, 21 May, 2020 / 6:23 AM
Clerics in East Africa have paid glowing tribute to the Tanzanian-born Priest, Fr. Charles Nyamiti, known in the region and beyond following many years of teaching Theology in institutions of higher learning and especially for being “an ancestor in African Theology.”
He died Tuesday, May 19 at the age of 89, his Local Ordinary, Archbishop Paul Ruzoka of Tanzania’s Tabora Archdiocese announced in a statement, specifying the time of death as having been “at around 11 a.m. in St. Anna Ipuli hospital in Tabora.”
Nicknamed “ancestor”, Prof. Nyamiti is remembered for his contribution to African Theology. For some 35 years, he had been teaching at the Kenya-based Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA).
“He was an ancestor in several ways. First of all, he is an ancestor in African Theology because he was one of the initiators of that genre of doing theology,” Fr. Laurenti Magesa who is also a professor of African Theology and a compatriot of late Fr. Nyamiti told ACI Africa Wednesday, May 20.
The Nairobi based Prof. also said that Prof. Nyamiti has earned himself the title of “ancestor” having died as an old man in Africa.
He recalled how the late Prof. Nyamiti convinced him to pursue studies in African Theology in the 1970s.
“He actually drew me into African Theology,” says Fr. Magesa and recalls their meeting in the at St. Paul Senior Seminary in Tanzania, “he was just coming back from school in Europe when he met me at the Kipalapala seminary and we walked together and there he really mentioned the importance of African theology – seeing things from the African perspective.”
“We will be going nowhere in evangelization without using the African reality,” Fr. Magesa says recalling the words of the late Prof., words that inspired him to eventually pursue studies in African Theology.
Prof. Nyamiti’s death is a “big loss to African Theology,” Fr. Magesa says and recalls referencing Prof. Nyamiti, “He had his own way of doing African Theology. So, it will be a big loss and I have seen reactions from even people who do not know him personally.”
The best way to honour the pioneer of this type of Theology “is to continue with his thoughts on African Theology not only intellectually but by putting these into practice especially in liturgy and the celebration of the sacraments,” says Fr. Magesa.
Born in Tanzania in 1931, Prof. Nyamiti has ordained a priest in 1962. He joined the Louvain University in Belgium where he graduated with a doctorate in Systematic/Dogmatic Theology and a certificate in Music theory and piano.
The late Prof. also holds a licentiate and a second doctorate in Cultural Anthropology and Music Composition and from the University of Vienna in Austria.
He taught at St. Paul’s Kipalapala Senior Seminary in Tanzania before moving to Nairobi, Kenya in 1983 to teach at the then Catholic Higher Institute of Eastern Africa (CHIEA), now CUEA. He served at the institution till June 2018 when “CUEA fraternity” bid him farewell.
One of his many former students, Fr. Richard Rwiza, remembers the late Prof. Nyamiti as a “magisterium.”
“As students, we referred to him as magisterium meaning teaching of the Church,” Fr. Rwiza who is at the helm of CUEA Press told ACI Africa, explaining that “you could not be taught by Nyamiti and fail to understand the teaching of the Church.”
Fr. Rwiza also remembered him as “a humble, committed and dedicated man with a passion for scholarly work.”
“He was totally committed to the extent that if you met him, you had to be careful because he would randomly ask about Church documents,” Fr. Rwiza recalls, adding that though Prof. Nyamiti has died, he has trained others who can move on with his teachings.
“On one side, we are saying we are missing him but he has given us inspiration on the way of doing Theology,” says Fr. Rwiza and adds, “There should be a continuation of what he did. If we are committed and dedicated in doing African Theology, then we will be promoting and remembering him.”
For the Kenyan-born Professor of Dogmatic Theology at CUEA, Fr. Peter Gichure, Prof. Nyamiti was a “good Catholic who was a bit conservative in his theology.” He was also a great musician and very loyal to the Church.
“He was respected by his students and was a bit strict with them but he always wanted the best out of everybody,” Fr. Gichure says, adding that the late Professor loved to interact with his students.
“Despite his age, he loved being with his students. Whenever we used to go out to department parties to welcome new students he would insist that he must come even if it’s at night; he would take the opportunity to talk to the students about the exploitation and the seriousness in their theological endeavors and to be loyal to the Church,” Fr. Gichure who heads the School of graduate studies in CUEA adds.
Fr. Gichure recognized the late Prof. Nyamiti’s ability to connect all the ministries of theology and bring synergy into them, showing that they are all related.
“Apart from that he was very sick and he struggled to walk, he was very sharp. He was hospitalized but he still remained very strong and he never complained about his sickness,” Fr. Gichure recalls.
“He used to say that I don’t know when the Lord would come for me, but I am ready. He didn’t have any worry about his death,” Fr. Gichure recounts.
“We nicknamed him the ancestor and now he has become a true ancestor,” says Fr. Gichure.
The late Prof. Nyamiti is to be laid to rest at the Priests’ cemetery in his native Archdiocese of Tabora in Tanzania on Thursday, May 21.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa