01 August 2013

In the land of "Karibu"

If you spend any time at all in Tanzania and never learn the word "Karibu", it probably means you are dead. Karibu, which is Swahili for "welcome", is the first word you hear as your plane is landing, the first word you see when stepping into the airport, and probably the most commonly used word in the Swahili language. You hear it dozens of times every day.

I certainly felt most welcomed when I attended a conference for the Capuchin lay brothers of Tanzania held from Tuesday, July 9 until Friday, July 12, 2013 at the Order's beautiful Mbagala Spiritual Centre just outside Dar es Salaam. The conference was an opportunity for the brothers to discuss their life, activities, and roles within the Province, the Order and the local church.

Br Wolfgang addresses the brothers
The Capuchin Province of Tanzania has a unique history, which made this opportunity especially interesting for me. When the Province of Switzerland founded the Tanzanian mission in the early 1920's, the Apostolic Vicar, who was a Capuchin, would not allow the Capuchins to ordain any of the local vocations since he thought it would be detrimental to the growth of the local secular clergy. As a result, the Province, especially in its early years, had a high percentage of lay brothers. Even today, despite the fact that the Province has been ordaining local vocations at least since the 1960's, almost half of the perpetually professed members of the Province are lay friars. In the Capuchin Order as a whole, lay brothers make up about 20% of the perpetually professed friars. One of the concerns voiced during the workshop was their dwindling number. I pointed out to them that there were more lay brothers in the room than there were friars in my province so it was strange for me to hear them talk about their small numbers.

With Br John Sulle, one of my able interpreters
Despite its unique culture and history, the lay brothers in Tanzania have many of the same concerns as in other parts of the world. Besides their concern for the decreasing number of candidates who choose the lay expression of our vocation and the numbers that have left the Order, the brothers also discussed issues of work and formation. We were blessed by the presence of our brother Archbishop Thaddeus Ruwa'ichi on the first evening of the conference. His presentation laid the foundation for the rest of the week by situating it within the context of our religious life, our Franciscan vocation and the current situation of the world. Wolfgang Pisa, Provincial Minister of Tanzania, was present during the whole week and spoke on Wednesday morning about the need to safeguard our charism. In my presentation, I attempted to present a picture of the global situation of lay brothers in the Order. Five of the brothers in attendance gave presentations on topics of the apostolate and witness of the brothers, the division of responsibilities in the Province, and the future outlook.

It was an enjoyable week, but most of all a productive one. I hope one day to hear again the words, "Karibu in Tanzania!"