Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Memoirs of Cardinal Rugambwa: His Last Journeys to Europe and Bukoba


Fr. Stanislaus Mutajwaha, PhD
Catholic Diocese of Bukoba, Tanzania
(Writing from USA)


I considered it fitting to post the conclusion of my short “Memoirs of His Eminence” at this time when we are remembering his 100th Birthday.  But as I said at the opening, my memoirs were going to cover a very limited segment of his Eminence’s life, extending over a period of less than two months as I escorted him from Dar es salaam on his last journey to Europe and again on his last one to Bukoba.  I hope more will continue to be said and probably much more still will be published by this blog or some other initiative to give a more comprehensive and wholesome picture of His Eminence for the benefit of posterity. This way, our generation that was lucky to have known him, learned something constructive from him or even probably in one way or another participated in reaping some of the fruits of his sweat will feel satisfied for trying to do him the justice he truly deserves as a token of our gratitude.

Given the nature and limited scope of my memoirs anybody would laugh if I tried to draw from the limited facts a conclusion that claims to summarize the complete story of this great man.  I can therefore only repeat that these memoirs are just an aspect of a larger picture. Still, I think that when properly handled, especially in the light of many other generally known facts the few insights drawn from our limited aspect can serve as a reliable window to interpret the weight and meaning of the larger story itself. That being the case starting from our memoirs we can legitimately attempt general reflections on the life and achievements of His Eminence as a religious leader and shepherd. And this is what this conclusion is all about.

But while planning to conclude my memoirs with reflections rather than making an additional narrative (that someone could read over very fast like a paragraph in a novel) I thought it was even more appropriate putting those reflections concisely in a style that stands somewhere closer to poetry than prose. It is a kind of Birthday Message in the memory and honor of Rugambwa His Eminence who, while he has preceded us into the other side of life remains dear to all of us as model, inspiration and challenge. This message hinges on the fact that while he ascended the heights of office and honor he did not forget his brothers and sisters.  On the contrary, he used his position to work for the betterment of their condition at all levels, spiritual and social. But finally let there be no ambiguity:  those “brothers and sisters”  he strived to minister are inclusive, because for His Eminence,  like anybody else who has the right understanding of human existence,  the world of brothers and sisters extends beyond the borders of a region, nation or continent. For that reason His Eminence could rightly be called a Prince of the Church. 

A reflective poem by Fr. Stanislaus Mutajwaha

(NOTE: Read from the first line left to the first line right then second line left to second line right and proceed in that order)

A Moment of Reflection
on the occasion of the 100th   Birthday of
Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa;
Exemplar of humble service

Laurean Cardinal Rugambwa, His Eminence;
Leader and exemplar of humble service
A century today, great child was born;
His mother was there, the event in memory to fix
Unleash your joy, Happy Birthday to sing;
For this day saw, his mother’s broadest smile
Rugambwa who came, from villages low;
To ascend the heights, eye for brother with him
Education he sought, when few would dare;
Fruit of which was dear, and gain no cheap
After years of work, his aspiration became;
A choice very fine; and a blessing for all
New vigor he brought, to his Master’s vineyard;
Like a fresh artist eager, to sing his aria
Committed to serve, and as priest to live;
Would never give in, from purpose to waver
At an hour foreknown, though only by God;
His star would rise, bells of joy would go
Rugambwa the priest, really rose in fame;
But for his brother, never remained aloof
Duty first at heart, his flock to graze;
By example he taught, how to grow in faith
Increase of fame, misled him not;
Foremost a priest, his soul’s desired plateau
Neither wealth nor might, he considered a goal;
No glitter or litter, derailed his aim
At the helm as leader, he found his rise;
But in stooping to serve, he felt no ebb
Like those who think, all giving is virtuous;
His Eminence gave, be little but all
Rugambwa did care, his gifts to share;
Whichever his measure, the returns were double
Unlock his log, his legacy to view;
What a story so deep, mostly written in deeds
Gauge well and see, for like many he rose;
But fewer like him, in honor compare
All guilds teeming, schools and churches;
Hospitals booming, and more so ever
Many achievements made, but key how simple;
Any little he got; for brother would giv
But now it’s time, for wreath and garland;
Our prayers to send, all, you and I
When hosts of saints, that dawn ’l assemble;
Lord reward his love, with joy beatific
Angels receive him, and show him in;
                                                                                                               To take his place, in eternal abode.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Memoirs of Cardinal Rugambwa: His Last Journeys to Europe and Bukoba


