Greetings and peace from Mvimwa.
The rainy season starts now; we are busy with various agricultural activities. New grasses are germinating, the greenish colour is decorating the earth; the weather is becoming cool and comforting. In the late evening, swarms of migrating birds fly over our sky, and make their stop on trees behind our old monastery buildings. On a cool night, a beautiful sound of different insects is heard. Our dearest and permanent neighbours—the monkeys—are numerously jumping around our abbey, the safest place for them. It seems they have a sense of music. Every evening when we start singing Vespers, they come close to the church and stay calm. After our singing is finished, off they go! So funny! Formerly we were frequently visited by snakes around our settlement. But now, no snakes around! Thanks to our dear monkeys, they kill snakes. No snake survives around the monkeys. There is enough in Mvimwa to make you wonder and to make you keep smiling. Dear reader, it is in this most beautiful part of the world, we live, we pray, we work hard and learn. Such is the beauty of Mvimwa. Please come and enjoy with us!
Well! In this letter, we want to share with you all that has passed by us from August to October 2017.
As most of the readers know, in Tanzania there are four abbeys (Peramiho, Ndanda, Hanga and Mvimwa). Geographically, Mvimwa is a little bit far away from the other three abbeys that are situated in the southern part of Tanzania, while we are in the western part of the country. The reachability of Mvimwa, so to speak, is somehow not easy. To reach Mvimwa from Dar es Salaam or from whichever of the three abbeys, needs a big heart. Such being the situation, we are a monastery less visited by monks be it from within or from outside the country. However, there are some who dare to come and visit us! We treasure a lot their love for us and their will power! On August 13th, we were graced by the visit of Fr Robert Sandrock OSB from Königsmünster – Meschede. He visited us on behalf of the Königsmünster – community for a special purpose. We felt good and we thank Fr Robert for his effort to come. We also thank Abbot Aloysius of Königsmünster and the whole community for letting their brother come to visit us.
Another event in the same August was my abbatial blessing. It was so eventful. Just to give you a clue, in this part of our country, we are the only male religious congregation. So, our presence and apostolate is quite remarkable. On 21st August, the bishop, diocesan clergy, the monks present, the nuns and crowds of believes and people of good will, welcomed me in Sumbawanga town with greater joy. Then followed the celebration of the Holy Eucharist at the Cathedral Church presided by our Bishop Damin Kyaruzi. On Friday 25th, we proceeded to Mvimwa, where we were welcomed by monks and many other guests, including all the bishops of our Metropolitan and Bishop Alfred Maluma from Njombe, my home diocese. Abbot Romain Botta OSB who represented the Abbot President was also present.
In the welcoming ceremony here at Mvimwa, there was an opening of the door of the abbey chapel, enthronement, then solemn Vespers presided by Bishop Damian of Sumbawanga during which also I pronounced again the article of faith and repeated an oath before the monks of my abbey. Abbot Romain presided those parts, representing the AP. His powerful speeches in our own language left people with great wonder and brought some to tears. On the 26th of August, I received the abbatial blessing. We were graced by the presence of many people, government officials, including the former Speaker of the Parliament, Mama Anna Makinda. and our Muslim brothers who brought us beautiful presents. This particular day is one of strong milestones in the history of our abbey.
On the 28th of August, we had our African Region meeting at Sumbawanga town. Thanks to Abbot Placidus Mtunguja OSB, who wisely arranged this meeting in such a way that two birds are killed by one stone. The members came to participate in the ceremonies here at Mvimwa and soon after attend the African Region meeting. All went so well.
Fire consuming our forests is one of our great setbacks. Some time ago, we fully committed ourselves to the protection of environment and maximising afforestation. Disappointingly, the native people around have less love of the environment. There are two reasons for this! The first and difficult one is their deep belief and conviction that evil spirits that cause harm to people live in forests and bushes. Thus, burning forests and all the bushes is their way of getting rid of the evil spirits. Strange!! The second motive comes from the pastoral societies who are massively invading and destroying our environments with their huge number of cattle. These burn the grasses so that some new grass germinates for their cattle. But the burning of dry grass and bushes consumes even our beautiful and potential trees. So sad a phenomenon!
