrupe College where he also served as the dean of the faculty.  But he also worked for some time as a pastoral priest and helped out in various (Shona-speaking) parishes while teaching.  For the last three years he has been the provincial superior of the Jesuits in Zimbabwe based at Garnet House.  He took part as an elected member in the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (Rome 2008) which elected Fr Adolfo Nicolás SJ as Superior General.

Source: Jesuit Communications Office

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