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Future Cardinal Protase Rugambwa, a Tanzanian with Roman experience

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I.Media - published on 09/14/23

Having worked at the Dicastery for Evangelization and Pontifical Mission Societies, the Coadjutor Archbishop of Tabora knows the Vatican and his local church.

Protase Rugambwa is one of three African cardinals who will join the College of Cardinals at the end of the month. His appointment is a sign of the esteem in which the Pope holds the 63-year-old, after 10 years of service in the Holy See. Upon receiving the cardinal’s purple, the current coadjutor archbishop of Tabora will become Tanzania’s second cardinal elector. The other is 79-year-old Cardinal Polycarp Pengo.

Ordained by John Paul II

Protase Rugambwa was born into the Kishumba family in Bunena, Tanzania, on May 31, 1960. Some sources explain that, like many children that year, his parents named him Rugambwa in honor of Tanzania’s first cardinal, Laurean Rugambwa (1912-1997), created on March 28, 1960. Pope John Paul II himself, during his visit to Tanzania, ordained him to the priesthood on September 2, 1990, for the Diocese of Rulenge. 

After four years of pastoral work in the diocese as a parochial vicar and hospital chaplain, he was sent to Rome. There he obtained a doctorate in pastoral theology at the Pontifical Lateran University from 1994 to 1998. Returning to his home diocese, he served as formator, vocations director, secretary of the pastoral department, and finally vicar general of the Diocese of Rulenge.

Work in the Vatican

Fr. Rugambwa then returned to Rome from 2002 to 2008 to work for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples — now the Dicastery for Evangelization. On January 18, 2008, he was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Kigoma, and consecrated bishop on April 13 of the same year. 

Four years later, he was called back to Rome once again. On June 26, 2012, Benedict XVI appointed him deputy secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and president of the Pontifical Mission Societies with the rank of archbishop. 

On November 9, 2017, Pope Francis confirmed him as secretary — number 2 — of the congregation. During his years of service, the archbishop distinguished himself in particular for his defense of African youth faced with the challenges of migration. In a report in July 2022, he urged members of the Association Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa Region (ACERAC) to “help the youth of Central Africa not to waste, but rather to shape an identity that values their origins, their culture and their religiosity in the encounter with new cultural and religious schemes and models.”

Back in Africa

At the end of his mandate, on April 13, 2023, the Argentine pontiff appointed him coadjutor archbishop of the Diocese of Tabora with the right of succession. He then returned to his country to assist the incumbent archbishop, Paul Runangaza Ruzoka, who had just passed the age limit. “I see my new assignment as an opportunity to make a fresh start in my life of vocation and service,” declared Archbishop Protase Rugambwa on his arrival in the archdiocese.

The cardinal-designate represents in Rome an East African country marked by a certain religious pluralism. Around 50% of the population are Christians (more than half of whom are Catholics) and 35% are Muslims. There are also animist communities and Hindu and Sikh minorities, given the presence of Indian traders. The local Catholic Church is relatively well-developed, with 34 dioceses.

Protase Rugambwa is the third cardinal in Tanzania’s history, after Cardinal Laurean Rugambwa (1912-1997), and Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, who retired in 2019 and will celebrate his 80th birthday on August 5, 2024.

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