Surprised by joy: Archbishop Aquila’s encounter with Tanzanians’ deep faith

Roxanne King

For two weeks in January, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila witnessed the natural wonders of sub-Saharan Africa and the beauty of its people and culture when he visited Christ the King Church in Tanzania, the sister parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Northglenn. Father James Spahn, pastor of IHM, served as his guide.

Archbishop Aquila recently spoke with the Denver Catholic about his trip, which he described as an “intimate encounter with the joy-filled faith that is found in Africa.”

The interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Q: What did you do in Tanzania?

Archbishop Aquila: We visited Christ the King Parish and dedicated a new administration building and library for the high school that [Immaculate Heart of Mary] parish helped to build.

We also visited the Diocese of Geita to see Bishop [Flavian] Kassala. Then we visited an orphanage, some of the outposts and a hospital facility.

Q: What most struck you about the trip?

Archbishop Aquila: What was outstanding was the faith of the people and the depth of their faith. Many of them would walk an hour to two to get to Mass. Oftentimes, the Masses would last anywhere from two to four hours, with all the singing and the music and the offertory processions.

For the offertory processions, every person would come up and drop something into the collection basket. Then there would be a second offertory procession, where the people would bring gifts from their homes or from their farms. It might be a chicken or a goat, or bags of cement, or sugar cane. It might be a small bag of beans, but something. Not everyone would do that, but there would be over a 100 people who would.

Then there were people who would distribute it. Some of the livestock would go to the orphanage to feed the children. The cement might go to a project for an outstation or for the school or the parish. It was a fantastic experience.


Q: Tell me about the people’s lifestyle.

Archbishop Aquila: The people live very simply. They live in simple housing and many of them still have dirt floors. Some of them have electricity, but not all of them. The people still have to go to wells for their water.

Q: What did you learn on the trip?

Archbishop Aquila: I learned about the depth of the faith of the people, the beauty of their faith and about their love for the Church. Their willingness to walk one or two hours one way to Mass spoke volumes about their commitment to the Gospel and their real love for the Eucharist.

I got to celebrate the sacrament of confirmation with one group and also to visit one of their small faith communities. Listening to their witness talks and to learn how deep the faith really is there was just an incredible experience.

Q: What would you like people to know about Tanzania?

Archbishop Aquila: Certainly about the beauty of Africa, and the strength of family life there, the hospitality of the people, their warmth and their generosity—they are an extremely generous people.

Q: What are you taking away from this experience?

Archbishop Aquila: The experience of the universality of the Church. Also, the beauty of the African people—their generosity, kindness and personability—and the natural beauty of Africa itself. There is so much natural beauty one sees there. That always brings you to God.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

Archbishop Aquila: I would go back in a heartbeat. Africa is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you want to see the witness of strong family life and of a deeply lived faith, and of the way we are united in one faith as Catholics with another country very different from ours.

Q: What can Catholics here learn from their brothers and sisters in Africa?

Archbishop Aquila: They can learn from their example of living their faith out and making great sacrifices for it. One can see their commitment in a willingness to walk an hour or two to Mass. Also, their generosity with the very little that they have. Each person would come forward and every person would drop something into the collection basket—that was a real, living sign of them giving themselves to the Father.

The music during the Mass was absolutely spectacular. They sang with their hearts; that was just really, really powerful—just giving that praise and adoration to God. It was absolutely incredible.

COMING UP: A sister in Tanzania

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A sister in Tanzania

Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church aids African sister parish

Aaron Lambert

The ministry of Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Northglenn extends far to the other side of the globe; namely, a small village in Tanzania called Nyantakubwa, where their sister parish, Christ the King, resides.

Father Spahn became connected with Christ the King a number of years ago through a priest assigned to Denver to represent the Diocese of Geita, Father Matthew Bulala. Father Bulala called Father Spahn one day to arrange for a priest from Tanzania to come and appeal to his parish to raise money for the Diocese of Geita, which was the perfect opportunity for Father Spahn to fulfill a longtime dream of his: have a sister parish in Africa. Father Bulala passed along the request to Bishop Flavian Kassala of the Diocese of Geita, and thus began the fruitful relationship between Immaculate Heart of Mary and Christ the King.

This relationship also eventually led to the assignment of Father John Ludanha as parochial vicar to St. John the Evangelist parish in Loveland. Father Spahn was actually present at Father Ludanha’s priestly ordination in Tanzania the first time he went over there, and as a result, had a hand in getting Father Ludanha his first assignment as a priest in Denver when it was time for Father Bulala to return to his home diocese.

