From Onesimo Makani in Rhodesia
Last month saw a record number of ordinations in the Catholic Church in
Rhodesia. Seven young men, all Africans, were ordained to the priesthood — five for the Gwelo diocese and two for B lawayo.
Ten others have been made deacons in different dioceses. So next year's "crop" will be even greater.
One other priest, Fr. Charles Kanhongwa, was ordained for the Salisbury Archdiocese in May, so that altogether a total of eight African priests have been ordained in Rhodesia this year.
This is the first time that so many have been ordained in one year in Rhodesia. At the beginning of the year the Church in Rhodesia saw, with much rejoicing and celebrating, the consecration of Bishop Patrick Chakaipa, Auxiliary of Salisbury — Rhodesia's first African bishop.
The first ordination in August was that of Fr. Raymond Machikicho which took place on August 12, and the last was that of Fr. Pius Alick Mvundla Ncube on August 26 in a Bulawayo township.
Others ordained in between were Frs. Anthony Gwatiringa, AloisMaveneka, Marcus Tshuma, Constantine Mashonganyika and Adam Nkosana. They were all ordained in their home areas.
When I was at Chishawasha Major Seminary, near Salisbury, where African Catholic clerical students study philosophy and theology, the Rector Fr. J. Berrell, said that from now on an .average of 10 to 15 priests should be ordained every year. Last year only four priests were ordained, and before that the average had been one ordination a year.
There are at the moment 75 studeqts at the major seminary; formerly there were sometimes only 25. Fr. Berrell said this upsurge was due to the efforts of the minor seminaries, especially Chikwingwizha, near Gwelo, and St. Charles Luangwa at Meletter, both built just over ten years ago. But irn increasing number of seminarians come to the major seminary straight from ordinary secondary schools. The latest ordinations have brought the number of African priests in Rhodesia to 41. This is not very impressive, especially since the first African priest in this country was ordained as far back as 1947.
The number of expatriate priests stands at 347, and with the present shortage of vocations in Europe this number is not likely to grow in the near future.
It is also feared that government policy will make it more and more difficult for expatriate 'priests to enter the country and to work among the African people. Recently a few missionaries are known to have been refused entry permits.
Others had to leave the country because their residence permits were not renewed. Missionaries have been very often accused of engaging in political activities by some members of the ruling Rhodesia Front.
Fr. Berrell, who is a sociologist, says Rhodesia needs at least 600 priests if they are to be effective in their work. Rhodesia's Catholic nonolation is estimated at nearly 500,000. The overall population of Rhodesia is nearly six million.
Like elsewhere in the Church today there has been talk of the possibility of ordaining married men to the ministry, but no practical step has been taken so far. Some of the new priests spoke out against the idea, The main argument is that such priests would tend to be regarded as second class priests. One said: "I doubt if they woula have the same value." A spokesman for Bishop Alois Haene of Gwelo said he did not foresee the ordination of married men.
So far African priests in Rhodesia have not been very much of an influence in the national church and in secular affairs. They have remained, quiet over burning social and political issues. This should be seen against the background of intense political and social awareness and activity of many ministers of other Christian denominations, The present African political organisation, the African National Council, is led by the leader of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Abel Muzorewa.
The feeling is that Catholic African priests are not well enough prepared during their seven years' training at the major seminary. One professor at the seminary, commenting on this, said sometimes one wondered "for what kind of reality we are preparing theses people."
He said he was referring also to the Church's educational activities as a whole in Rhodesia.
The training of priests in Rhodesia and elsewhere in Africa seems to have changed very little — even after Vatican II. One of the new priests, Fr. Raymond Machikicho, said he ' saw the task of the African priest as one of reconciling the African traditional way of life with Christianity.
He added: "But an African priest's training is western and he is taught nothing about his traditional values; he is taught nothing about the situation of the country in which he lives."