It takes courage to be a Catholic in Zanzibar
Mathew Limo, a Catholic teacher, knows what to expect when he goes to church with his family. On the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, where 98 percent of the population is Muslim, Christians are harassed. Worse, violence against Christian clergy is on the rise; and Mathew (which is not his real name, for security reasons) has a great fear: that his wife and children may be forced to convert to Islam.
"To go to church on Sunday, we have to go through a crowd of people who often try to intimidate us," Mathew told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
“They often shout that we are fools to go to church or that our women are naked. Of course, the Muslim women are all covered from head to toe."
Mathew still feels safe enough to leave home and travel, but he does worry about his children. "At home we try to encourage them in their faith and to teach them to love Christ and His Church. But we are insecure about what others do.”
“We often hear stories about Muslims trying to convert Christian children. Sadly enough, that means we have to tell our children to be careful in building friendships with Muslim children."
It does take courage to be a Catholic in Zanzibar, especially if one is wearing a collar. Catholic priest Father Evarist Mushi (55) was shot and killed as he was getting into his car at the entrance to St. Joseph's Cathedral to celebrate Sunday Mass. Father Ambrose Mkenda sustained serious injuries in a subsequent ambush.
The perpetrators are still at large and, according to many Christians, local police have obstructed the investigation by mishandling evidence at the crime scenes.
According to Mathew, the extremists are to be found among the inhabitants of Zanzibar: "They're not outsiders, but local people who have been radicalized.”
In the face of these tragedies, it is crucial that the local Church in Zanzibar and throughout Tanzania finds the means to provide pastoral care for the faithful and bolster their hope for a better future.
For example, there are now secondary schools in many villages and the Church is doing all it can to train more catechists and lay ministers to teach there.
In the seminaries, to improve priestly formation, the Tanzanian bishops are focusing on obtaining much-needed books and building up adequate information and communication infrastructures.
These are some of the ways the Tanzanian Church keeps the people’s faith strong so that they can find the courage to resist aggression and intimidation.
With picture of Father Evaristus Mushi (© ACN)