These days we have been on Convivencia. God has given our community beautiful days of rest and fun, visiting for the first time the northwestern part of Tanzania in the Kagera Region. We are staying in the city of Bukoba which is on the shore of Lake Victoria. It is an area with a climate and landscape very different from what we know in Ushetu. We are struck by how mountainous it is here with its valleys, its large banana plantation, coffee bushes, pine and eucalyptus trees.
The first missionaries, the White Fathers, came to this area of Tanzania in 1892. Also the first Cardinal from all of Africa came from this Diocese of Bukoba: Cardinal Lauren Rugambwa, appointed by Pope Saint John XXIII in 1960. We have gotten to see the first mission of Bukoba that was established in 1892 that is called Kashozi ka Maria (which means “mountain of Mary” in Kihaya) and the first cathedral in Bunena that was blessed in 1910. But among all the places that we visited, there were 2 pilgrimage spots that impressed us the most.
Lourdes in Tanzania – Nyakijoga
On February 2, the day of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the World Day of Consecrated Life, and providentially the first day of the novena of Our Lady of Lourdes, patron saint of our parish in Ushetu, we decided to go visit Our Mother in Nyakijoga.
After breakfast, we started on our way there, which on the map of the cell phone said that we would arrive in 45 minutes. We left the city of Bukoba and we were quickly distracted by the beautiful views along the way. At one point we stopped because we knew we were going in the wrong direction, turned around and returned to what we thought was the way, but the road got narrower and very similar to the roads we drive in Ushetu when we go to the villages further away. It seemed that our getting lost was a gift from the Virgin to make us feel like we were making a longer pilgrimage to visit Her. It was also a gift because of the majestic landscapes that we were able to see along the way. After 2 hours and several “Help us Virgencita” we finally arrived at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Nyakijoga.
The chapel is the central place of the sanctuary that was built in 1954 by Father Melchiades Kazigo to promote Marian devotion in these lands. To him, this place reminded him a lot of the sanctuary of Lourdes because of a small cave that it had and a stream next to it. So he decided to dedicate the place to Our Lady of Lourdes. Also Father Patrick Payton, the great Apostle of the Rosary of the last century, was able to visit here in 1955. It was inaugurated by Bishop Lauren Rugambwa (the one mentioned above) in 1958, the same year as the centenary of the original Shrine of Lourdes in France.
We entered through the main entrance and walked downhill towards the chapel. We entered the chapel where we found a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in a small cave. Above the cave, next to it, it is written in Kihaya, the language of the local tribe, “Weyoleke okwo oli Muzaire” which means “Show yourself as our Mother.” And so She did that day. She showed herself as our Mother and brought us there!
We were able to spend a long time with Her praying at her feet. We were able to pray for the faithful of our mission, for all the members of Our Religious Family, our benefactors, our own families, our friends and many personal things. We prayed the rosary in community and sang the Salve Regina to Her. Before saying goodbye, we gave her a rosary with the symbols of our religious family, the shield of the Incarnate Word and the Cross of Matará.
Later we blessed ourselves with the water of the little stream that is next to the chapel and that crosses the entire land of the shrine property. From these waters, miracles and favors have been reported through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes.
We were able to walk around the place and enjoy its beauty and see the spots where they prepare the altars for Masses when more people come, particularly for the last Sunday of October of each year when all the parishes of the Diocese of Bukoba come on pilgrimage to see the Virgin of Nyakijoga.
We returned to where we are staying happy with a day of adventure and joy of being with the Virgin and this time the return trip was not as long as the journey to get there … only 45 minutes.
The First Martyr of Tanzania – Kishomberwa
Another day of Convivencia we decided to visit the birthplace of Saint John Mary Muzeeyi, one of the Companion Martyrs of Saint Charles Lwanga from Uganda. He was the only one of Tanzanian origin and the last one to die in January 1887.
After we had Holy Mass at the Cathedral of Bukoba, we arrived in Minziro, where one of the priests took us to Kishomberwa. It took us an hour and 45 minutes and this time without getting lost! We drove 50 km on asphalt to the west and then almost 40 km by dirt road to the north towards Uganda to the parish of Minziro, which is also named after the Holy Martyr.
The parish priest was not there at the time, but the vicar, Father Octavian, welcomed us and in good Tanzanese style and with the help of the secretary and the cook they prepared a “chai” or a snack to give us strength to continue our journey. Afterwards, Father very generously took us to see the place where Saint John Mary Muzeeyi was born.
Passing through pineapple, sugar cane, banana and coffee plantations we finally reached Kishomberwa. We were 10 minutes from the Ugandan border. We came across a large lot that had a statue of Saint John Maria and a place with a roof used only for the Holy Mass. The huge statue was made in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, depicting the Saint with a cross in one hand held high and a jar made of a gourd in the other hand held downward. Fr. Octavian told us that this is a symbol that the saint left all his pagan beliefs to serve Christ, and at his feet there is another man on his knees with his hand palm up, who represents us, begging for the intercession of the Saint.
After we prayed there, we asked Father if he knew where the tomb of the saint was. He answered that it was very close and that we could walk there. He took us walking about 5 minutes up a little hill where we found a large cross, another place with an altar for a large Mass and the tomb of St. John Maria Muzeeyi. There was no sign of his name, but the generations of people from that place, many who are from the same tribe and some who are his family members, know story of the Saint very well. After the Martyrdom of St. John Maria, his family went to find his body in Uganda and returned it to the place of his birth. We couldn’t believe that we were praying to the Saint Martyr at his tomb; another gift and grace from God that we did not expect.
Finally, after his blessing, we said Good-bye to Fr. Octavian thankful for his generosity in giving us his time to show us the places of St. John Maria Muzeeyi.
Pope Benedict XVI said in 2010 on a visit he made to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, “To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where He has revealed himself, where His grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”
We give thanks for these days of Convivencia and in particular for being able to find some of these treasures of the history of the Catholic Church here in Tanzania, in which we have seen how Our Lady always is among her children showing herself as Mother and how God protects souls so that they can one day be great examples of giving their life for the only love of their life, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word.
Through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint John Mary Muzeeyi, we pray that these holy places can be better known here in Tanzania and that they can be used to encourage and strengthen the faith of those who visit them and from this, love Christ until the end.
Community Sacred Heart of Jesus – Tanzania