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

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?

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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.

Roxanne King
Roxanne King
Roxanne King is the former editor of the Denver Catholic Register and a freelance writer in the Denver area.

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