Joy and Transformation in Zambia-Malawi

Leonard Moloney SJ, Provincial of the Irish Jesuit Province, spent two weeks in Zambia and Malawi with IJM’s John Guiney SJ this October. He was moved by the welcome he received”¦

John Guiney of the Irish Jesuit Mission Office, and I spent the first fortnight of October in Zambia-Malawi, a Province for which the Irish have always had a great love. I had looked forward to this trip since my appointment as Provincial of the Irish Jesuits in early 2017.

John the Baptist said of the Lord, He must grow greater, I must grow less (John 3:30). This is relevant for Irish Jesuits in Zambia-Malawi. We have grown less; the Zambian and Malawian Jesuit has replaced us, fulfilling the dream. The Province is now thoroughly African, with its leadership team of Provincial, Socius and Treasurer all from the countries they work in. Thus, the work of the 136 Irish Jesuits which began back in the 1940s is almost complete. That is not to diminish in any way the rich contribution that the nine remaining Irish Jesuits continue to make. They are aging, yet they are so alive, and remain committed to their brothers and sisters in Zambia-Malawi.

The creation of sustainable livelihoods is a challenge in Zambia, and even more so in Malawi. Both countries have been affected by HIV/AIDS. Yet the people in both countries are wonderful – so friendly, so hospitable, and so joyous. That joy was never more evident than when we concelebrated Sunday Mass at Matero, a township on the outskirts of Lusaka. It lasted two-and-a-half hours, and I (who would struggle with anything lasting beyond 45 minutes) did not notice the time passing. What I did notice was that this was a community drenched in faith and involvement. The large church was packed. As always, the key to good liturgy is the work done in advance, including the music, the planning for participation, and a well-prepared homily: we witnessed this in Matero.

John and I were showered with extraordinary hospitality by our brother Jesuits and their co-workers, from our arrival at Lusaka airport until our departures from Lilongwe almost two weeks later. To try to thank everyone who was so generous with their time and energy would be a mistake, for I would be sure to omit someone in error! Through the Provincial, Fr Leonard Chiti SJ, whom I have known since he did his Tertianship in Ireland over eight years ago, I just offer the deepest gratitude and respect to all the members of his province and to those who work with them.

Br Grabriel McKinney and Fr Leonard Moloney in Chikuni
Br Gabriel Mckinney and Fr Moloney SJ

I had been to Zambia once before, more than a decade ago. My sense is that the country is making progress, though the involvement of the Chinese, about which we hear so much in Africa, is very evident. The challenges are great. Two weeks seems like a long time but one day sticks in my mind and gives a flavour of the overall experience.

The visit to Kasungu in Malawi was a very special highlight. We were then briefed on those projects that are supported by Irish Jesuits Missions in some villages outside the city. These, in the main, were concerned about sound and ecological farming methods, the introduction of more efficient stoves for cooking in the village homes, and the growing of trees. We received a very special welcome in those villages later in the morning, with African singing and ululating, and later with detailed explanations on how the different elements of the various programmes were working. The village elders gave the introductions, but it was mainly the women who told us how things were actually done. The women sustain the projects: it is they who till and sow, who collect the water from the well some 20 minutes away, and who cook and clean. They seem to have innate leadership quality.

In the afternoon, we went to visit the new school, Loyola, just outside the town. What a place! For boys and girls, fully boarding, and built following a huge fundraising effort over the last 10 years, it is a sure sign of hope for the future of Malawi. Its students, and they are just shy of 500 at present, will surely play a great part in the building up of their country in the decades to come. Interestingly, the Government selects 60% of the intake; the local Diocese the remainder. It seems a very happy and vibrant place, under the direction of a wonderfully dedicated and young Jesuit Headmaster. We later visited a farm nearby, a farm dedicated to the support of Loyola, and brilliantly run by an old friend of mine (even though he is a strong ManU supporter!), known to all as ‘Mambo’. We capped off what was a marvellous day by visiting the very dynamic Jesuit parish in town, and going on to visit Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa.

Some day! Some journey!

I returned home to Ireland with a profound sense of having visited a Province that is fully alive and vibrant. The challenges are great. Through the refugee camp, the farms, the schools, the parishes, the communities, the communication centre, and all the other works and places we visited, I sense that we were witnessing the ongoing birth of something new in the risen Lord. May their journey forward be fruitful. We will not forget them.

Photo: Fr Leonard Moloney SJ visit to St Charles Lwanga College, Chikuni. (L to R) Mr Lewis Chulu, Fr Moloney SJ, Fr John K Guiney SJ and Fr Felix Mwewa SJ 

Author: Fr Leonard Moloney is Provincial of the Irish Jesuit Province. November 2018