Catholic Herald staff
It’s been 10 years since Fr. Christian Mhagama, a 47-year-old Tanzanian priest, visited Holy Assumption Catholic Church, Superior.
At the time, the parish only intended to send him home with financial support. Instead, parishioners launched a missionary relationship with the people of Kisa, Tanzania, that continues to this day.
Holy Assumption hosted its annual lasagna dinner March 5, one of two yearly fundraisers that finances parishioners’ work with their sister parish in the East African Diocese of Mbeya.
The last decade has been a learning experience, said Laura Davis. One of about 10 members of a core group that guides and maintains the parish’s mission work, Davis meets regularly with the others to talk about current and future projects.
She has traveled to Tanzania three times.
“Many of our members have been there all three times,” she added. “We’ve been able to accomplish much more than our fundraising.”
Over the past decade, parishioners have worked and raised money to improve health care and provide food, running water, educational opportunities and other necessities to the people of Kisa.
They have lost Fr. Mhagama to illness, and sustained changes at home as well. Holy Assumption is clustered with the Cathedral of Christ the King and three other parishes, an arrangement they find beneficial for publicizing events. Fr. Andrew Ricci is the parish’s parochial administrator, and Fr. Adam Laski is their parochial vicar.
Providing running water in the remote mountain region was a long-term project fraught with stumbling blocks; helping orphans and the disabled are also ongoing efforts.
“We’re hoping to put more of our efforts now into educational needs,” Davis said.
The government built a school in the region, but they didn’t include toilets. Some money went to solve that problem, and some just goes to provide food for poor families who take in orphans.
Davis finds providing basic needs most fulfilling.
“I think just the fact that I’ve been able to help people that really need help with things that we just take for granted,” she said. “It’s certainly strengthened my own faith and it’s been wonderful to see how another culture worships the same God.”
Holy Assumption’s missionary group has also grown in its understanding of service to the poor.
“We don’t try to dictate what their needs are,” she added.
The project has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the Servite Sisters’ Mary Alphonse Bradley Fund, money the mission committee has been distributing according to the Tanzanians’ needs.
Deacon Bob Chammings, another member of the mission group, has also been to Kisa three times.
“It’s been a very humbling experience, but a very gratifying experience,” he said.
He’s learned seeing a white man sitting next to women in church can be enough to lower domestic violence in the community and draw local men back to worship. He now understands the value of that witness.
Whenever the deacon feels Holy Assumption isn’t doing enough for the Tanzanians, he remembers Fr. Christian’s words: Everything they give is 100 percent more than the Africans had before.
The Holy Assumption group has also learned there are no government programs or safety nets for Tanzanians, and the church’s work is critical for their survival.
“The Catholic Church has a very strong influence,” the deacon said.
Food and fellowship
As it has from the beginning, the lasagna dinner includes several styles of homemade pasta and lasagna for diners who attend the freewill offering-only meal.
Deacon Chammings estimated between 275 and 300 people came to this year’s dinner, slightly more than anticipated.
“It’s been steady,” he said.
Davis said her faith has grown just by seeing her community support the missionary effort.
“Many of them have never been there,” Davis said, “They just believe in what we are doing.”
Among those gathered was Dan Blank, a member of St. Francis, Superior, recently returned from an international missionary trip. He was looking forward to the Holy Assumption group’s next visit.
“It will be very exciting when the group gets to go to Tanzania,” he said.
Sirra, a local woman who didn’t give her last name, said her family is new to the area, and they are visiting local churches. Both her parents were missionaries in Africa; although her husband was away on business, she and her children, Addalane, Attikus and Adraius, wanted to support the cause.
“Our heart is in the missions, and Africa is really in our heart, too,” she said.