God Bless Tangaza!
(Adapted from the 2016 Tangaza Day Homily)
This year’s Tangaza Day celebration has been unusual for many reasons. Normally we celebrate on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, our college’s patronal feast. I am told that the choice was made many years ago at the time we also chose the name and motto of the college: Tangaza fumbo la Imani! (Proclaim the mystery of faith). The “Annunciation” seemed like an appropriate feast day for us because “Tangaza” means “proclaim” or “announce”in Kiswahili. For decades now “Tangaza fumbo la imani” has served to remind us that this college was founded not just to pursue knowledge for its own sake (as good as that might be) but to prepare skilled and informed leaders enlivened with Gospel values who would put themselves at the service of the church and society, wherever there are needs we can address.
But this year March 25 fell on Good Friday (which of course we couldn’t preempt) and the church’s liturgical calendar shifted the Annunciation to the next free day, which meant all the way until April 5! That is why we decided to push the celebration 10 days earlier, to Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent. But I took the liberty of requesting a change in the readings, because otherwise would have been hearing about God’s people in the desert being bitten by saraph serpents, and Moses lifting up a serpent on a pole for their healing!
Instead I suggested readings in the light of our special Tangaza Day guests, Marist International University College. As you may know, Marist College (just up the road from here) began around the same time as Tangaza, and both of us are constituent colleges of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. The motto of MIUC (“You are the light of the world”) comes from the part of the Sermon on the Mount that we have read, where Jesus tells his followers that we must let our light shine before others so that they may see goodness in our acts and praise the heavenly Father (Mt 5:16). But what are these “good works” we are called to do, so that our light will shine forth? The first reading from Isaiah makes it clear: “sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked, removing oppression and malicious speech from your midst, satisfying the afflicted, not turning your back on your own”. If you do these things, says Isaiah, then “your light shall break forth like the dawn, your wound shall be quickly healed, you will call and the Lord will answer” (Is 58:7-9).
Interestingly, this is the very passage that Pope Francis quotes in “Misericordiae Vultus”, the document announcing the Year of Mercy that we are currently celebrating. Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus himself is the face of the Father’s mercy, so if we want to understand God’s mercy, we have only to look at Jesus. And what we discover is that for Jesus, as for his heavenly Father, mercy has priority. It does not do away with justice, but goes beyond what justice alone can achieve. Justice alone, without mercy, will never heal the wounds of our world. According to our human way of thinking, we tend to assume that wrongdoers must first repent and then we might consider forgiving them. But as Pope Francis has often pointed out from the Gospels, in the case of Zacchaeus, of the woman caught in adultery and many others, Jesus first reaches out with mercy, and it is because of that merciful initiative that they are brought to repentance and conversion. So as Christians we must never tire of the works of mercy, even toward those who seem unworthy or ungrateful.
This may seem like the wrong message for an educational institution like Tangaza. After all, the Commission for University Education does not assess us on how charitable or merciful we are, but on whether we are meeting appropriate academic and scholarly targets. Imagine what would happen here, for example, if you ask your lecturers for mercy because you didn’t feel like studying for your CAT or your final! Too much mercy during exams would end up reducing our standards and our reputation for academic excellence.
But the point is that at Tangaza we want to become agents of positive social transformation. I will not be disappointed if Tangaza never becomes the biggest or the richest or the most famous tertiary institution in Kenya, though I want us always to strive to be the best at what we do. But I will be very disappointed if Tangaza “gains the whole world but loses its soul”, if Tangaza ever forgets its goal of teaching minds, touching hearts and transforming lives, if we ever forget that all we do here (as we strive for academic excellence and holistic growth) is for the sake of service, for the sake of our mission to help build a world rooted in Gospel values of justice, peace, integrity and concern for the poor and marginalized.
This is my last Tangaza Day as Principal of the college. Hopefully a year from now we will have our charter and will have become a university. Hopefully we will have a new and outstanding Vice-Chancellor. And although we are today postponing the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Marist and Tangaza to give more time to work on some details, hopefully by next year the two will be one, because, as has so often been said in our negotiations with the Marists and with MIUC, we have “a similar DNA”.
After all, “Proclaim the mystery of faith” and “You are the light of the world” are not such different mottos. After all, the light we are meant to bring to the world, the light we are called to be in the world, is the light of Christ, the mystery of faith. And after all, as Pope Francis says at the beginning of “Misericordiae Vultus”: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith”. If that sums up the mystery of faith, then that is what we are called to proclaim: “Tangaza fumbo la imani”.
Today we thank God for so many blessings he has showered on the Tangaza family over the past 30 years. We thank all those who have worked with such dedication to make this college what it is now, and what it may be in the future. We thank Prof. Henry Thairu, Chair of the Commission for University Education, for his timely keynote speech on university mergers as a sustainability strategy [see full text on the Tangaza website], and his encouragement in the process we are undergoing. And we thank the Marist Brothers and Marist International University College for joining us today for this celebration, as we work toward a closer union in the future. May they continue to be a light to the world, may we together proclaim the mystery of faith, by teaching minds, touching hearts and transforming lives.
May God bless Marist International University College! May God bless Tangaza College! May God bless higher education in Kenya! May we always be agents of God’s mercy and instruments of positive social transformation, especially for the poor and most disadvantaged.
Steven Payne, OCD
Principal, Tangaza University College