The Tanzania Catholic Church
The United Republic of Tanzania is a union of Tanganyika and the Islands of Zanzibar.
Tanganyika and Zanzibar got their independence from the British in 1961 and 1963 respectively.
They united in 1964 to form Tanzania. Tanzania with an area of 945,090 Sq. Km. has more than
130 tribes with different languages. There is a national language, Swahili, spoken by almost all
Till 1885, Tanzania mainland (Tanganyika) was ruled by the tribal chiefs. The Sultan of
Zanzibar controlled all external trade and had representatives in all trade centers. Unfortunately,
besides ivory, much of the trade was in slaves. It is this cruel trade exposed by explorers like
David Livingstone and Henry Stanley, that accelerated the missionary endeavor. From 1885 till
the First World War, Tanzania mainland was a German Colony. After the German failure in the
war, Tanganyika came under the British as a United Nations trusteeship.
History of Evangelization: The first Catholic evangelisation was by the Portuguese
Augustinian missionaries who arrived with Vasco Da Gama in 1499 at Zanzibar. They did not
last long due to Arab Moslem opposition. Their mission ended in 1698 due to the Oman-Arab
The second and successful evangelisation in the 19th century pioneered by three religious
congregations, the Holy Ghost Fathers, the White Fathers and the Benedictine Monks.
The Holy Ghost Fathers, under the leadership of Fr. Antoine Horner, were the first to arrive in
Zanzibar in 1863 and crossed to Tanzania mainland, Bagamoyo in 1868 where they opened freed
slaves' villages. In these villages they received and taught slaves freed by the British marines
from the Arab slave traders. With the help of catechists trained in these villages, the missionaries
evangelized northwards till the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The ex-slaves were the first
The missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) led by, Fr. Livinhac, arrived in 1878 in two groups.
One group started on the shores of Lake Tanganyika and the other on those of Lake Victoria.
This mission to the great lakes evangelized all the West of Tanzania together with the
neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and East Zaire.
The Benedictine missionary Monks of St. Ottilien landed in Dar es Salaam in 1887. From there
they evangelized southward to Ruvuma River on the boarder with Mozambique. Their two
monasteries of Ndanda and Peramiho became centers of development and modern civilization in
the South of Tanzania.
Map od Tanzania Early Evangelisation
Map od Tanzania Early Evangelisation
After the First World War more missionary congregations and Societies came in to help. The
congregations that arrived at this time were: the Capuchins, Consolata, Passionists and the
Pallotines. More missionaries came after the Second Word War namely: the Maryknolls,
Rosminians and the Salvatorians. Propaganda Fide gave to each of these missionary groups a
Diocese or two to evangelize.
Indigenisation: Catechists: The first indigenous evangelizers were the catechists. The catechists
had the advantage of knowing the language and customs of the people. They also became
examples to their compatriots. The Catechists took over responsibility when the missionaries
were expelled during and after the First World War. Famous among them are Adrien Atman, an
ideal catechist in Ufipa by Lake Tanganyika, Yohana Mahogora and Ibrahim Kazigu in Bukoba
west of Lake Victoria. At present there are 11,221 Catechists in Tanzania. Unlike the early
catechists the prestige of the catechists today has fallen partly due to poor education.
Clergy: To form a local clergy was a priority for the missionaries of Africa (White Fathers).
They opened the first seminary in 1904 at Rubya - Bukoba. Their efforts were well rewarded.
The first four Tanzanian African priests were ordained in 1917, in Bukoba and Mwanza in
North-West of Tanzania. Bukoba got the first Tanzanian indigenous Bishop in 1952, Laurean
Rugambwa, who in 1960 was elected by Pope John XIII as the first African Cardinal. The other
followed. The last missionary Bishop in Tanzania, Arusha, resigned in 1989. In 1994 Tanzania
has 29 Dioceses all of them led by African Bishops. The training of priests normally starts in
one of the 23 minor seminaries. The four northern metropolitan provinces have a common board
of directors that runs two philosophical seminaries at Kibosho and Ntungamo and two
theological seminaries at Kipalapala and Segerea. In these seminaries the students from the
different dioceses study together, thus building up a national spirit. The metropolitan province of
Songea has one major seminary for both philosophy and theology. At present there are 1,264
Diocesan (African) Priests.
