Bagamoyo 2012: Historic 20th General Chapter
Every serious business engages in occasional “stock taking”. The business of running and managing a global family like the Congregation of the Holy Spirit is not an exception. General Chapters therefore remain time of “stock taking” for the Congregation: where have we been, where are we now and where are we heading to. Interestingly, however, just as it took USA over two centuries of democracy to produce a Black president, so also it took the Spiritans 289 years to host a General Chapter outside Europe. History was then made when in 1992, the Chapter said “Sayonara” (Goodbye) to the continent of Europe and headed to South America, to the colourful city of Itaici in Sao Paolo, Brazil. This departure from the European shores to Itaici was short-lived though. Why? Because there was a u-turn back to Europe in 1998, precisely to Maynooth, Ireland. From Maynooth we headed to Torre d’Aguilha (Portugal) for the 2004 General Chapter, where the issue of Spiritan Identity topped the agenda.
Now, for the second time in history, the Spirit leads us out of Europe. Itaici (Brazil) has given birth to Bagamoyo (Tanzania)! Here comes Bagamoyo 2012! Thus, for the first time in the tercentennial history of the Congregation a General Chapter will be held in the magnificent continent of Africa. The thought-provoking question now is: why Bagamoyo? Can anything good come out of Bagamoyo?
It will not be necessary to ask why Africa? The reason is very obvious. The statistics of the global Spiritan family today has African members in geometric progression. The Spiritan African family has great numerical strength such that African Spiritans are present in almost all Spiritan missions worldwide. Simply put, African Spiritans have come of age and therefore merit to play host to the General Chapter of the Congregation.
For historical reason, Bagamoyo is special; for the history of slave trade in Africa is incomplete without the mention of Bagamoyo. Yes, incomplete! Even the name “Bagamoyo”, when well understood reveals that there is something in a name. I may not be from the Swahili speaking world, yet the little I know reveals to me that the name ‘Bagamoyo’ is derived from the words ‘bwaga’ and ‘moyo’ meaning “here I lay down my heart.” History shows that slaves brought here after a long march from the hinterland to await auction and export agonise and cry out for very far-fetched help of liberation.
Due to its strategic location 68km north of Dar-es-Salaam, Bagamoyo was a staging point and highly important trade route during the ivory and slave trade era. Large quantities of ivory were exported from Bagamoyo to Zanzibar, North America and Europe. However, as the demand of slaves gradually increased to meet the needs of the burgeoning plantation economies of Europe and North America, slaves and not ivory became the main commodity of the caravans. African slaves captured from hinterland villages of what is today known as Tanzania are forcefully dragged to this seashore and eventually “cargoed” off to Europe. As a deep-rooted sign of saying goodbye to Africa, these slaves cannot but cry out “bwaga moyo” – here I lay down my heart!
Politically, Bagamoyo was also the first capital of the then Tanganyika during the German colonial rule until it was shifted to Dar-es-Salaam in 1892. The ‘Bagamoyoans’ will also have to lay down their hearts again during the First World War. Precisely on 16 August 1916, British forces attacked and took the town. But any solace the local population may have taken from the demise of German colonialism was to be extinguished in the next 45 years of British rule. Thus, after independence on December 9, 1961, Tanzania had many priorities and restoring Bagamoyo was sacrosanct among them. This explains why Bagamoyo is the eighth World Heritage site of Tanzania (others being Kilimanjaro Mountain, Ngorongoro crater, Serengeti National Park, Selous game reserve, Zanzibar Stone Town, Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, and the Olduvai Gorge).
Bagamoyo and Spiritan Connection
The evangelization of Tanzania from 1865-1914 was the life-sacrificing hard work of the Spiritans. And it all began in the coastal town of Bagamoyo! In March 1868, land was given to the French Holy Ghost Fathers to build a Mission Station, which is today one of the oldest mission landmarks of Africa. They later built a village for freed slaves, a school and workshop. With over 85 percent of those on the coast being Muslims, the early Spiritan missionaries here were more committed to ‘social works’ since their proselytizing message with its obvious Victorian overtones sounded too strange to the locals in this coastal region and its environs.
Shunning all odds of missionary adventure in Bagamoyo but with an amazing fervent Spirit, our Spiritan ancestors launched their missionary rocket to other parts of Tanzania. Gradually, the sowed and nurtured the seed of Christ’s Gospel in Tanzania and other parts of East Africa. It will not be out of place to say, therefore, that Spiritans of the Congregation who today belong to the region of East Africa (UCEAF) are generational beneficiaries of mustard seed of faith sown in “poor” Bagamoyo centuries ago. Consequently, the global Spiritan family today shares in the blessings of this seed that was even watered by the blood of our ancestor Spiritans who worked in Bagamoyo.
The history of our Congregation therefore remains incomplete without reference to the sweat and blood of Spiritan missionaries expiated in Bagamoyo centuries ago.
Conclusion: Something Good in Bagamoyo
From the foregoing, we can logically proffer an affirmative answer to the initial question: Can anything good come out of Bagamoyo? Indeed, Bagamoyo is worthwhile a venue! Let all roads by June 2012 lead to Bagamoyo for the 20th General Chapter of the Congregation. What a profoundly special Chapter it would be, not only because it is the 20th but moreso because it is situated in the historic town of Bagamoyo. Thus, if centuries ago, slaves lay down the hearts (“bwaga moyo”) here, then by June 2012 Spiritans will lay down their hearts in Bagamoyo. A better Spiritan Family will emerge from and beyond Bagamoyo 2012 if and only if every Spiritan will be fervent in the Spirit so as to have the commitment to lay down our heart (“bwaga moyo”) for the good of the Congregation.
Finally, while preparations for Bagamoyo 2012 are already in top gear, let us pay tribute to our past Superior Generals, especially those elected in the last seven General Chapters. Francis Griffin (1950-1962), Marcel-François Lefebvre (1962-1968) who resigned during the Chapter, Joseph Lécuyer (1968-1974), Frans Timmermans (1974-1986), Pierre Haas (1986-1992), Pierre Schouver (1992-2004) and finally the incumbent Jean-Paul Hoch (2004 – 2012). If the business of hosting a General Chapter is extremely tedious, how much more the business of running the Congregation as a whole?
Chibuike Ojilere, CSSp