Obituary: Fr Reinhard Zinkann SJ

Fr Reinhard (‘Rainer’) Zinkann SJ died on Wednesday, 21 July, shortly before midnight in St Anne’s Hospital, Harare, Zimbabwe. He had been brought to town from Makumbi Mission on Monday with a lung infection.

Born in Germany in 1927, his family suffered persecution by the Nazi regime; first they found refuge in the Netherlands, then the USA. In 1946 he joined the Society of Jesus back in the Netherlands. In 1951 he returned to Germany where he was ordained a priest (1957). In 1959 he arrived in Zimbabwe (then still Rhodesia). He served the Church in this country for almost 51 years. From Mhondoro where the gifted linguist learnt Shona, he moved on to Chinhoyi, Karoi, St Boniface Hurungwe, St Albert’s, Chinhoyi and finally St Paul’s Musami and Makumbi.

What Pope Benedict XVI during the Year of the Priest asked priests to do, Fr Zinkann fulfilled during most of his priestly life: “While testing the spirits to discover if they be of God, priests must discover with faith, recognize with joy and foster diligently the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, whether these be of a humble or exalted kind.”

Fr Zinkann did exactly that by training constantly lay leaders, catechists, and other ‘ministers’ of the Christian community.

He was not an organization man. His gift was that of a pastor of souls. Never very strong physically or psychologically, sometimes breaking down under the weight of stress and tension, he was very sensitive to other people’s inner sufferings.

Fr Heribert Mueller SJ, superior of Makumbi, called him in his homily in Chishawasha a “wounded healer”. He was not a political priest, but he was deeply concerned about victims of torture and violence who needed healing, physically and spiritually. One of his catechists, Martin Berebende, was killed during the war at St Boniface Mission, Hurungwe. It grieved him deeply, and he had to come to grips with this death of a friend and co-worker. It helped him to help others cope with such loss.

In his last years in Musami and Makumbi he was very devoted to the sick and elderly and helped them to be reconciled, be freed from old grudges and find inner peace in their faith and trust in God. He left some writings about how to reconcile people which should guide us, his heirs, now in our work of bringing peace to this torn country. – He was buried on Monday, 26 July, in Chishawasha, in the presence of his sister, a retired doctor, who had come with her son from the USA. Many faithful attended, from Makumbi and Musami, even from Karoi and Hurungwe.

Source: In Touch

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