Missions to Africa
Fr Aylward Shorter WF reviews two recent publications about the early days of missionary activity in Africa.
Mission to the Great Lakes by Francis Nolan, WF (TMP Book Department Tabora, Tanzania).
So Abundant a Harvest by Yves Tourigny, WF (Darton, Longman and Todd, £2.50).
In September, 1878, the first White Father missionaries reached Tabora in Central Tanzania. Five months later, in February, 1879, two of the same party reached what is now Uganda.
Two books by White Fathers celebrate the centenaries of these two closely connected events. Fr Nolan's brief historical sketch describes the first missionaries' painful journey on foot from the East African coast and takes the story of the White Fathers' MISsions in Western Tanzania up to the years before political independence.
It is a skilful piece of summarising, outlining the missionaries' successes and failures in the pre-colonial period and the gradual consolidation of their work after the imposition of German colonial rule.
After the insecurity of the early days the Catholic missions became more successfully integrated with African society and emancipated themselves from government tutelage. Their independence from, and opposition to, the colonial regime, became even more apparent when the British began to administer the territory after the First World War.
Fr Nolan brings out the important fact that the primary evangelists in Tanzania were the Africans themselves. It was the catechists who spread the Word of God effectively and who often were the parents of the first generation of African clergy. Moreover, the education of women by the White Sisters played a crucial, if hidden role, in the Christianising of family life. Not only did these missionaries contribute to the social and economic development of Tanzania; their preaching brought profound changes of outlook and behaviour in those who inherited the power when the colonialists departed.
Fr Tourigny's book is really a history of the institutional Church in Uganda, and as such it is more interesting for what it does not say than for what it does. Uganda is Africa's most Christian country, in terms of ecclesiastical developments and of sheer numbers.
Continuing Fr Nolan's story north of Lake Victoria, Fr Tourigny traces the same early uncertainties, the same consolidation and confrontation with colonialism, particularly in the matter of education.
It is perhaps a difficult book for the general reader, being a lengthy and very detailed account of all the diocesan boundary changes, the successive appointments of bishops, the foundations of religious congregations, the building of colleges and hospitals and the holding of meetings.
It is certainly an impressive record of achievement, an annalistic account of the Ugandan Church, culminating in the historic visit of Pope Paul VI to Uganda.
Yet, through the cracks in Fr Tourigny's official church facade one glimpses something of the real Church, the communities of Christian men and women living and celebrating their Faith in the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Once again, the labourers of the first hour were the laity, the catechists and the neophytes who kept the Faith alive when even the missionaries were tempted to
abandon them in the early days of persecution. It was the faith and courage of these young Christians which were tested in the fires of Namugongo, and made Uganda the home of martyrs.
Violence in the name of religion is present from the beginning of Uganda's story. So also is the endemic divisiveness and factionalism of Ugandan society.
No one can know, least of all the historian writing so closely in the wake of events, the heroism and deep conviction of so many thousands of Ugandan Christians. Truly, as Fr Tourigny points out, their fervour and tenacity are remarkable.
This is a book to be read between the lines, and to be a source of praise and inspiration. In spiritual terms, Uganda is one of the most hopeful countries in the world.
If I may be allowed one small criticism: both of these books would have benefited by more than the single, meagre map provided. Fr Nolan's photographs of early missions provide a fascinating pictorial record.
Both of these are books to be noticed and read by Catholics who wish to know more of the Third Church, the new "Church of the Nations" in which we find ourselves living today.