Map of Dioceses
Map of Dioceses
Religious Men: Before the Second Vatican Council, many dioceses had founded diocesan lay
religious congregations for men. After the Second Vatican Council, these diocesan congregations
were suppressed and the members had to join the international congregations. This was a pity as
with that the local charisms were lost. At present all efforts to revive these congregations have
failed. The missionary congregations are increasing. Most of them are successfully recruiting
local vocations. There are now 34 religious congregations working in Tanzania. Of the 642
Religious, 108 are Indigenous.
Religious Women: The religious women are much more numerous. There are 18 recognized
diocesan women religious congregations with a total membership of 6,533 religious. These
diocesan congregations are growing very fast. At present they are trying hard to raise the low
academic standards of their members. The International missionary congregations are
successfully recruiting Tanzanians. At present of the 1577 Women Religious of International
missionary congregations working in Tanzania, 905 are Tanzanians. A number of Tanzania
women religious are working outside the country as missionaries. The diocesan congregations
have houses in Kenya, Zambia and Burundi. Those in Missionary congregations have joined
teams in Libya, Sudan and in Europe.
Pastoral Work: Tanzania has a population of about 30,360,000 inhabitants, among whom
8,500,800 or 28.% are Catholics. The Second Vatican Council brought a new life to the
Tanzania Church. Liturgical books were translated into Swahili and Mass hymns in Swahili were
composed. Drums and other traditional musical instruments were introduced in the liturgy. This
increased the people's active participation in the liturgy. Lay people became more involved in the
church activities. For effective pastoral work, the church introduced a system of Small Christian
Communities. The Catholic families are divided into small Christian Communities of 12 to 20
families each. These communities become the basic churches with leaders, liturgical services
and a shared social life. Where these have succeeded the church is healthy and alive with a
strong lay participation in the church leadership. Nyerere's (the first president of Tanzania)
political ideology of Ujamaa (African Socialism) which was organized on similar lines
facilitated the introduction of these basic communities. Now though Ujamaa ideology is
declining, the Small Christian Communities are still strong. In 1975 the then seven AMECEA
countries (Ethiopia Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Sudan, Zambia and Tanzania) adopted the Small
Christian Communities as their common pastoral strategy. The 1992 AMECEA Plenary
Assembly reaffirmed that: "The Small Christian Communities are not optional in our churches;
they are central to the life of faith and the ministry of evangelization."
From these Small Christian Communities, leaders are chosen to represent the faithful in the
Sub-Parish, Parish, Diocesan and finally in the National Lay Council. These councils at
sub-parish and parish level control most of the church activities. They have been instrumental in
raising the self sufficiency of the local churches financially. Together with the clergy, they
prepare the church programs and the budget, including the maintenance of the clergy and the
catechists and engage themselves in raising the funds.
Coordinated by the Lay Council at all levels are the lay organizations and movements. There are
many traditional pious organizations as the Legionaries of Mary, Tertiaries of different orders
and prayer groups under the patronage of different saints. The major lay movements are the
"Catholic Women Organization (WAWATA); the Christian Professionals of Tanzania (CPT);
the Young Christian Workers of Tanzania (VIWAWA) and the Tanzania Young Catholic
Students (TYCS). These four movements are well organized from the grassroots to the national
level. WAWATA coordinates all the Catholic women in the country both spiritually and socially.
They defend the rights of women at all fora and try to raise the dignity of women through
education and development. CPT includes most of the Catholic elite in different professions.
The Structures: The Tanzania Church with 8,500,800 is divided in 29 dioceses. The dioceses
are grouped in four Metropolitan provinces, namely, Dar es Salaam, Tabora, Mwanza and
Songea. The most Catholic dioceses are Mbinga 85%, Sumbawanga 70%, Bukoba 67%,
Mahenge 61% and Moshi 57%.
The Catholic Secretariat coordinates the pastoral and charitable activities of the different
dioceses. Under the General Secretary, the Secretariat has nine Departments: the Pastoral,
Catechetics, Lay Apostolate, Education, Medical, Caritas (for Emergency and Development),
Liturgy, Social Communications and Finance. Each Department has counterpart offices in each
Diocese. Once a year each department meets with its diocesan directors to make plans for the
year. Implementation starts once the plans are accepted by the Plenary Assembly of Bishops.
