The church of St. John the Baptist at Luhanga in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was started on Oct. 22, 2000 as an outstation of Makuburi Parish, which is about five kilometers away. It was started by the White Fathers of Africa because many could not attend Makuburi Parish due to the distance. They were also limited from attending other neighboring parishes because of rivers that act as natural barriers.
The parish is densely populated. The average daily income is roughly .50 US cents. There are some middle class families in the area who earn about $100 monthly. The area has a high Muslim population and the presence of the church helps to strengthen the Christians who are living in the area. There are about 14,000 Catholics in the parish–9,885 adults and 4,114 children. The current pastor is Fr. Vitus Sedlmair.
The construction of the church started in 2001 and was completed in 2004. Three bridges were also built over rivers that pass nearby the church. The church was christened St. John the Baptist in part because of two rivers that run from either side of the church and join to create one river. The waters are polluted from an upstream industrial area.
St. John the Baptist parish is divided into seven zones. Each zone is further divided into small Christian communities of about 25 families. The idea of the small community was borrowed from a Jesuit concept in South America (El Salvador). They pray together as a community, support each other in joys and sorrows, etc. It is a way of living as a church on a small scale that works very well in Tanzania.
The parish runs a school called "CHEMA", which is a "School of Life Education." It was recognized that many children nine years of age and above did not receive a proper primary education due to one of the following reasons: the death of parent(s) and subsequent financial inability, irresponsible parents (reasons other than financial), or child employment that was required to satisfy family needs.
The school serves to provide both a primary education and a move away from child labor. There are three “Year” levels with a total enrollment of about 90. Students take courses for three years and then sit for the primary education exams. Students are awarded a certificate indicating a “primary education completion in the informal structure,” similar to the GED program in the US. The course offerings are in Mathematics, English, Kiswahili, and science, as well as "Values Education." The parish also runs a Pre-School program to prepare children for their primary education.
Tanzania is located in eastern Africa on the Indian Ocean beneath Kenya and Uganda and above Mozambique. It also borders on Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, and Zambia. After independence in 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar (the island off the coast) merged to form Tanzania. It is roughly twice the size of California. In a population of 36 million, 30% are Christian and 35% are Muslim. Zanzibar is 99% Muslim.
Dar es Salaam (Arabic which translates as "Haven of Peace"), is the capital city, although Dodoma is the administrative center where the government now meets. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point in Africa and is about 4 hours from Nairobi, Kenya. English is the official primary language of commerce, administration, and higher education, although 95% of Tanzanians are Bantu and speak Kiswahili as a first language. The economy depends heavily on agriculture.
We pray for our sisters and brothers in Dar es Salaam at every Sunday Eucharist, remembering them in the Mass intentions as they do the same for us during their Sunday Eucharist. There is also a statue on display in the Gathering Space which was given to us by our sister parish and is a beautiful representation of the support and cooperation that is the foundation of our communities and our relationship. Our Youth Group has set up a pen pal program and shared a scrapbook of life in our parish with the youth of St. John the Baptist. We have also taken up collections to support building projects in the school as well as the work of the small infirmary that serves the local area. Although half a world away from one another, we have enjoyed visits from the former pastor as well as others associated with the pastor and on one occasion two members of our parish were able to visit Dar es Salaam. And email helps keep our conversations alive until we meet again. St. Robert’s also supports the efforts of "NYUMBA YA (HOUSE OF) BLUE HOPE," a Tanzanian Orphanage Project, that directly impacts the neighborhoods surrounding our sister parish in Dar es Salaam. You can learn more about the House of Blue Hope at houseofbluehope.org.