Fr. Stanislaus Mutajwaha, PhD
Catholic Diocese of Bukoba, Tanzania
(Writing from USA)

(8) Bukoba

There was no possibility for a direct flight from Dar es Salaam to Bukoba.  But that was not strange. We flew to Mwanza then travelled by ferry to Bukoba.  The ferry was MV Victoria. In Bukoba, many people especially from the Bunena Mission community who had the information that the Cardinal was coming turned up to receive him at the port. One of these was Fr. Callist Kagaruki. He drove us in his “hard top” Land Cruiser to the Diocesan Centenary Pastoral Centre (CPC) in town. His Eminence rode in the front seat. I was at the back.

On arrival at the CPC Fr. Callist lost no time to move and open the door for his Eminence to get off. Apparently lost in his thoughts His Eminence momentarily looked at the Cathedral. In all probability his eye must have been met by the wooden scaffold that practically encased the big Cathedral as it went through a very major renovation. But there was much more of improvement to be noticed too. Sure enough, with the steeple now raised through several meters above its original height after a highly sophisticated maneuver of engineering, every aspect gave a more majestic and more imposing look than anything the Cardinal had ever seen of this Cathedral before.  Now, probably unaware that we might be looking at him, with his hand scarcely raised beyond elbow level His Eminence pointed his right index finger roughly in the direction of the apex of the steeple, shook his head slightly but without uttering a single word, and in an instant tried to reach out for his briefcase from the car indicating that we could move into the rectory. None of us picked sufficient courage to ask him a question concerning his impressions of the renovation. But if what he saw caused him great joy, probably that joy was also touched with a kind of uncertainty at the same time or vice versa. 

Months later, thinking about the incident in retrospect after His Eminence had passed, the question still lingered in my head as to what kind of image will have gone through his mind that morning. It is my conjecture that in relation to the Cathedral His Eminence was thinking something like this: “I am likely to be ready before you are”. But of course I might be wrong. This is only a guess. Still, when one year later he was called from this life the Cathedral was not yet ready to allow the celebration of his funeral Mass in it. In a sense then he was ready before it was.

Once in the rectory his Eminence expressed his wish to celebrate Mass before doing anything else. We went into the rectory chapel. He said Mass while I concelebrated thanking God for bringing us home safe. This was followed by a breakfast after which we drove to Bunena - his first residence when he was installed Bishop of Bukoba Diocese. He would stay at the same residential home even now for the few days while in Bukoba.  People who wanted to talk to him could find him there. Shortly after his arrival at Bunena Bishop Nestor Timanywa came to meet him as his host to welcome him back home into the Diocese after those long days of travelling.

In order to arrange the very last chords of what I described as the finale of his symphony into the most appropriate cadence, His Eminence felt that he needed to go to Rutabo first to visit his brothers, relatives and neighbors in Bukongo village, his birthplace, before returning to Dar es Salaam. I accompanied him there too. I feel almost embarrassingly indebted to him for allowing the honor of escorting him through these landmark events of his last days to fall on me. May his soul rest in peace!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Memoirs of Cardinal Rugambwa: His Last Journeys to Europe and Bukoba


Fr. Stanislaus Mutajwaha, PhD
Catholic Diocese of Bukoba, Tanzania
(Writing from USA)

 (7) Home again

It is London that saw the last footprint of his Eminence in Europe. Our stay in the Airport was rather long, but since we knew before hand that it would not be shorter, we were prepared to bear the boredom. Still, if someone much younger could feel a kind of stress owing to the slow passage of time, probably anyone might wonder what it must have felt for the Cardinal in such a busy airport. But finally our turn came. We boarded the plane and flew back home – sweet home.

Upon arrival at the Airport in Dar es salaam His Eminence was led to the VIP lounge to wait for the luggage. There we were met by Fr. Jovin Bakekera and His Eminence’s personal Secretary at his Residence in Oyster Bay. Shortly after our entrance into the VIP lounge, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr. Jakaya Kikwete also came in. Maybe he was preparing for an official flight. The two met and greeted each other. I could not immediately determine whether they were particularly familiar, even though, judging by their spontaneous conversation both must have known a lot about each other. In any case, the friendly tone of their conversation at their present coincidental meeting was unmistakable. In the course of their talk, informal as it was, the Cardinal praised Mr. Kikwete for the commendable work he was doing in the Government as Minister of Foreign Affairs. While accepting the complement with unambiguous appreciation the later President of the United Republic of Tanzania expressed his personal viewpoint of the matter to His Eminence saying, “It is true, Your Eminence, but we are building upon the foundation stones that were laid by you”.

