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.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”