The Catholic Church in Zimbabwe

The first attempt to evangelise Zimbabwe was made in the sixteenth century by the Jesuit Father Goncalo da Silveira of Portugal. His mission was very short lived as he was martyred on 16 March 1561 near the present boarder with Mozambique, not far from Tete. Next came the Dominican Fathers who established themselves south of the Zambezi and remained until 1775. The Dominicans tried to influence King Munhumutapa himself, but they succeeded in taking some of his sons. The first was Miguel whom they educated, trained and ordained a priest in Goa. He was the first black Zimbabwean to become a Catholic priest. He also obtained a doctorate in Theology. He died and was buried in Goa. The Dominicans took two other sons of Munhumutapa whom they trained as priests, Fr. Constantio and his brother Fr. Joao, as they travelled to Lisbon, one died at the start of the voyage and the other died in the city of Bahia in Brazil. However the local community in Munhumutapa Kingdom did not seem to have a strong community of faith of the new religion.

The Jesuits made a second attempt and returned in 1607 and remained till 1759. After 1775 all catholic missionary work ceased in Zimbabwe until 1879 when catholic priests once again entered Zimbabwe, this time coming from South Africa and not through Mozambique like before. The Jesuit Fathers and the Dominican Sisters returned with the Pioneer Column and established Chishawasha Mission in 1891 and the Dominican Convent School in 1892 in Harare. Prior to these institutions, the very first Catholic Mission was established by Fr. Prestage SJ at Empandeni Mission near Plumtree in 1887. It is said that King Lobengula of the Ndebele said to Fr. Prestage SJ: “Go to Empandeni and teach the people there.” (O’Reilly, J., ‘The Centenary of Empandeni”, 1987, p.4).

The original Zambezi Mission of the Catholic Church, which included part of Zambia, was entrusted to the Jesuit Fathers by Rome on 7 February 1879. In 1930 the Bulawayo area was given to the German Marianhill Missionaries, who had previously worked in Manicaland from 1908-1930; in 1946 the Fort Victoria area, now Masvingo, which became Gweru diocese was committed to the Swiss Bethlehem Fathers; in 1953 the Mutare area was confided to the Irish Carmelite Fathers and Hwange area to the Spanish Mission Institute. On 1 January 1955, by Papal Bull, the Ecclesiastical Province of Southern Rhodesia was set up. Today Zimbabwe has 8 dioceses, 12 Bishops including the retired ones, many religious congregations of men and women and show many signs of a growing local Church blessed with local priests, religious, catechists and hundreds of lay leaders.

Most of us tend to live lives which are packed full of routine and which follow set daily patterns. We often rise in the morning at the same time; we may have the same cereal for breakfast; or we may visit the same coffee shop before work each morning. With our faith and prayer lives – many of us also follow certain routines when it comes to the prayers we recite or the way in which we worship.

We all have our little daily rituals and habits which indeed help us cope with the demands of our busy lives. They make us feel ordered, in control, safe and secure! We need this important element of order in our lives to function effectively and to prevent us from becoming ‘overwhelmed’ by the hectic and challenging nature of life!