The conversation was becoming more and more interesting when one Airport Official brought in his Eminence’s luggage, while at the same time the departure of the Minister’s flight was close. For that reason it looked obvious that it was time for His Eminence to move on in order to conclude the long journey at his residence in Oyster Bay where it had started. At Oyster Bay everybody was thinking that the journey was over, but to the mind of His Eminence the truth was slightly different. For His Eminence the real conclusion of the journey was still to come. If the entire journey to Rome and back could be compared to a farewell symphony, for His Eminence that symphony still lacked a proper finale, which in three days after this was going to take place in the form of an additional tour, namely a domestic trip to Bukoba.

To be continued

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Memoirs of Cardinal Rugambwa: His Last Journeys to Europe and Bukoba

Fr. Stanislaus Mutajwaha, PhD
Catholic Diocese of Bukoba, Tanzania
(Writing from USA)

(6) Belgium en route

Finally the time came for His Eminence to say “Arrivederci” (Goodbye) to Rome. But his last leg on the Italian soil was not the last one on the continent of Europe. We first flew to Belgium and a few days later back to England. In Belgium we were not expecting any hectic programs or tight appointments. It was a leisurely visit at the invitation of some families of His Eminence’s old friends. I found the more relaxed atmosphere there conducive to prompting His Eminence into finishing up the story that he had just started to narrate at Collegio San Pietro that afternoon when the official from the Vatican brought to His Eminence the timetable of the activities he was requested to participate in during the days leading to the climax of the celebrations of the Pope’s Jubilee. When I asked His Eminence wondering whether he could tell me more about that story, he spoke without reserve of different incidents.

He spoke about the various demanding tasks he had to face that were involved in founding the new Diocese of Rutabo. He recalled the assistance that came his way changing some stumbling blocks into opportunities that contributed towards a successful ministry.  He would describe some moments of this assistance as providential. He praised the high degree of collaboration and personal initiative of the members of his Diocese as shown in the forms of time and talent from lay people, religious and clergy alike. As an example of team work and collaboration he cited the work of Fr. Henry Rwehikiza, one of his diocesan priests who at one time tried using his motorcycle to ferry poles/beams needed to build one Mission school. You could sense a touch of humor in His Eminence’s narration as he passed from one incident to another injecting here and there a description of his involvement as Bishop and leader.

As the narrative unfolded even further I came to realize that whatever his greatness His Eminence was not above the almost universal law that governs the operations of those who are dedicated to the service of others. I came to understand that just as there is almost no way for a farmer who tills the land keeping their hands immaculately protected from touching the soil, it is probably naïve to think of bringing service to those in need without allowing oneself to be bruised in the process. In his pursuit for the betterment of the life condition of his brothers and sisters Cardinal Rugambwa was bruised as at least the following example can testify. With regard to the incident I shall give what His Eminence experienced but in the general terms.

During one of the several banquets thrown to congratulate him at his elevation to the College of Cardinals His Eminence spoke to one person about his plans to work on bringing some transformation in his Diocese in the areas of education and health. Seemingly thrilled by the idea, this person assured his assistance to his Eminence and proposed a meeting about it in a setting of more serious work at his office. On the appointed day His Eminence travelled by train to meet the person who had indicated lively readiness to give some help.  But when His Eminence arrived after several hours of train travelling this person did not seem to remember anything about the appointment. His Eminence was baffled. Still he accepted both the answer he received and the bruise inflicted on him by it. But what is even more surprising is that after that experience His Eminence did not feel totally discouraged from trying to explore on other possible avenues. His ambition to do something for his people in need at both the spiritual and the social level remained undefeated if not even more deeply energized.

