On December 10, 1935 --- just 15 days before Christmas --- in Parangu village, Peramiho, Ruvuma Region, a child was born in a Catholic family headed by primary school teacher, Alex Mapunda.
The little child was fittingly baptized according to Catholic traditions. He was given an interesting name: Emmanuel, meaning, we are told, ‘God with us’. In colonial days of Tanganyika, teaching was the profession.
A teacher was a person held in very high esteem, because teachers were a rare species; they were respected for their self-respect; they were the learned people; they were giant opinion makers who shaped the minds of the young and old.
The latter remains true to date. Alex Mapunda shaped his child, Emmanuel, into a future giant. He shaped and supported his son to become a Catholic priest who rose to become a Bishop.
Emmanuel was ordained priest, and until this month, he had served the Catholic Church in that capacity for 53 years.
He was named the founder bishop of Mbinga Diocese by the late Pope John Paul on December 24, 1986, a humble bishop who commanded enormous respect. In Tanzania, religious leaders are people who command respect; they are part of the group of opinion makers.
A bishop is generally respected and taken very seriously by all Tanzanians because they are believed to be influential non-discriminatory leaders.
And in Bishop Mapunda, Tanzanians --- more so the residents of Mbinga --- found that kind of a leader. As a spotless societal leader, devoted to the service of all, especially the underprivileged, Bishop Mapunda’s word --- and when he chose to speak out --- people and authorities nodded.
It takes courage, the English say, to speak out. Bishop Mapunda was a man of few words but many deeds. He walked the talk. But Bishop Mapunda is no more.
He died this month in a plane on Thursday of May 16, as he was being rushed from Songea to Muhimbili National Hospital, in Dar es Salaam .
It was the Dar es Salaam-based secretariat of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC), the official institution that speaks for the Catholic Church in Tanzania that announced the death of the bishop.
TEC Secretary, Rev Charles Kitima, said many people received the news of the death of the bishop “with great shock and sadness.” “This has been a very sad month for the Catholic Church in Tanzania, because we have lost two retired bishops inside one week,” he said.
Two retired bishops --- Gabriel Mmole and Emmanuel Mapunda --- suddenly died. But the late Bishop Mapunda is a fallen hero of Mbinga residents in particular.
His history, and especially his legacy, will remain around in Mbiga for two stark reasons. One, his contribution to the welfare of Mbinga residents --- all Mbinga residents is deemed colossal. Two, he was an educator, a trainer and counsellor of Catholic priests-to-be and practising ones.
At the age of eight, Emmanuel joined the colonial Primary School Standard One for a four-year primary course, until 1947. Briefly, he was sent for quasi-clergy stint, at Kigonsera Junior Seminary.
He then resumed his studies. In the same year, he started his four-year colonial middle school course and finished his secondary school course in 1957, after performing well in the then Tanganyika Territorial Standard Ten Examination in 1955.
In 1957, he joined Peramiho Senior Seminary for a two-year philosophy course and graduated in 1959, qualifying for a four-year course in theology at the same seminary, graduating in l965.
The same year, on September 8, 1965, he was ordained a priest. Then he started climbing a slippery ladder. For eight months --- January to August, 1966, he was assistant head of Matogoro Parish, and then was sent to teach at Hanga Junior Seminary until 1967.
Between 1968 and 1969, he was again assistant head of parish, Songea Parish and a religion teacher in Songea Secondary School.
He was picked for a brief teaching assignment at his former Peramiho Senior Seminary in 1970, and then was sent for further studies in Rome and returned to Tanzania in 1973 and immediately given a senior teaching assignment at Peramiho Senior Seminary for three years.
After the three years, he was given a higher teaching assignment at the same seminary until 1980, when again he went for further studies in Rome in 1980.
When he returned from Rome in 1983, he was again returned to his former seminary until 1986, when he was named the founder bishop of Mbinga Diocese.
He served the diocese until he turned 75 years and retired on March 12, 2011. Even after retirement, he was used as a teacher and counselor of seminary students and performed these duties until May 11, 2019, when at his retirement home in Nangombo parish; he fell sick, complaining of tiredness and devoid of strength.
He was rushed to St Gabriel Health Centre in Mbinga Town where he was treated. Clinical examination at the center revealed that his blood sugar had gone down and he had also developed breathing complications.
On May 16, 2019, he was referred to Muhimbili National Hospital for expert observation and treatment. The plane took off from Songea Airport at 3.50 pm, and the bishop died while airborne at around 5.05, well before reaching Dar es Salam.
He was buried on May, 24, 2019 in his Mbinga Diocese. RIP. There were mourners of all shades who spoke highly of the bishop. Take the example of Moravian Bishop, (East Africa), Emmaus Mwamakula.
He said the late Bishop Mapunda and Bishop Mmole did a great job and honor to the Catholic Church. Both were people of immeasurable integrity, he said.
During their era, Bishop Mwamakula recalled that the words of the two bishops were taken very seriously by all because the church had not been manipulated to serve self-interests.
“In their era, the church had not sunk so low as to serve self-interests, nor did the church depend on donations from the rich, politicians and rulers. They strictly respected the call,” he said.
The Moravian Bishop said Bishop Mapunda was always on the side of honesty and truthfulness, saying that for that reason, he will be missed by all.