Local Priest, Students Prepare for Tanzania
by Ed Wilkinson
People gather near the scene of an explosion at St. Joseph Mfanyakazi Catholic Church in Arusha, Tanzania.
When Father Charlie Keeney went on an African safari several years ago, he expected to be on vacation. Instead, he came back with a whole new ministry.
“The last day I was there, I met a Polish-born priest who told me about a home he started for little children whose mothers were in jail,” remembers Father Keeney. Prior to having the home, the children would have to spend their time in jail with their mothers.
“He said he would have to close it because he couldn’t afford it anymore. I felt a call from God to help him.”
So, Father Keeney returned to Brooklyn and to Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus, where he is the Newman chaplain, and spoke to the students there about raising funds. They’ve been so successful that the school has remained open, houses 350 students these days and is now even constructing a volunteer center where workers can come and stay.
Imagine Father Keeney’s surprise recently when he opened the newspapers and found out that a terrorist attack upon the Catholic Church in Arusha, Tanzania, was the exact town where his charity – St. Gabriel’s Home – is located.
“This is the worst thing they’ve experienced,” says Father Keeney, who has been in contact with people there. “They’re very surprised by this act of terrorism against the Catholic Church.”
The local archbishop and the papal nuncio to the country escaped without injury as did Sister Flora who runs St. Gabriel’s Home. But three people did die as a result of the bombs that were thrown, and many others were injured.
Archbishop Francisco Padilla, apostolic nuncio to Tanzania, said an attack on a church was completely unexpected.
“Similar things have happened in Kenya, but not in Tanzania. It’s the first time a bomb exploded during a liturgical celebration.”
“I visited there four times, and it’s one of those places that is always described by many people as tension-free,” says Father Keeney. “People seem to live in peace with one another.” He estimates that the local population is 48 percent Christian and 48 percent Muslim.
Just as the local Church remains on the scene, Father Keeney remains undeterred in his determination to help. He and three recent L.I.U. graduates will travel to Tanzania in July to help the residents. They will assist in teaching the children English and also do some manual labor on the volunteer center, to be known as the Hotel of the Innocents.
“They broke ground in March,” says Father Keeney. “We’ve raised more than $50,000 for them. With $50,000, you can do something in Africa. It wouldn’t go far here, but there it’s a lot of money.”
Father Keeney and his stalwart band of L.I.U. students hope to make an even greater impact and will continue to raise funds to bring with them. If you’re interested in knowing more about his work, Father Keeney can be contacted at St. Augustine’s rectory, 116 Sixth Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217.