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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 111, December 2009




 H.E. Most Reverend Paul R. RUZOKA

Archbishop of Tabora –Tanzania

Member of the PCPCMIP 


1) Our apostolate towards migrants and refugees in our midst has to be carried out with a faith-filled understanding and empathetically restoring in them the hope in Jesus Christ armed with wisdom of St. Peter: “Do not fear what they fear or disturbed as they are, but bless the Lord in your hearts. Always have an answer ready when you are called upon to account for your hope but give simply and with respect” (Pet 3: 14-15).

Migrants and refugees are not at peace. But Christ our Saviour is our peace and our unity (Eph 2:14).

This is the Gospel message we have for the people in anguish, especially those torn apart by violence, wars, hunger and poverty.

Africa at the dawn of this third millennium has a particular need to come out of the culture of war and violence to that of peace.

As Christians we need to engage in a battle for peace that opens our hearts and deepening our relationship with God; thus creating an encounter with other peoples marked with respect, understanding, esteem and love” (CSDC no 519)[1].

Such a call is not only limited to serving Christians only but everybody we meet on the way in need of assistance, treating each one equally by the sheer fact that we are all sons and daughters of the same Father who at the end of the day will commend us for what we have been to our fellow human beings without distinction: “whatever you did to any did this to these little ones who are my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40; 7:12).

It is also the wish and prayer of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI that the Catholic church “engages herself increasingly, in the name of Christ, in the promotion of Justice, Peace and development, by taking an active role in the resolution of tensions among communities and by fighting all forms of ethic discrimination or corruption, in calling on all partners concerned at political and economic levels to be positively engaged in the disinterested service of all and in the search for the common good”[2].

The Holy Father had convened the just ended Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops with a theme: Reconciliation, Justice and Peace, so that Christians within the African soil may increasingly become salt of the earth and light of the world[3] in all aspects of our lives by leading a faith – filled life in the service of others” (IL 73)[4].

We have to carry out “God’s work, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18).  

2) As agents of evangelization (Bishops, Clergy and Religious together with our lay faithful) we need to employ the arms of faith, and seek a more profound conversion in our pursuit for holiness through listening to the word of God and receiving sacraments – especially of Penance and the Eucharist while participating in prayer life and in other spiritual exercises including counseling and responding to questions posed by the people we live with sharing at different levels as we serve them not only as victims of prevailing circumstances; rather as neighbours.

This is precisely what is portrayed in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Besides observing the Law as prescribed in the Scripture, Jesus wants us to move a step farther of taking love as an obligation commanded by God in being moved by another person’s distress unconditionally.

Martin Luther King jr. commenting on this text (Lk 10:25-37) pointed out that “Love is not satisfied with comforting those who suffer. To begin with, we must be the Good Samaritan to those who have fallen along the way. This however, is only the beginning. Then, someday we will necessarily  have to realize that the road to Jericho must be made in such a way that men and women are not constantly beaten and robbed while they are traveling along the paths of life”[5]

3)  Cross-border Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees.

Human rights violations have been the causes of conflicts creating so many millions of refugees, internally displaced peoples and migrants.

Human rights issues have to be addressed so as to prevent farther conflicts by setting up proper standards of good governance which depends on the good will of politicians who should be conscientious of national laws and knowing that as people in power have the responsibility to protect and savegard populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. It is the first duty of each national government to protect its own citizens[6].

In Western Tanzania where I come from had been receiving refugees from  the Great Lakes Region (GLR) since the 1960s up to 1990s mainly from Rwanda. The Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) and Burundi. The Government of Tanzania in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) placed these refugees in camps as they come in following civil wars in their respective countries.  

4) As pastors we responded pastorally to this phenomenon at various levels. In the first place, at first, these camps became ‘Quasi – Parishes’ being served  by local personnel within the host dioceses.

But as their number became overwhelming, especially in mid – 1990s, there was a need for an appeal to Missionary Congregations such as the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Spiritan Refugee Service (SRS) and White Fathers as well as some Religious women Congregations, both local and international ones.