On 5th September, a big fire erupted and consumed part of our forest. We managed to control it. This time the loss wasn’t too frustrating. On the 21st September, a big fire again erupted on the western part of the abbey, from around midday. We monks, together with the technical school students, were busy extinguishing the big fire until post-midnight. Fire invasion is one of our cruellest and most frustrating invaders not only for our environment but also for our normal monastic rhythm. When fire explodes, the whole monastic rhythm is disturbed. We automatically become brilliant fire brigades.
The only solution to this problem is to provide these people with education in different forms. Change of mind-sets needs time. Education is the only tool that will liberate the minds at least of the children. Environmental conservation is one of the items on the agenda in our Mvimwa Abbey Schools. These pastoral societies need some more attention. We have already set a special program to reach those pastoral families and get their children to school. It costs a lot, as it needs some extra effort and time for teachers to teach those children. But once they catch up, they are extremely brilliant. If opportunity grants, we want to develop this program to the best of our ability.
On the 26th September, on behalf of the whole village, four elders of the village in which we belong came to the abbey to greet and welcome me on their soil as a leader. They symbolically brought us a big cock as a present. Traditionally, this act is very significant. It means I am recognised and accepted by the people of the village. And functionally, it is very helpful for our harmonious relations and mutual cooperation for the common good. This was also a very special event for us.
As once reported, on 3rd October, a serious road accident happened near our monastery. 14 lives perished. The local government asked that all the bodies be brought to our small St Camilus Health Centre here at Mvimwa. It was a big challenge, not only for our health centre but also for the monastery at large. Our generosity during this event exposed the weakness of our dispensary. A special committee from the Ministry of Health came to asses our health centre. They credited us for our effort to work with the minimum infrastructure we have. However, we are discredited for the lack of an ambulance and the lack of some necessary equipment that would serve the lives of some injured persons. As long as we have a capable doctor, Bro Bosco Kandua OSB, we have been advised to have a proper theatre right here, where we can perform some operations, instead of referring the patients to some distant hospitals, something which is too risky due to the bad roads we have. It is very unfortunate that we don’t have the infrastructure here needed for operations. Mvimwa is in a very remote area, but very significant for the population, not only from this part but for many others who come to us for various services. Thus, we need to broaden and maximise the quality of our services.
On 7th October, we received the oblation of our 20 Oblates in Dar es Salaam, and 17 started their noviciate year. It is very fascinating that many faithful adhere to become Benedictine Oblates. Encouragingly, the archbishop of Dar es Salaam, Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, supports and promotes the Benedictine oblates a lot. We are grateful for this. The Oblates are doing a wonderful job. Despite working for the sanctification of the world, they also serve in teaching religion in school (that is a big help to the Church), assisting in preparing children for receiving sacraments and revitalising the lives of Small Christian Communities; assisting in parish life and helping the monastery in different ways. In a special way, the oblates in Dar es Salaam are attached to the Pilgrimage centre at Pugu, which we are responsible for running. We are also very grateful for the wonderful job done by Fr Francis Radan, OSB, their brave formator. We really thank God for the gift of the oblates to our abbey.
On 22nd October, we receive the joyful news that our primary school standard seven pupils all passed their national examinations with the best grades and so qualified for secondary education. Always, our St Placidus Primary School ranks the first in the whole region. This joyful news is accompanied by a great wonder. We all wonder! As mentioned before, few years ago we started a kind of special apostolate to the pastoral society around Mvimwa. There were about 26 children collected from the Sukuma families and brought to our boarding school. They all started class one as usual. The teachers did extra work for this group, because they never knew even our Swahili language. The majority spoke only Kisukuma.
Slowly it was discovered that some among the 26 were extremely brilliant and they caught up in class very well. Because of their advanced age and brilliance in class, the teachers found it wise to have them skip some classes. So, two of them (a boy and a girl), skipped three classes and finished this year. If they would have followed the normal routine, they would be going to class four next year. Despite skipping three classes, they have performed super in the national exam. Others will be finishing class VII next year. Waw! The super-Sukuma children!! In their respective classes are leading in performance. We all wonder! For this reason, we need to motivate our teachers and maximize our effort to bring the children from this society to school. There is a big potentiality in them. We have embraced this as our special apostolate to this tribe.
Finally, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of you who have accompanied us in different ways. Our special thanks to our benefactors who make our life and our apostolate possible. We treasure each and every contribution made for Mvimwa. We wish you all God’s choicest blessings and welcome to Mvimwa Abbey.
+ Pambo Mkorwe, OSB
Abbot of Mvimwa