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.

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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.

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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.

COMING UP: Opinion: There is cause for hope amid dire reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors

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By Vincent Carroll

This Dec. 13, 2019 opinion column was originally published by the Denver Post.

When will it end, many Catholics must wearily wonder. And not only Catholics. Anyone who reads or listens to the news must wonder when the Catholic church sex scandals will ever be over.

But in one major sense, the crisis already has passed and what we’re witnessing — and will continue to witness for years — is the aftermath.

To see what I mean, go to Appendix 4 in the report on sexual abuse of minors by clergy in Colorado issued in October by investigators led by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. There’s a bar graph highlighting the “number of victims by decade the abuse or misconduct began.” Towering above all other decades for the archdiocese of Denver is the bar for the 1960s, representing 74 victims. In second place is the 1970s with 25 victims, and the 1950s is third with 14. The 1990s had 11 victims and the 1980s three.

As the report observes, “Roman Catholic clergy child sex abuse in Colorado peaked in the 1960s and appears to have declined since. In fact, the last of the Colorado child sex abuse incidents we saw in the files were 1 in July 1990 and 4 in May 1998.”

In other words, nearly 70 percent of all the abuse documented in the attorney general’s report within the Denver archdiocese occurred a half-century or more ago.

Denver’s history differs somewhat from the national experience, but not wildly so. Researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice concluded in 2004 after examining the national data on accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy between 1950 and 2002 that “more abuse occurred in the 1970s than any other decade.” The 1960s were also atrocious years for Catholic youth and so was the first half or so of the 1980s.

It appears that accusations in the years since have held to the same chronological profile. Mark Gray, a survey researcher at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, reported recently that CARA has analyzed 8,694 accusations of abuse made between 2004 and 2017 (compared to 10,667 earlier allegations studied by John Jay researchers). The result: The distribution of cases is “nearly identical to the distribution of cases, over time, in John Jay’s results.”

In other words, a large majority of the accusations of abuse that have surfaced in this century are also dated to the horrible era of 1960 to 1985.

This pattern even holds for incidents in last year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, although news coverage often left the impression that it recounted a fresh flood of new incidents. The report’s scope and details were certainly new and devastating, but most (not all) of the incidents and perpetrators were old (or dead). Those accused of abuse in the Pennsylvania report, for example, were on average “ordained as priests in 1961,” according to Gray.

Given this context, it’s hardly surprising that “the most prolific clergy child sex abuser in Colorado history,” according to the special investigator’s report, namely Father Harold Robert White, was also ordained in 1961.  His depredations “continued for at least 21 years,” the heyday of sexual abuse and church complacency, during which time he “sexually abused at least 63 children.”

Chilling.

I am perfectly aware that the Colorado investigation hardly exhausts the number of victims of clergy sexual abuse. It covers diocesan priests but not those who served in religious orders. Records are likely incomplete and some perhaps destroyed. And the actual number of victims certainly exceeds the number who have come forward.

There is also the question of a reporting time lag — the fact that victims often don’t muster the courage to come forward for years. But if this had been a major factor in the reduced number of incidents after 1985 at the time of John Jay College’s 2004 report, that number would surely have seen a disproportionate surge by now. And yet it has not.

The authors of the state investigation emphasize that they are unable to reliably say that “no clergy child sex abuse has occurred in Colorado since 1998,” and warn against concluding that clergy child sexual abuse is “solved” given ongoing weaknesses they outline regarding how the church handles allegations.

Their caution is understandable given the church’s history in the past century (in the report’s words) of “silence, self-protection and secrecy empowered by euphemism,” and their recommendations to strengthen the diocese’s procedures are for the most part on point. But it is also true that child sexual abuse will never be “solved” in the sense of it being eradicated — not in religious denominations, and not in schools, daycare centers, scout troops, youth sports, and juvenile social service and detention facilities, to cite just some of the venues that predators unfortunately exploit and where an accounting for the lax standards of the past has not been undertaken.

John Jay College researchers also released a followup study in 2011 in which they noted, “the available evidence suggests that sexual abuse in institutional settings . . .  is a serious and underestimated problem, although it is substantially understudied.” Meanwhile, “no other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse and, as a result, there are no comparable data to those collected and reported by the Catholic Church.”

Early this month, Bishop Richard J. Malone resigned from the Buffalo Diocese over gross mishandling of sexual abuse claims. He likely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, Catholics still await the Vatican’s promised explanation for how defrocked former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who allegedly preyed on seminarians for decades, could have been promoted time and again. Is there any credible defense?

So the bad news hasn’t stopped. But behavior in the priestly trenches actually is much improved, and that is surely cause for hope.

Email Vincent Carroll at [email protected]