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ZIMBABWE: JESUIT AIDS PIONEER PUBLISHES MEMOIRS

A British Jesuit who spent his life pioneering social change in Zimbabwe and beyond has published his memoirs. The book Ted Rogers: Jesuit, Social Pioneer and AIDS Activist in Zimbabwe was launched in August in South Africa and in September in Zimbabwe.

Fr Ted spent five decades in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), pioneering social change in response to the needs he saw around him in turbulent times. Among his many achievements are the founding of the high-quality School of Social Work at the University of Zimbabwe and his visionary response to the AIDS crisis in this country.

“The main impact of the book is that the man himself comes through. The imagination and energy that we have always associated with Ted is written on every page,” said Fr David-Harold Barry SJ at the Zimbabwe launch. “It is simply astonishing to recall the number of initiatives he was involved in. If he has ever written his CV it must be the size of a booklet.”

The launch in Zimbabwe was held at Arrupe College in Harare, the Jesuit school of philosophy, on 27 September. Some 50 people attended the event, those involved in HIV prevention, including social workers and educationalists. Fr Stephen Buckland SJ, the Provincial of the Zimbabwe Jesuit Province, extended a special welcome to guests who worked with Fr Ted “in the early days”, among them Christine Mtize, who co-founded the Jesuit AIDS Project (JAP) with Fr Ted.

The launch in South Africa took place in Durban in early August, during the plenary session of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) at Mariannhill Monastery. More than 100 people attended, including bishops and members of religious congregations and of the Zimbabwean community in Durban. The Zimbabwean choir from Emmanuel Cathedral in Durban created an atmosphere of celebration with their singing and dancing.

Fr Ted himself was unable to attend either launch due to poor health; now in his late eighties, he left Africa in mid-2011 and lives in a Jesuit retirement home near Bournemouth in the UK. He did, however, appear in a video message.

Many people underlined Fr Ted’s contribution to the struggle against AIDS during the book launches. “Ted’s AIDS activism produced some of his best known work. He was, for a time, the ‘Mr AIDS’ in the Catholic world of Zimbabwe, and even more widely,” said Fr Stephen at the Zimbabwe launch.

Fr Ted co-founded JAP in Zimbabwe in 1997 to stem the destruction caused by AIDS by reaching young people through peer education. “We wanted to stop it rather than pick up the pieces all the time,” he said. “We turned to schools to use the clubs approach and developed a training programme over the years.” JAP, implemented through Youth Against AIDS (YAA) clubs, reached thousands of youth over the years and is still going strong, with Susan Chibika at the helm.

At a regional level, Fr Ted was the first Jesuit appointed by JESAM (Jesuit Superiors of Africa and Madagascar) to coordinate the regional response to AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa in the latter part of the nineties; his involvement was crucial to pave the way for the establishment of the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) in 2002.

Fr Ted’s AIDS ministry stemmed from his determination to work for social justice. Fr Stephen continued: “Along with another Jesuit ‘social pioneer’ of this Province, Fr John Dove, Ted put our humble Zimbabwe Province of the Jesuits in the frontline of the social apostolate in Africa, creating works, setting up structures, responding to social needs long before other parts of the Church.” The social apostolate and initiatives promoted by Fr Ted with characteristic energy and drive are still very active: “For as well as Ted’s gifts in inspiring others and beginning new things, he had another very Jesuit but somewhat rarer talent: when he had done his thing, he was able to hand over, to move on, to seek other ‘frontiers’.”

At the South Africa launch, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier called Fr Ted “a pioneer who had responded with compassion”. Fr Peter Knox SJ stood in for Fr Ted. He recalled how in 1988 Fr Ted had, in that very room, told the SACBC that AIDS was going to be big and not go away for a long time. In introducing the book on behalf of the publishers, Cluster Publications, Br Philippe Denis OP said Fr Ted had started a Church-based AIDS project, long before anyone else.

The memoirs of Fr Ted promise to make interesting reading also because of his assessment of the Mugabe regime. Another speaker at the South Africa launch, Dr Douglas Dziva, CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council, said the book was worth reading for that alone. Dr Dziva gave a vote of thanks in which he praised Fr Ted for his ecumenical approach and urged the churches to continue his AIDS ministry.

Copies of TED ROGERS: Jesuit, Social Activist and AIDS Pioneer in Zimbabwe can be obtained from Cluster Publications, South Africa, at R150 (US$30.00) each at cluster@clusterpublications.co.za

Phone 033 8468602. (South Africa)

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