By Anne Marie Amacher
A strong Catholic family and the influence of missionaries to Tanzania inspired Father Erasto Naakule to think of the priesthood.
“I was taught by the missionaries,” Fr. Naakule said during an interview at St. Vincent Center in Davenport, headquarters for the Davenport Diocese. He is staying there while studying business and accounting at St. Ambrose University.
He said when he was in secondary school he felt called to the priesthood and was ordained for the Diocese of Rulenge in Tanzania, Africa, in 1993.
A vocation — whether to the priesthood for men or religious life for women — involves sacrifice, he said. “You must realize you must give sacrifice to God. And when you do, there will be an increase in vocations.”
He said it helps to have support of family, society and the church.
Vocations are plentiful in Tanzania for “the time being. But you can’t ever have enough priests no matter where you are. There will never be enough.”
The greatest gift of being a priest, for Fr. Naakule, is celebrating the sacrifice of the Eucharist. He also feels enjoyment in touching the hearts of people and he appreciates their feedback.
In Tanzania he worked with the poor and felt fulfilled trying to teach people how to improve their lives.
After his ordination, Fr. Naakule taught in secondary schools for several years while helping out at parishes on the weekends. He then served as a pastor for a year before leading the peace and justice department for the Diocese of Rulenge-Ngara.
He was working on four big projects prior to coming to the United States: food security, democratic rights, land and resource rights and rural income improvement.
He traveled across his diocese working to implement these programs and attended conferences across the world. But none of the conferences involved a stop in the U.S.
Fr. Naakule said Bishop Severine Niwemugizi asked him to attend school at St. Ambrose to study business and accounting. “Our diocese has an attachment with this diocese (Davenport Diocese),” Fr. Naakule said.
Two other priests from the Diocese of Rulenge-Ngara have attended St. Ambrose. Father Simon Taabu graduated with his master’s in education last May. Father Juve Ndaula is currently working on his master’s in education at St. Ambrose as well.
Fr. Naakule said he knows both priests. He and Fr. Taabu studied in seminary together in Tanzania. Fr. Ndaula also attended seminary with Fr. Naakule and they both currently reside at St. Vincent Center.
“I had been in contact with them before I came here. But they didn’t tell me much about Iowa.”
He had seen snow in his travels to Europe in the past, but only had to tolerate it for a few days. He’s adjusting to Iowa’s colder temperatures and snow.
Fr. Naakule arrived in Davenport on Aug. 13 and started school about two weeks later. During the first semester he concentrated on studies and had not been able to help in the area parishes yet. He hopes to be able to assist in parishes soon.
He has many credits that transferred from Africa and plans to graduate in 2- 2 ½ years with his bachelor’s degree and then earn a Master of Business Administration from St. Ambrose, too. “I can do a lot with an MBA.”
The thing Fr. Naakule has missed the most about his homeland is the Christmas celebration. “We celebrate Christmas on the family level, as well as the church. Families in the city travel to the villages to visit their extended families. We celebrate good times and good meals. The church is full.”
He noted that Sunday Masses typically last about two hours. But Christmas Masses can be about three hours — due to the number of people in attendance and a procession of thanksgiving.
“We continue to celebrate until the New Year, and then everyone moves back to their own places and the city.”