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Eastern Africa Province (AOR)

St. Francis Xavier spent a few days in Malindi (Kenya) in March 1542 while he was on his way to India. St. Ignatius himself desired to work in Ethiopia to bring the church there back to communion with Rome, but responsibilities prevented him from doing so. He, however, created the Province of Ethiopia in 1553, to which he assigned fifteen Jesuits. In the end, only five Jesuits entered the proverbial Kingdom of Prester John in these early days. They started a mission that stood precariously until 1593 without bearing much fruit.

A second mission started again in Ethiopia in 1603. First headed by a young Jesuit named Pedro Páez, it enjoyed relative success in its early years. However, changes in the leadership of the mission and of the political class led to its disastrous closure in 1632. Eight Jesuits were martyred in the process, not counting hundreds—probably thousands—of Ethiopian faithful.

Jesuits ventured beyond Ethiopia only after the restoration of the Society in 1814. Four of them worked with the Vicariate Apostolic of Central Africa (Sudan), among them Fr Maximillian Ryllo, who headed the mission and died in Khartoum in 1848. It is a third Jesuit mission to Ethiopia that constitutes a section of the pioneers of the current Eastern Africa Province. Responding to an imperial invitation, French-Canadian Jesuits entered the country in 1945. They immersed themselves in the educational apostolate and ultimately helped to establish the country’s first university. The 1960s and 1970s saw a greater flow of Jesuits to Eastern Africa. In 1961, Jesuits from Karnataka (India) arrived in Tanzania and worked in a parish, in schools and in the retreat ministry.

In 1969, Maltese Jesuits entered Uganda. Like their counterparts in Tanzania, they too worked in schools, parishes, and in the retreat ministry.

In 1972, Jesuits from Ranchi (India) reached South Sudan. They concentrated on the training of the local clergy in a minor seminary. In the same year, the Tanzania mission extended to Kenya, where a retreat ministry was started.

The missions in Eastern Africa were diverse and disjointed. This situation was radically altered in 1976. In that year, Fr. Pedro Arrupe created the Independent Region of Eastern Africa, covering Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The new region started with 46 members. Its overriding priority to form those who joined the Society saw an increase of its African membership from 9 in 1976 to 36 in 1986. The total number of Jesuits belonging to the region or working there on a permanent basis had doubled during the same period, with members originating from 18 different provinces. Old ministries were strengthened and new ones established. The region had also hosted Hekima College, the first Jesuit school of theology belonging to and serving the African Assistancy. In 1986, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach made the region a fully-fledged province.

In the last twenty-five years, the province has made significant strides. Presently with over two hundred members, it has maintained work in parishes, in the social apostolate and in retreat ministry, and has invested significantly in nine educational facilities. Now, as inevitable expansion adds to the diversity of talent and ministry, the province desires to become closer than ever before to that one mission of Christ which unites all Jesuits into a single apostolic body, working to promote faith, justice and peace.

 

By Festo Mkenda SJ 

Source: JHIA diary

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