Release date
May 10, 2007

Parish Social Ministries Director Visits Tanzania

May 10, 2007, —

by Scott Cooper

When asked why the Church in Africa is experiencing such growth, Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, replied, "People in Africa pray to God because they need him."

Scott Cooper

Scott Cooper, left, with Maria and her daughter. Maria participates in CRS' microfinance program in Mwasonge village.

As Director of Parish Social Ministries for Catholic Charities, Spokane, I was one of six diocesan directors for Catholic Relief Services who enjoyed this challenging experience during a 10-day tour of projects and communities linked with CRS, the overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Hosted by CRS, I joined five other diocesan CRS coordinators from the West Coast to visit people and to learn how our prayers and our donations make a difference in the lives of real people halfway around the world.

We learned that the Church in Tanzania can be found primarily in the small Christian communities that meet in neighborhood homes. Those communities and neighborhoods are the source for most religious formation, including the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, as well as much outreach to the larger community.

Cardinal Pengo praised the work of CRS in his country, emphasizing the collaboration between CRS and the local Church at diocesan and even parish levels. CRS' current programming in Tanzania, a large country in East Africa on the Indian Ocean, began [after a hiatus] in 2004. Coordinating with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health, one of CRS' main goals is to confront the AIDS pandemic that affects so much of Africa and the developing world. There are now approximately 60 staff — mostly Tanzanians — working in six of that country's 30 dioceses, in four broad areas: HIV and AIDS, agriculture, community-based finance, and peacebuilding.

We met many direct beneficiaries of CRS-supported work. Villagers welcomed us into their homes. We sat in dark, tin-roofed houses without electricity or running water…listening to people relate their journeys from despair to hope.

Rahel is a frail, shy woman of 20 who after she fell sick with HIV-related illnesses returned to her mother's home with her young son. She thanked us for the nursing care and social support she receives from volunteers who visit her mother's rural home twice each week. As rain slowly leaked into the main room, her mother praised Rahel's improvement, happy that her daughter was now able to get out of bed. Rahel looked forward to treating her tuberculosis so that she could begin antiretroviral therapy for HIV at the regional Catholic hospital, also supported by CRS. Her simple message to Americans was, "Thank you. Get tested."

Scott Cooper is the director of parish social ministries for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Spokane. He recently traveled to Tanzania to visit CRS' programs there. Scott's story originally appeared in the February 8, 2007, edition of the Inland Register, the official newsmagazine of the Diocese of Spokane.