I am Fr. Justin Matepa, a Diocesan priest from Mpika Diocese in Zambia, Africa. It is my pleasure and honor to share a few things about myself, formation of priests and the Church in Zambia.
I am currently here at St. Mary’s Seminary and University studying for my STL in Moral Theology. After my ordination in 1996, I had my apostolate in the Parish for three years, one of which I was Priest-in-Charge of a rural Parish. Prior to my coming here, I worked as Diocesan Pastoral Coordinator up to the time the Society of St. Sulpice offered me a scholarship to come over here for studies and ongoing formation. You may want clarification on some terms or designations used above already. A Priest-in-Charge is basically an administrator of a parish doing all that a pastor does, like in America, but does not ‘enjoy’ the canonical privileges of a pastor. The office of Pastoral Coordinator is a particular feature of the AMECEA area (Eastern region) of the Church in Africa. This office is responsible for pastoral planning at the Diocesan level, and spearheads information to and of pastoral agents in the parishes.
Like most young Zambian men, I entered Seminary for priesthood formation immediately after high school when I was 19. After the Spiritual Formation Year, I proceeded to do my Philosophy and Religious studies at St. Augustine’s Major Seminary for two years The last four years was for my Theological studies at St. Dominic’s Major Seminary. As by that time there was no pastoral year-- which is now mandatory for all Dioceses in Zambia-- I had my pastoral experience of two months each year in a different parish during the summer breaks. I should mention that I had good support and encouragement from my family, the priests, and laity in my local parish; their support and prayers have continued even through this time.
While pastoral formation has been streamlined with the introduction of the pastoral year and some courses updated and even new ones introduced, the academic structure has remained traditional, that of studying Theology after Philosophy, in Zambia and most Seminaries in Africa. While here, seminarians have the availability of academic resources like books and technology; in Zambia, like in many African countries, it is not always easy. So generally, the lecture method is what is employed. After that, further reading and research can be done from the Library with mainly available reference texts. As for pastoral formation, apart from the pastoral year, which is for all dioceses, much is the same as I have observed here with the different local assignments either in parishes or institutions during the school term. Of course one is also prepared for the vast pastoral opportunities and challenges of ministry in Africa, owing to the low literacy levels, disease with the anguish of malaria, and HIV/AIDS, justice and governance issues. Special programs/seminars are arranged for inputs on these issues by the seminaries, or if an opportunity arises during pastoral year. The other particular phenomena of the Church in Africa, especially in the AMECEA region, are the Small Christian Communities (SCC). Including family life ministry and enculturation, these are important areas seminarians and priests need always to acquaint themselves with. SCCs are an equivalent to the “De Base” in Latin America. As for where most time would be spent in formation, generally it’s in the classroom and study, and as per the objectives of priestly formation, adequate time for community prayer and exercises is also allocated. Students in African seminaries normally have sports time together and still do station up-keep and production chores, for example gardening, general in-house cleaning and surrounding maintenance.
The Church in Africa especially in the above region has a strong moral and social voice. This is owing to its closeness of its apostolate and structures, which include schools, development, and health care services and programs in the remote areas. It is not unusual that the political leadership sometimes feel uneasy or even become hostile to the Church when it gives any social, political and of course moral opinion or counsel. Overall, people still value and look up to the Church, not only Catholic but every denomination, for such a voice. The relationship between Catholics and non-Catholics varies in Africa. We have portions of conflicts in one or two countries, but overall, relations are good, especially with ecumenical efforts. In general it’s from the same extended families or close neighborhoods that people come who attend different churches and will always help each other at funerals and rejoice together at a wedding. That said, we still have to grow as nations, going by the tribal and ethnic conflicts in the past and present, which are normally fuelled by bad political ideologies that appeal to hate for those not of one’s tribe or political affiliation. With this, I am sure one would already envision what it is like to be a priest or a seminarian in Zambia or in Africa. The calling is an important one, but the challenges are equally big, given also the insufficient human and financial resources.
Staying away from home and a place you know well is not always easy, and to me, the challenges would not be extraordinary from what others may have experienced. I should say, I miss my family, friends, the food and the sound of the drums and ululation in the liturgy. But equally, here in America, in addition to the academic and spiritual formation I have, I found wonderful families, made friends, hummed the wonderful organ melodies, and even though winters were long, always spring came with its beautiful flowers.
For the American seminarians, I would like to say, keep up with your outstanding commitment. It is my hope that you will continue praying for the Church in Africa and help when you can with say, that spiritual textbook you no longer need today, and in different ways of solidarity when you are ordained, so we could all continue doing “everything for the Glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
May I end by thanking the Sulpicians, through the Provincial and through the Rector of St. Mary's, and all the staff and students for your support and kindness.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Below is an article from our Seminary Paper, which I oversee. It is written by a visiting priest from Zambia. I thought you might enjoy it.
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Please note this blog will begin being regularly updated after August 21st (when I arrive in Baltimore).