Press Review: Tanzania’s Nyerere to be canonised

10 March 2007 at 21:07 | 23232 views

By Patrick Hassan-Morlai.

It is easy to believe that politics and religion are two unlike bedfellows. In the person of the late president of Tanzania, both politics and religion manifested their attribute of co-existence. For others who were very close to Julius Nyerere, his religious conviction and marked display of honesty, writes catholic priest, Father Arthur Willie, influenced them profoundly and enriched them greatly.

Writing in the spring edition of the London based Catholic magazine, Mission Today, out on Sunday (04 March), retired Fr. Willie says “while we are doing all we can to aid the canonisation process, we already believe [Julius Nyerere] is a saint”. It has been reported that that the Bishops of Tanzania have joined ranks with many Catholic faithfuls to see Nyerere, one of a few modern day presidents become a saint.

Already Julius Nyerere(photo) who died in 1999 at the age of 77, has passed the first step to become saint when he was recently declared ‘Servant of God’. This means that witnesses have already testified before a tribunal set up by the local bishop and accepted concrete facts on the exercise of Christian virtues by Nyerere which the Church considered heroic. These virtues include the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. At present, a postulator, resident in Rome and who heads a panel of nine theologians are making further examinations of the life of Nyerere. If found above reproach, Servant of God Julius Nyerere will be beatified like Mother Teresa of Calcutta was beatified on 19 October 2003 by the late pontiff John Paul II. After his beatification by the Pope, the Church will then allow public veneration of Julius Nyerere.

It will be recalled that until 1997, the Vatican kept secret the entire canonization process. However, on 25 January 1983, Pope John Pope II promulgated the canon laws regarding the canonical procedure to be followed. These laws are contained in the Apostolic Constitution ’Divinus Perfectionis Magister.’ It is only on 12 September 1997 when the Holy See Press Office made public the canonical procedure for causes of beatification and canonization. Accordingly, five years must elapse from the death of the faithful before a request is made for his/her beatification. This request will trigger the empanelling of nine theologians to examine the life of the person. If the panel votes in the person’s favour, the necessary documentation is then passed to a body of cardinals and bishops of his congregation to conduct further examination.

This body will meet twice a month and if it makes a judgment favourable to Nyerere, this will then be presented to the Holy Father, who gives his approval and authorizes the congregation to draft the relative decree. The public reading together with the promulgation of the decree follows. The next stage for Nyerere’s beatification is for an appropriate canonical investigation to certify that a miracle attributed to him had occurred after his death. The Church will then issue a second decree and once these two decrees have been promulgated (regarding heroic virtues and miracle) the Pope decides on beatification, which is the concession of public worship, limited to a particular sphere. With beatification, the candidate (Nyerere in this case) receives the title of ‘Blessed’. For Nyerere to be canonized as saint, a further miracle is needed which is attributed to his intercession and occurs after his beatification. The procedure for certifying that such miracle has occurred is the same as that followed for beatification. Canonization is understood as the concession of public worship in the Universal Church. Pontifical infallibility is involved. Once Nyerere is canonized, he acquires the title of Saint.

Cardinal Polycarp Pengo who announced the Vatican’s approval that Julius Kambarage Nyerere be called ‘Servant of God’ has noted that ‘we are presenting his cause based on his life as a Christian and how his faith influenced his entire political career’. Nyerere once told his local bishop that ‘without daily Mass it would be impossible for me to do my work’.

Like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nyerere led his people to independence on 9 December 1961, first as prime minister and after the unification of the union of Zanzibar with Tanganyika; he became the first president of Tanzania and ruled that state with an unblemished record for 24 years. It is befitting that both Nyerere and Nkrumah should be remembered in this week’s press for worthy causes. For the latter, March 06 this year will mark the 50th anniversary when he won independence for his country from Britain. Tanzania also won her independence from Britain.

‘Mwalimu’, teacher in Swahili, as Nyerere was popularly called, told his people after gaining independence that ‘we the people would like to light a candle and put it on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro that would shine beyond our borders, giving hope where there is despair, love where there is hate and dignity where before was humiliation.’ Truly in this Servant of God, one sees that both religion and politics co-exist giving us today an example not to justify using either as a cause to engage in violence, injustice or treating others less favourably for whatever reason. Accordingly, Fr Arthur one day asked President Nyerere about his heroes he replied, ‘Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. They taught the world essential values that will always be meaningful - non-violence by Gandhi and equality by Lincoln’. Fr Arthur concludes that Nyerere indeed lived these values and fiercely opposed discrimination, whether racial, tribal, religious or economic.

The Patriotic Vanguard wishes those working towards the canonisation of Julius Nyerere all the best they hope and pray for and all those celebrating Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary a big congratulation. Long live Africa!