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At The Other End Of The World – Or At The Gate Of Heaven

19th of October 2002

This is how Fr Terry Cantwell, Fr Dess brother, describes his varied feelings about the Salvatorian Mission at Chingulungulu, where he has served most of his 40 years as a priest – an anniversary which he celebrated in April this year.
The Mission was established in 1958 in a remote southern corner of Tanzania, trapped between the Mozambique border in the south, a huge game reserve and mountains to the west, and to the north the vast flood plain of the Rufiji river. For half the year the river is an impassable barrier, as a bridge more than 10 km long would be needed at the narrowest point to secure a reliable route north to the capital, Dar-es-Salaam. Despite all this the lure of the rich soil of the coastal plain continues to bring people into the area in ever-increasing numbers, so that today there are between 15 and 20 thousand souls in the straggling subsistence farming communities served by the Mission and its dispensary. Immigration in such numbers of native Tanzanians as well as refugees from Mozambique and other war-torn states has inevitably made its mark on both the fragile tropical ecology and the community; gone is the rule by the local village chieftain and in its place is an elected committee and chairman responsible for local law enforcement; gone too is the near total dependence on Europeans for authority and progress. Fr. Terry talks with obvious pleasure of his native Parish Council, of the three native priests ordained from his parish in 2000, and of the native nurses and teachers, all doing work that he and others like him did almost alone forty years ago. One tradition that survives is that the priest holds the modest savings of his parishioners, although a few of the better-off do now use the bank in Masasi. The new baked mud brick and corrugated iron roofed houses replacing the older wattle and mud huts show there is a little spare money about.
All of the goods we have sent by container load from Chipperfield have been well used: tools equip trainee carpenters and mechanics, bringing a second source of income to hard-pressed families, sewing machines buy time and independence from premature and possibly unsatisfactory relationships for the younger girls. Bicycles are the only alternative to walking, but soon need to be adapted and strengthened locally to survive both the loads they carry and the battering meted out by the potholed, unmade tracks that are the local roads. The Chingulungulu community faces challenges of continuing growth through immigration and development of the area when new roads are laid west of Masasi. Fr. Terry emphasises the key role of the dispensary and the never-ending need for medicines of every description. It is education, however, that is the focal point of action to prepare the people for an uncertain future, when subsistence farming plus occasional cash crops may prove insufficient to sustain the population. Continuing support is vital to pay teachers a sufficient salary to keep them at the village schools and to provide copy-books and other teaching materials for the children. “At the other end of the world – or at the gate of Heaven”? Whichever it is – or both – our prayers and support continue to be vital for Fr Terry and his flock.

 
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