Vincentian seminarians in Tanzania ‘making room for God’ despite lack of space

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Congregation of the Mission, News

The seminarians in Morogoro, Tanzania, make use of what they have to complete their journey of faith, as they follow in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul with compassion and generosity.

The first Vincentian missionaries arrived in Tanzania in 1993, and since then, the mission has been growing constantly. “Proclaiming the Word of the Lord” is the religious order’s charism, and the Vincentians in Tanzania do precisely this.

We weren’t sure what to expect as we drove the five-hour-long journey to Morogoro from Dar es Salaam.

What we certainly did not expect when we finally arrived at the St. Vincent de Paul Seminary was for the car park to be filled with 41 smiling, dancing, and singing seminarians.

“Your coming is a blessing to us all,” they sang, as they put flowers around our necks and danced us into their dining hall where we shared a meal together.

That was when we first noticed that there could be a problem. The seminarians crowded around their small round tables, squeezing as many as possible on each one so that we, too, would have a table at which to eat. There was barely enough room for everyone.

After dinner, a quick walk around the seminary—even in the dark, you could make out its brightly painted walls, cheerful and fun, just like our welcome, or “Karibu” in Swahili, had been.

Courtyard of the seminary

The seminarians had all gathered to watch the Tanzanian Premier League: Simba vs. Singhita Fountain Gate in the recreation room; those who were lucky got seats, and the others stood behind.

We walked down the corridor and reached the chapel, each pew crammed with the seminarian’s books and pens, each place assigned—the last to arrive got chairs at the back.

“We don’t know where to put everyone,” says Fr. Mushi, Rector of the seminary. He pointed at the chairs at the back of the chapel. “These have filled up,” but if someone new arrives, they will have nowhere to go.

In fact, commented Fr. Yuda, Regional Superior of the Vincentians in Tanzania, over the last few years, the congregation has had to turn down several men who wanted to join. “We don’t have a problem with vocations,” he explained, “we have a capacity problem.”

A seminarian at study

The men are already sharing rooms, most of them in twos, others in fours. They’ve created a family, a real community, following in the legacy of their founding father, who never asked for much.

And although these young men don’t ask for much either, it is clear that they need more. In the rainy season, their bicycles don’t get them across the muddy earth to their universities, and in the dry season, the lack of water does not allow their vegetable patch to flourish.

Their chickens and ducks are kept for special guests because, as Fr. Mushi joked, “these boys would finish them off in half a day!”

As they sit in the garden smashing dry sunflowers to extract the seeds, from which they then make their cooking oil, it is clear that these men are as self-sufficient as their means allow them to be.

Seminarians extract oil from sunflower seeds

Humphrey, who is studying third-year philosophy, smiles at me. He shyly tells me about his journey of faith and about his desire to dedicate it to humbly helping the poor. Humphrey is a fine example of humility, dedicating his journey of faith to following in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul. All the seminarians are.

We visit their rooms, looking at the posters on their walls and their books.

All 41 of them share eight computers, and “a single printer would be nice,” they say. They are all students, and traveling and spending money on printing is not always possible.

One of eight computers the 41 men share

But they make everything seem possible, guided by their rector, who in turn is guided by the regional superior, each caring for the other enormously, and this shines through clearly.

Then, we bid farewell. The chairs were moved to the side of the room, and the men came in one by one, singing a traditional song, dressed in traditional clothing, singing, dancing, and laughing.

They obviously enjoyed performing for us, and we had so much fun watching. One of the recently-ordained deacons gave us a thank-you speech, and the group broke out into a perfectly harmonised “Ave Maria,” merging two beautiful cultures into one powerful vocation.

The Church, Tanzania, and the entire world deserve more seminarians like these, and these young men deserve a space to live in and in which to study, in order to become the wonderful leaders that they are destined to be.

Francesca Merlo – Morogoro, Tanzania