ISBN 9781779224118
Pages 418
Dimensions 229 x 152mm
Published 2022
Publisher Weaver Press, Zimbabwe
Format Paperback

A Mission Divided

The Jesuit Presence in Zimbabwe, 1879-2021

by David Harold-Barry

ELEVEN JESUITS SET OUT FOR THE INTERIOR OF SOUTHERN AFRICA BY OX-WAGON IN APRIL I 879 ON A MISSION TO PREACH THE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL TO THE PEOPLE BEYOND THE LIMPOPO RIVER; WITHIN A YEAR AND A HALF, THREE OF THEM WERE DEAD.

They shared the same ignorance of Africa as their European contemporaries concerning disease, geography, culture, religion and the political rivalries of the people among whom they came. They also shared a narrow frame of reference towards the continent and the failure of imagination that went with it. Further, as people of their time, they saw - and were seen by - other denominations as rivals, and far from co-operating, the churches indulged in an unseemly competition.

And yet these men were, in their own way, heroic and faced the difficulties eagerly, even joyfully. Their failures and disappointments far outweighed the little progress they appear to have made but they laid the foundations for what was to follow after 1890 when the colony of Southern Rhodesia was established. This event inaugurated a ninety-year period, when relations between church and state waxed and waned. The missionaries welcomed the order - even if it could not be called peace - and the infrastructure the colonisers introduced. The speed of travel, for instance, went from about 15 km a day by ox-wagon, to 30 km an hour by train.

But the Church - and the Jesuits were for long the drivers of what we mean by Church - never managed to decide on a coherent policy vis-a-vis the white government until it was too late. They were divided; the majority of Jesuits worked with blacks but there was a sizeable number who worked exclusively with whites. So, while we can document the enormous and fruitful work that was done over the decades after 1890, we have to acknowledge the failure to give a united witness in confronting the nakedly racialist policies of the state. If we had been able to do this in the 1920s and '30s we might have contributed to the evolution of a more harmonious society and avoided the terrible bloodshed of subsequent years.

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About the Author

David Harold-Barry

David Harold-Barry is a Jesuit priest from Ireland who has spent fifty-five years in Zimbabwe, the first fourteen in Rhodesia. He spent twenty-five years at Silveira House, a Leadership Training and Development Centre, where he had ample opportunity to witness the frustration of people both before and after independence. The reasons were different, but the underlying structures that caused the frustration were the same. Besides writing a column in The Zimbabwean and producing two books, one about the Jesuits killed in the war and the other a collection of essays on the situation in Zimbabwe at the turn of the century, he has also been engaged in training young Jesuits, giving retreats, working in prisons and starting a community of l'Arche for people living with intellectual disabilities.

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