At this point let me add, by way of comment, that surely that experience did not diminish His Eminence’s name. On the contrary it is another tangible reason to affirm and grasp his greatness. Beneath the fragrant roses of his renown one can also see thorns that pricked his head while he stood on his pedestal and a bruised skin of an engaging shepherd.  Probably, that is another important part of the general picture of His Eminence’s story that brings out even more forcefully the idea, that for those who know what he did and the kind of struggles he endured for the sake of others, celebrating him now is like a duty.

 From Belgium we flew to England.

To be continued

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Memoirs of Cardinal Rugambwa: His Last Journeys to Europe and Bukoba


Fr. Stanislaus Mutajwaha, PhD
Catholic Diocese of Bukoba, Tanzania
(Writing from USA)

(5) Packing

The Jubilee celebrations over, it was now time to think of our journey back home. It was now time for packing. But probably to His Eminence’s thinking this time meant something more significant than simply putting together our luggage for the flight. In one of the wardrobes I had counted not less than four red cassocks and other garments. He will have worn those on various occasions while in Rome. Besides, there were several other personal effects in other cabinets of his apartment. One might have thought that these things would preoccupy His Eminence’s mind. But by the impression I got, they never did.

By that time His Eminence was above 84 years old. Although he was definitely aware that he was a Cardinal he also knew equally well that at his age he was no longer counted as one of the electors. (Cardinal electors are those who have the right and duty to participate in the election of a new pope). He was aware that despite his advanced age he could in principle still be chosen Pope even if he could not cast a vote for one, but considering his health condition maybe he did not think that such a thing still remained a likely probability.  In fact, back at Collegio San Pietro in the evening of the celebration of the Pope’s Jubilee His Eminence expressed his doubts whether after his departure Rome would ever see him again. For that reason, we might say that for His Eminence, the period between Pope John Paul’s Jubilee and our flight back to Tanzania via Belgium was his time for packing together all his old memories of his presence in Rome first as student priest, then his being created Cardinal, his later participation in the Vatican Council II and his many other visits thereafter including the present one. If, as he was thinking, this was going to be his last time in Rome and Europe in general, then his real package for Africa was a collection of the different facets of the name he had made over the years in his capacity as the first African Prince of the Church – and all that embodied in his person. With that accomplished, His Eminence was ready to fly back home.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Greatness of Laurian Cardinal Rugambwa –Was Something in the Name?


Deogratias Rweyongeza, PhD
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

There is something unique in the way the Haya people of northwestern Tanzania assign ethnic names to their children. In this patriarchal and strongly hierarchical society, the paternal grandfather assigns names to all his grandsons and granddaughters. Those who are born after the passing of their grandfathers have names assigned by their fathers. This practice not only guarantee that the paternal side and clan has the first right for the children over the maternal side, but also allows the grandfather or father to instill a vision of the future of their children in the symbolism of the names. Occasionally, names may be assigned that connote the circumstances of the past for good or ill. Consequently, the Haya names are not just names but they mean something. Rugambwa means “the great one”; “the famous”; the one who the people will always talk about in great esteem.

In the months leading to his 100th birthday and official reburial in the Bukoba Catholic Cathedral he built and consecrated in 1968 before being named Archbishop of Dar es Salaam in 1969, a lot has been said about Cardinal Rugambwa. Those who were young when Cardinal Rugambwa was a bishop in Bukoba speak of the Bishop who would walk around Rutabo Parish compound to talk to young children playing in the streets; early alumni of Rugambwa Secondary School speak of their regular visits to the Bishop’s House at Ntungamo Major Seminary to get lessons on life issues from the Cardinal; in the mid 1980s, I read a book about Cardinal Rugambwa where it was mentioned that as a Bishop in Rutabo, Rugambwa would visit bars and homes that were selling liquor during work hours and order them to close and everybody go to attend their banana and coffee fields and all would obey. Undoubtedly, Cardinal Rugambwa created in Bukoba an educational infrastructure that until now has not been matched by anyone else including the government. It is difficult to imagine how Bukoba would have been without the pioneering work of Cardinal Rugambwa. Bukoba is Cardinal Rugambwa and Cardinal Rugambwa is Bukoba. This is what it means to be “Rugambwa” (the great one); “the visionary”; “the noble”; “the worker”; “the servant”. Names mean something and sometimes those who bear them when blessed and principled, deliver.

We read in Psalms 1: 1-3 that “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the ways of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but delights in the law of the Lord, and on this law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by the stream that yields its fruits in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prosper”.