Ecumenical Contacts: The early history of evangelization is dominated by denominational
competition between the different Christian denominations. This competition was sometimes so
strong that the colonial government had to divide exclusive areas for the different denominations
to avoid possible violence. Positively competition brought challenge to the different
denominations to increase their efforts including the building of schools and hospitals. After
independence the traditional Christian denominations came closer together in common efforts
particularly in development and social services. From 1975, the Tanzania Episcopal Conference
established official contacts with the Christian council of Tanzania. Once a year or when
necessary the leaders of the two assemblies (called: Baraza la Wazee, i.e. , the Council of Elders)
meet to discuss issues of common interest. In the last two years this Council of Elders thrice met
the President of Tanzania to press issues of common interest. The assemblies through the
Tanzania United Bible Society have made common Bible translations into Swahili and other
vernaculars like Kimaasai, Kihaya, Kichagga, Kisukuma and others. They prepare and conduct
common prayers for the Unity Octave. A common secondary school religious syllabus is being
prepared for the general-biblical instructions. Greater cooperation is in social services. (Cf.
Social Services) This cooperation is both on national and diocesan level.
Islam: Tanzania is one of the few countries in Africa where there both Christians 44% and
Moslems 34% are almost equally strong. The Arabs introduced Islam in East Africa in the 13th
century. Islam established itself on the islands, on the coast and along the trade routes. The first
encounter of Christianity with Islam, on the east African coast in the 15th century, was hostile.
For the Portuguese it was a crusade and for the Moslem Arabs a Jihad. The second encounter in
the 19th century was also hostile for a different reason. The missionaries had joined forces with
the European powers to fight slave trade that was carried out by the Arabs. In the early colonial
period, the Moslems being the only literate people in the country were used everywhere as
sub-officers. This helped to spread Islam. Since the Christian missionaries insisted very much on
education soon the Christians surpassed the Moslems in civil service.
In the fight for independence, the Moslems were more active than the Christians. For that reason
their post independence representation in the government was greater than their academic
capacity. The relationship between the Moslems and Christians remained good. Both Christians
and Moslems were often found in the same family. Though Christian schools were open to
Moslem pupils, to assure the Moslems all private schools were nationalized in 1970. The
Moslems are organized under BAKWATA as a counterpart of TEC and CCT for the Christians.
The government assisted in the formation of BAKWATA to ensure that the moslems have an
organ to address to when dealing with Moslem issues. In the 1980s, Tanzania was invaded by
Moslem fundamentalism. These was propagated by young people trained outside the country.
They did not recognize BAKWATA. They preach publicly against the bible, Christian beliefs
and call upon the Moslems to liberate themselves from the Christian domination. This reached its
climax in 1991 when the situation became explosive. Even the Christians became restless. In
early 1993, the Catholic bishops issued a public statement against these provocations: "Tamko
Rasmi la Baraza la Maaskofu Katoliki Tanzania Mintarafu Kashfa za Kidini" (A statement of the
Tanzania Episcopal Conference on religious blasphemies). In reaction to it the Moslem
fundamentalists on good Friday 1993 destroyed the pork shops in the city. This gave the
government an excuse to arrest a number of extremist elements. It cooled the situation but the
situation is still precarious. The Christians are joining hands with the moderate Moslems in their
common fight against the extremists on both sides.
Traditional Religions: In the early evangelization, the missionaries were fighting the traditional
religion and all its symbols. They feared that the neophytes would fall back into superstitions.
