"It will never work, Father!" was the reaction of an agitated elderly Hutu
refugee after I briefly reviewed the week’s seminar on "Establishing Small
Christian Communities (SCCs)."
It was our third group.
Lukole is one of
a dozen refugee camps in the Diocese of Rulenge in Western Tanzania. It is
situated near the corner where Rwanda meets Burundi and Tanzania. All the camps
are Hutu refugees, mainly from Rwanda, except for one small camp of intermarried
Hutu and Tutsi families. Lukole, however, is almost entirely Burundi Hutus.
Lukole Camp has one main road off which branch 25 streets. Each street has
When I arrived
in February, 1995 Lukole was being attended by an S.M.A. missionary living at
Rulenge, 40 kilometers to the south. He also attended to the Muronzi Camp. He,
with catechists, and a weekly visit by two Italian Marist Sisters, had already
organized the camp so that each street had a street leader, who together formed
the parish council. There also were nine different groups: Legion of Mary,
Catholic Scouts, KiRho, Choir, etc. Some active, some dormant.
weekdays of Lent, 1995 I attended a liturgy on each street at a Catholic home —
a grass hut covered with plastic sheeting. The liturgy began with a Gospel
reading, explanation by the catechist, petitions, Rosary, night prayers,
blessing of the home — all in Kirundi. At the end I gave a short talk on the
African Synod (translated from Swahili into Kirundi) and its proposal for a new
way of being Church in Africa, a church called "The Church as Family." 60 to
100 adults attended. Others, curious, came and went.
we had our first SCC seminar. Twenty of the twenty-five street leaders
attended. I went on home leave leaving a catechist who still did not understand
what we were after. "We have nine small groups already! Why another one?"
of 1995 I again attended the street liturgies. I found there were some attempts
to follow the seven-step Lumko approach to Gospel discussion that we had
practiced in the seminar.
our second seminar for SCC leaders in February, 1996. Each group was asked to
send a delegate with the hope of beginning a second SCC on each street. Thirty
attended our second week-long seminar, 10 women and 20 men.
During Lent I
again attended the street liturgies. There were now 30 SCCs. Gospel discussion
was better — more volunteered to tell "What did you hear? What touched you as
the Gospel was read?" Many petitions were now based on the Gospel as practiced
in the seminars.
We announced a
third SCC seminar for after Easter, 1996. Living at Lukole with me now was
Father Paul Shija, a Tanzanian diocesan priest from Shinyanga Diocese. We had
the seminar together. Each group was again asked to send a delegate with the
purpose of splitting into smaller groups. Forty-three attended this seminar;
again one-third were women.
we are now. We plan to continue this cycle of seminars and street visits to train more
leaders and for Bible-reading Catholics. The choir members, almost entirely
young people in their teens, were asked to consider it their calling, their
vocation, in this new type of church to lead SCCs in song and to teach them the
songs sung at Sunday Mass. We also asked each SCC to send young people to the
choirs. Since choir members can read, we added to their task the daily home
reading of the Gospel of the day which we incorporated into the Kirundi night
was given the responsibility of being the "teacher" for three streets. The
first priority was the Family Night Prayers. To this responsibility we hope to
add that of being the Eucharistic minister for the sick on his or her street.
How do you
judge what is a SCC? How do you judge the success? Ultimately, of course, it
is the acts of love and responsibility for each other and others of their
of success, or towards success, is Bible reading. The Gospels must be the food
that nourishes. That is why our SCC liturgy (meeting) is identical to the Family
Night Prayers, with the exception of the seven-step method of Gospel
discussion. They are intended to reinforce each other — the Family (Domestic)
Church and the Church as a Family. For the SCC liturgy (meeting) the next
Sunday’s Gospel is the reading — to reinforce the union of the SCC with the
"parish" church. For night prayers, the Gospel of the mass of the day is read
to reinforce the union with the Universal Church. The Bible is rapidly becoming
the book of the Catholic Church, not just the book of the Pentecostals. Many
people are bringing their Bibles to Sunday Mass, so the preaching style may have
indication of working SCCs is Sunday Mass attendance. Mass attendance at Lukole
has doubled since the beginning of SCCs. Yet another indication is that
Catholics who dropped out of the church to join Pentecostal groups are
returning. There are eight Christian denominational churches in the camp area
that are designated for church services. By far the largest are the
Pentecostals with many "ex-Catholics." Refugee camps seem, can be, an ideal
training ground for SCC living. Likewise these SCCs seem, can be, an ideal
situation for reconciliation of people who are wounded by violence.
"It will never
work, Father!" said the old man. Now getting agitated myself, I responded to
him: "Please, listen to me, mzee (Swahili for ‘elder’)! It can work. If Father
Paul (black from Africa and young) and I (white from America and old) can live
together and work together and eat together and laugh together, so can a Hutu
and a Tutsi. That is what the Church is all about. It can work. It’s got to
work. If it doesn’t work, we’ll have to give up saying the ‘Our Father.’ We’ll
have to give up receiving Holy Communion."
3,500 years ago it took 40 years for the Jewish refugees living and wandering in
the desert to form the Israelite Community. In Africa today we don’t have that