We felt the need to serve these refugees in a more specialized way to ensure a day to day presence of the pastoral workers – clergy, religious and laity – in the camps engaging themselves in various activities ranging from giving instructions and administering sacraments to counseling, peace - education and witnessing the faith in a wider coordinated form including liaising with both government officials, particularly of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and of those United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Above all, Diocesan Social and Pastoral Refugee Service office was established. This was to serve as a Secretariat for the Joint Commission for the Refugees (JCR) which was founded in January 2002 at Rulenge. It comprised of Bishops from Tanzania and Burundi together with the Pastoral workers working in the camps in Tanzania.

This Joint Commission was a break through as it opened a common forum in addressing not only Pastoral issues but it also played advocacy role and linked the refugees to their country of origin particularly Burundi.

Bishops and their clergy as well as laity visited the Refugees living in camps in Tanzania.

In turn, the Tanzanian delegation would join their counterpart in Burundi to visit the Internally Displace People (IDPS).

Cross-Border collaboration and coordination were more elaborated. People could ask questions on the future of their status and receive some encouraging explanations. Advocacy work was also carried out by the Joint Commission by organizing meetings with other stake holders. Government officials and those of the UNHCR began to repatriate in 2005. The Joint Commission for Refugees organized a Reconciliation meeting at Bugendana in Gitega Archdiocese in which representatives of the IDPS, returnees and people who had remained in the hills of Mwulire came together. The situation was tense; but eventually it is their own choice to see how to live together again on the same hills as before.

After long accusations and eventual acceptance of the fact that each one of them did in some way wrong to each other including killing.

That was a great break through. The following morning (on a Sunday) we celebrated the Eucharist with the Archbishop of Gitega, His Grace Simon Ntamwana as the main Celebrant.

Then a Couple – Hutu-Tutsi who had been forced to  separate on ethnic grounds came with their infant child who was baptized as a symbol of reconciliation. It was a joyous moment although where we stood at Mwulire, Kirmbi Parish, had been, a few years back, a place of massacre and blood shed. There and then people came together to pray and left reconciled.

Servant of God John Paul II commenting on the role of church in the process of reconciliation and forgiveness said; “There is no contradiction between forgiveness and justice. Forgiveness neither eliminates nor lessens the need for reparation which justice requires. For the success of such of such a mission, we do acknowledge that consecrated persons have an essential role to fulfill. The church will be an efficient agent of reconciliation provided it is itself a reconciled church”[7].

However, the pope warned that, “Lasting peace, is not just a matter of structures and mechanism. It rests, above all, on the adoption of style of human coexistence marked by mutual acceptance and capacity to forgive from the heart … asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of man; sometimes it is the only way out of a situations marked by age-old and violent hatred”[8].

In conclusion through the Joint Commission for refugees of Episcopal Conferences of Tanzania and Burundi we embarked on Pastoral Care for both refugees living in Tanzania and the Internally Displaced Peoples in various ways playing also a mediating role to reestablish peace as an integral part of the sacred mission of the church that has to gather into one the dispensed children of God (Jn 11:52), thus living her vocation of being salt and light of the world (Mt 5:13-14). This is a duty of every Christian of protecting the name of Christ by being a peace maker and a builder of harmony and unity.  


[1] Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (CSDC no 519) Libreria Editrice, Vaticana, 2004.

[2] The Third International Conference of the Catholic. Network (CPN), Bujumbura, Burundi – July 24 – 28, 2006.

[3] Peace Building Network (CPN), Bujumbura, Burundi – July 24 – 28, 2006.

[4] Instrumentum Laboris (IL) Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, 2009.

[5] Lk 10:25-37, Claretian Publications of Christian Community Bible, Manila, Philippines 1999.

[6] David Hollenbach SJ (ed.) Refugee Rights, Georgetown University Press, Washington DC, 2008 pp. 6-7. 

[7] S. Muyebe and A. Muyebe, The African Bishops on human Rights, Paulines, 2001, P. 40; or Structure Di pastorale Migratoria (EMCC), Libreria Editrice 2008, P. 96.

[8] John Paul II, Offer forgiveness and receive Peace: Holy Father’s Message for World Peace, Jan 1997.