Except for a few tribes like the Maasai, Sukuma and Waha the traditional religions have
weakened. All the same Syncretism is still strong among Christians. The Church has to study
seriously how to incarnate the Christian faith in the traditional culture. The Church must
preserve the traditional African cultural values
Social Services The Catholic Church has contributed highly in the social service sector. From
the start of evangelization the missionaries insisted on both education and health. In 1968 when
the Church was celebrating the first centenary of evangelization, it was running 1378 primary
schools, 44 secondary schools, 8 teacher training colleges, 15 trade schools and 48 homecraft
centers. The Church had then 25 hospitals, 75 dispensaries, 74 maternity clinics and 11 medical
In 1970, all primary, secondary and Teacher Training schools were nationalized. When the
situation allowed, the Church started again building schools. In 1991 the Church had 413
kindergartens, 82 secondary schools including 23 junior seminaries, 73 technical and vocational
schools, 48 homecraft centers for girls, 2 Teacher Training Colleges and 6 schools for the
In the medical sector the Church runs 36 hospitals including a 850-bed consultant hospital of
Bugando Mwanza, and 223 heath centers and dispensaries.
The religious women, both missionaries and local, play a big rote in running these social service
institutions. Partner Churches in Europe and America, particularly Germany, Holland and Italy
have helped much in building and maintaining these institutions.
To strengthen their social services sector, the two Church bodies that is the Protestants under the
Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) and the Catholics under the Tanzania Episcopal
Conference (TEC), in 1992 assisted by the German partner Churches negotiated a
"Memorandum of Understanding" with the Tanzania government. In this memorandum the
government recognized the important role played by the Churches in the social services sector of
the country, pledged to help the Churches by sharing with them grants from foreign government
and promised never to nationalize the church institutions again. The "Memorandum of
Understanding" authorized the forming of the "Christian Social Services
Commission"(CSSC). TEC and CCT are each represented by the General Secretary and four
bishops. The Commission has two executive organs, the Christian Medical Board of Tanzania
(CMBT) and the Christian Education Board of Tanzania (CEBT) for health and education
respectively. This commission formulates common policies for the Education and medical
Services of the Churches and negotiates with the Tanzania government in the name of the
churches. The two executive organs run common programs. The churches together run more
than 50% of the Medical Services and secondary schools in the country.
Church and State: The Church in its early evangelization was supported by the anti-slave
movements and governments in Europe. The first neophytes were liberated slaves handed over
to the missionaries by the colonial government.
In the first years of the German colonial period (1885 - 1914), some German missionaries, the
Benedictines in particular, were identified with the German Government by those fighting it.
This cost some of these missionaries their lives during the uprising. Otherwise the Church
developed an independent identity from the colonial government. The Catholic missionaries
who were mostly French, German, Dutch and Irish were suspicious of the Anglican British
colonial rulers. Close cooperation was exclusively in the social services sector: education and
During the period of struggle for independence though some individual missionaries and the
local clergy participated, the official Church maintained its neutrality. To a large extent the
Catholic elite followed the Church stand. Though the post independence government had many
Moslems and some anti-missionary Marxist politicians, the fact that Julius Nyerere, a committed
practicing Catholic headed the government assured the Church. Nyerere even managed to calm
the fears of the Bishops concerning the ruling party's "Ujamaa" ideology (a blend of African
Socialism). The Bishops suspected Ujamaa of Communist elements. The relations between the
Church and government were strained after the Arusha declaration in 1967. In the
implementation of the Declaration not only the big houses, factories and banks were nationalized
but also in 1970 the Church owned schools. Then the Church had 1420 Primary Schools, 44
Secondary Schools and 8 Teacher Training Schools. The economic crisis of the late 1970s and
1980s weakened Ujamaa and the 1990s saw the introduction of multipartism and liberal
Inspite of all the Church's mistrust of Ujamaa, they concurred on the social policy towards the
poor. This included free education and health services given by the government. With the
introduction of liberal economy everybody has to pay for the services that one gets. The rich
become richer while the poor became poorer and desperate. The government employees are
poorly paid and corruption has increased. Against this trend in 1993 the Church issued two
strong pastoral letters: "Ukweli utawapeni uhuru" (Truth will make you free); and "Dhamira
Safi - Dira ya Taifa Letu" (Good Conscience - Vision of our Nation). These two letters were well
received by the people.
The future: The future of the Tanzania Church is promising though with problems. The Church
is doing well in self sufficiency in personnel but not in finance. The number of Catholics is
growing very fast. The church has adapted itself so as to assist in the transition period from a
closed society with controlled economy, one political party and controlled press to an open
society with many political parties, free press and liberal economy.
Fr. Method M. P. Kilaini (PhD)