We further read in Psalms 112: 1-3 that “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house; and his righteousness endures for ever”.

Cardinal Rugambwa is the spiritual father of Bukoba, Tanzania and Africa; and for us in Bukoba he was also the provider of our earthly needs and a symbol of modernity. This is why, although Cardinal Rugambwa died as an Archbishop in Dar es Salaam, he will be remembered and cherished much more in Bukoba. When Cardinal Rugambwa died and his body was transferred to Bukoba, one Anglican Bishop for a diocese in Mwanza was the graduate students at St. Stephen’s College at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. At that time, this bishop went to Bukoba to witness the burial of the Cardinal. When he returned to Edmonton, he told me that he had never seen anything like this. He spoke of a sea of people along the roads in Bukoba where the Cardinal’s body passed with serene as though God has appeared on earth. Yes, this is it what means to be “Rugambwa” (the great one). Personally I remember sometimes in the 1980s when Cardinal Rugambwa had a jubilee cerebration at Rutabo Parish. I recall seeing a sea of people similar to those described by the Anglican bishop.

The star of Laurian Cardinal Rugambwa endures for ever!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Memoirs of Cardinal Rugambwa:  His last Journeys to Europe and Bukoba


Fr. Stanislaus Mutajwaha, PhD
Catholic Diocese of Bukoba, Tanzania
(Writing from USA

(4) Celebrations of the Holy Father’s Golden Jubilee

The time between our day of arrival in Rome and the Holy Father’s Jubilee celebrations was not very long. Still one could pick up one or two moments worth of special note.  The first is connected to his name as the First African Cardinal. A few years had elapsed since His Eminence was in Rome the previous time. For that reason the majority of the priest students at Collegio San Pietro were now seeing him for the first time even though they had already heard much said about him, especially since he was the most important alumnus. At supper time, the first with this group of students, the Rector introduced his Eminence to the community before the meal could start. In response His Eminence spoke a few words in Italian in appreciation of the introduction adding a brief word of encouragement to the students to work as hard as they could. The applause that followed his few words was almost deafening.

The following day, in the afternoon, as we waited for the arrival of one official from the Vatican to bring the program of the forthcoming festivities his Eminence sent me to the Rector who gave me a closed envelope to bring to His Eminence.  Noticing that the envelope was not addressed, His Eminence immediately saw a possibility that not everyone could have easily seen, namely that this envelope might still be used to serve another purpose.  I saw him take an envelope opener from the drawer and carefully open the envelope without ripping or tearing it. This took him some time and I was wondering why. When I asked him why he did that, His Eminence answered that it is the times of scarcity he had gone through not only as a young Bishop of Rutabo Diocese but also even later as a Cardinal that taught him this. Elaborating the matter his Eminence cited experiences about his struggles that might sound scarcely commensurate to the image of the builder of a magnificent Cathedral in Bukoba, modern complexes of Ntungamo Seminary, the unbeatable Girls’ Secondary School of Rugambwa and Segerea Senior Seminary in Dar es Salaam.

His Eminence was still narrating his story when the official from the Vatican arrived bringing with him various documents concerning the Jubilee celebrations and matters of protocol for updating the Cardinal.  When I showed this official the ticket that I had obtained to allow me into St. Peter’s Basilica to participate at the Jubilee Mass but wondering which area the ticket was sending me to, the official noticed that it was good enough. But he also advised that escorting His Eminence into the Basilica to the place where the Cardinals were going to vest for Mass would finally bring me to a section that is even closer to the altar for a better view. And that is what finally happened.

On the day of the great celebration I escorted His Eminence right into the Basilica. As we walked the distance from where the car left us passing through entrances manned by the Papal Swiss Guards, you could hear some people guess correctly, “This will be Rugambwa, the First African Cardinal”.  As we arrived the Cardinals were already beginning to gather.  I left him exchanging greetings with his fellow Cardinals and went to find myself a place.  From my seat, during the celebration of the Mass I could pretty easily see the majority of the Cardinals.  At one moment, when my eye fell on His Eminence seated among those Cardinals from all over the world in their brilliant vestments, my mind recalled a contrasting image: the picture of Rugambwa the pastor who times of scarcity had taught not to ignore the possibility of using a used envelope as he struggled to do some greater good for the brothers and sisters entrusted to his care with the limited resources available to him.

To be ontinued!