A bishop of a north-central diocese in Tanzania has expressed concern over the growth of radical Islamist violence in the country from foreign sources, while maintaining religious dialogue and hope for the Church.
“There is an extremist fringe, it is true, but the vast majority of
Muslims are peaceful … the major problem is external influence, which
brings with it new interpretations and even usages of Islam,” Bishop
Bernardin Mfumbusa of Kondoa told the charity Aid to the Church in Need
He added that inter-religious dialogue occurs at different levels in the
country – there is a national committee, as well as one in his own
Tanzania is located on east Africa’s coast, and borders Uganda, Kenya,
Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi
It is estimated that the population of more than 120 ethnic groups is
divided roughly in thirds among Christians, Muslims and indigenous
animists. Muslims are concentrated on the island Zanzibar, and
historically, different religious and ethnic groups have coexisted
peacefully in the nation.
Bishop Mfumbusa said the “greatest danger” of Islamist violence the
“infiltration of foreign Jihadis” and returning Tanzanian Muslims who
have been radicalized outside the country.
Violence is limited but growing on the mainland, but he said
Christian-Muslim tension on Zanzibar is “not new,” though “the vast
majority of people in Zanzibar would prefer to live in peace as
extremism poses a danger to the entire society – not only to
The bishop added that most Tanzanians of different religions get along
well: “About 80 percent of my own family are Muslims, and so far we are
living together fine.”
Touching on Christian reprisals against Muslim militia in Central
African Republic, Bishop Mfumbusa said he reminds his flock, “Our best
hope is forgiveness. We cannot solve evil by doing evil.”
In the Kondoa diocese of Tanzania, home to more than 450,000 people over
an area of 5,000 square miles, the Church runs an orphanage which is
home to more than 70 children, a health center, and several small
pharmacy offices in “the remotest areas in the district.”
“We would wish to do more,” Bishop Mfumbusa said, “but limited human resources hamper our efforts.”
The diocese operates 11 parishes, but the bishop said there is “a
potential – a need” to open six more “immediately.” However, “we simply
don’t have the personnel,” he explained, saying that this is the biggest
challenge facing his diocese.
The Kondoa diocese is served by 13 priests, as well as Bishop Mfumbusa.
“Often I live alone as we have only a handful a priests,” he said.
“Luckily, in Africa, most people are part of a large extended family, so
people do drop in to greet me all the time. Generally, there are no
official appointments and there is a steady flow of visitors – so there
is no time to be lonely, really! There is also the consolation of
prayer, knowing that the Lord is always near, even when we feel lonely
for some reason.”
Bishop Mfumbusa is Kondoa’s first bishop. He was installed when the
diocese was established in 2011. The 51-year-old had been ordained a
priest of the Diocese of Dodoma, from which the Kondoa diocese was
He said the Church in Tanzania is blessed to have more than 500
seminarians, and the number has been growing in recent years. However,
one of the “greatest challenges” for priestly formation is the scarcity
of books in the country’s five seminaries, as well as a lack of
Despite various challenges, the bishop called unity “one of the greatest gifts” of Catholicism in Tanzania.
“Despite ethnic, regional and other differences, the faithful, for
example, accept pastors and bishop from other parts of the country or
from other ethnic groups without a problem.”