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Father James Spahn, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, stands with children from the African village of Nyantakubwa in Tanzania. Immaculate Heart of Mary has a sister parish in Nyantakubwa called Christ the King that they maintain a close relationship with, one that has blossomed and been cultivated over the past several years. (Photo provided)

Father Ludanha is now a man of two worlds, being born and raised in Nyantakubwa and having lived in America for the past seven years, and he can attest first-hand what it means to the people of Nyantakubwa for Americans to come visit and help them.

“[The people] know America from the media, how great it is, how wonderful it is, how everything is available, and for someone to take interest to go down there and live with them, just to share that experience, it’s like the incarnation in some ways,” Father Ludanha said.

Every dollar helps

“We both help each other,” Father Spahn said. “The sister parish over there prays for [Immaculate Heart of Mary] and the Archdiocese of Denver all the time, and we pray for them. We’re brothers and sisters in the Lord. We [also] help them with something that they really need our help with, and that’s finances. There are things they really couldn’t do without us, and our dollar goes so far down there. A dollar there makes a big difference.”

Christ the King’s parish territory includes 29 outstations where the villagers live and a girls’ school located next to the parish. Due to the harsh terrain and distance between the outstations, the girls live at the school. Immaculate Heart of Mary helped to fund the construction of the girls’ school, which Father Spahn is very proud of.

“Women are very subservient to men in African society and culture, so to empower them through education is really a wonderful thing,” he said.


Father Spahn stands with some of the students of the girls’ school, which is attached to Christ the King parish. Immaculate Heart of Mary raised funds to build the school, which Father Spahn is very proud of. “To empower [women] through education is a really wonderful thing,” he said. (Photo provided)

Father Spahn has taken staff and parishioners from Immaculate Heart of Mary down to visit Christ the King each year for the past three years. The purpose of their trips is three-fold: to check on the status of various projects that funds raised by Immaculate Heart of Mary are going toward, to visit with Christ the King pastor Father George Nkombolwa as well as the parishioners and girls at the school, and lastly, to assess any future needs.

Future projects include building an administrative building for the teachers of the girls’ school that will double as a library, and also building a pump house by Lake Victoria to pump water to the school, parish and village.

Harsh terrain
Nyantakubwa is located just south of Lake Victoria, which serves as the villages' main water supply. (WIkicommons)

Nyantakubwa is located on the south shore of Lake Victoria. During the rainy seasons, thick mud coupled with harsh terrains make the roads and paths between Christ the King parish and the outstations nearly impassable. (Maps courtesy of Sadalmelik and Wikicommons)

More recently, funds raised by Immaculate Heart of Mary went to building new dormitories and classrooms for the girls’ school, as well as getting Father Nkombolwa a new pickup truck, which is an absolute necessity for him to have while traveling about the harsh terrains of Africa.

“It’s so important that he has a pickup truck because the roads are very bad during the rainy season,” Father Spahn said. “To get around, you need that four-wheel drive.”

Part of what Father Nkombolwa does as pastor of Christ the King is travel around to the different outstations to say Mass for the people and hear confessions. Part of the Mass is, of course, the offertory, and Father Ludanha noted that the offertory over there is much different than at a typical Mass here in the U.S.


Father Spahn and Father Nkombolwa celebrate Mass for the parishioners of Christ the King. (Photo provided)

“When [Father Nkombolwa] goes to the different outstations, people give what they have,” he said. In addition to rice and beans, Father Ludanha said,“Some will give chickens and some will give goats, so it’s good to have a pickup that you can put things in.”

Father Spahn continued, “He puts all of that in the back of his pickup, brings it back to parish, and he has a little storehouse where he puts all of this. That’s what he lives off of, and he feeds the girls at the school with the supplies that come from the people at the outstations.”

Sunday’s best

Though the people of Nyantakubwa don’t have much, Father Spahn said they exhibit, in many ways, a happiness and joy that is infectious.

“It is really infectious when you’re around people who have a love for the Lord that just radiates from them,” he said. “It’s attractive, it’s like a moth to a flame, and you want to be around that.”

Father Spahn explained that Masses are huge events for the people that last as long as seven hours and end up being an entire day’s celebration. He said that the enthusiasm and fervor for the faith can be seen in the way the people dress when they come to Mass.

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Sunday Mass is a huge event for the people of Nyantakubwa, Father Spahn explained, sometimes lasting for up to seven hours. The people come dressed in the best clothing they own, and they have a fervor and enthusiasm for the faith that is “infectious,” Father Spahn said. (Photo provided)

“The people, when they come to Mass, show up in the best clothing they own,” Father Spahn said. “Why? Because they’re coming to Mass. What could be more important? They’re giving God their best. It speaks volumes about what’s in [their] minds and hearts.”

To learn more about Christ the King and the work that Father James and Immaculate Heart of Mary are doing in Tanzania, there will be a presentation and Q&A session on September 14th at 6:30 p.m. in the parish hall.