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Getting to Know Archbishop Protase Rugambwa

Rugambwa becomes the third Cardinal in Tanzania, preceded by Cardinal Laurean Rugambwa and His Eminence Policalp Cardinal Pengo.

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Pope Francis announced Sunday, July 9, 2023, that he would elevate Coadjutor Archbishop Protase Rugambwa of the Archdiocese of Tabora and 20 other Archbishops from various countries to the College of Cardinals. The ceremony to install them, known as a consistory, will be held on September 30, 2023.

In view thereof, Archbishop Rugambwa becomes the third Cardinal in Tanzania, preceded by Cardinal Laurean Rugambwa, who breathed his last on December 8, 1997, and His Eminence Policalp Cardinal Pengo, who retired in 2019.

Archbishop Rugambwa will, consequently, be eligible to choose Pope Francis’s successor in a papal conclave after his death or resignation.

The Cardinals-elect hail from around the world, i.e., the US, Italy, Argentina,  South Sudan, South Africa, Spain, Colombia, Hong Kong, Poland,  Portugal and Malaysia. In my view, they indeed represent the universality of the global church. Three of these appointees are from Africa.

The Holy Father, who spent nine days in hospital last month after surgery for an abdominal hernia, announced at the end of his weekly Sunday Angelus prayer from a window in the Apostolic Palace overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

Cardinals rank second only to the Pope in the church hierarchy and serve as his closest advisors on matters of teaching and administration. But their most crucial duty is gathering in a secret conclave to elect the next Pontiff.

Due to their historic power and influence, they are still called “The Princes of the Church” or some other form of a privileged class, though Pope Francis has told them not to live like royalty but be close to the poor. Pope Francis has now named nine batches of New Cardinals in his 10-year papacy.

Who’s Protase Rugambwa?

Archbishop Protase Rugambwa was born on May 31, 1960, at Bunene in the Catholic Diocese of Bukoba. Coincidentally, on this day, his namesake, Laurean Rugambwa, made history after becoming the first African to be appointed Cardinal.

His late father was a relative of the late Ambassador Andrew Tibandebage, who was Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s roommate when they were teaching at St. Mary’s College, Tabora, in the late 1940s.

Richard Tibandebage, son of the late Ambassador Andrew Tibandebage, told me on Monday that on May 31, 1960, he went to that clinic where Protase’s parents were working just an hour after the birth of this new Cardinal.

Since Lauren Rugambwa had just been appointed Cardinal, Ambassador Tibandebage decided to name this new baby ‘Rugambwa,’ hoping that he would follow in the footsteps of Cardinal Rugambwa. And here we are today; that baby has also been appointed Cardinal!

My friend, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) Karagwe Diocese Bishop Benson Bagonza, confirmed this, saying that Protace was named Rugambwa due to his coincidence with the late Cardinal appointment.

“Of course, many children born in that historic year were named after Rugambwa,” Bagonza told me. “The fascination was so huge, like Mayele these days.” Fiston Mayele is Yanga’s Congolese striker.

After his primary and secondary schools in various minor seminaries in Katoke (where Dr John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, who served as the 5th President of Tanzania, was his classmate) and Itaga, he joined Kibosho Senior Seminary and St. Charles Lwanga Segerea Senior Seminary for philosophy and theological studies.

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By another strange coincidence, Rugambwa was ordained a Priest for the Diocese of Rulenge on September 2, 1990, by Pope John Paul II during his pastoral visit to Tanzania and was incardinated in the Catholic Diocese of Rulenge, now Rulenge-Ngara.

After his ordination, he held the following offices: 1990- 91 Parish Vicar in the parish of Mabira; 1991-94 Teacher in the Major Seminary of Katoke; 1994-98, Rugambwa studied Pastoral theology in Rome, after which he was awarded a doctoral degree.

Upon returning to his home diocese, Rugambwa served as Formator of Seminarians, vocations director, Sectary of the Pastoral department, and Vicar General of Rulenge diocese.

On January 18, 2008, the Holy Father Benedict XVI appointed Rugambwa the Bishop of the Diocese of Kigoma. He was consecrated the Bishop of Kigoma on April 13, 2008.

On June 26. 2012, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Rugambwa as Adjunct Secretary of the congregation for the  Evangelization of Peoples, elevating him to the dignity of Archbishop.

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Previously known as Propaganda fidei, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is responsible for spreading Gospel in mission territories. In 2013, Pope Francis confirmed him in the post. On November 8, 2017, he was appointed Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

On March 13, 2023, the 63-year-old prelate, a staunch Yanga fan, was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Tabora. The Tabora Diocese was erected in January 1887 as Vicariate Apostolic of Tanganyika before being elevated to an Archdiocese in March 1953.

In the Catholic Church, a Coadjutor Bishop has a right to automatic succession of a diocese when the presiding bishop dies, resigns or is transferred from office.

Archbishop Rugambwa automatically assumed his role in June 2023 in Tabora following the resignation of Archbishop Paul Runangaza Ruzoka, who had attained the canonical retirement age 75.

Anthony Mtaka: The Seer?

On August 14, 2017, then serving as Regional Commissioner of Simiyu, Anthony Mtaka, who is a person endowed with profound moral and spiritual knowledge, rightly foretold, via his Facebook post, which has now gone viral on social media, that Archbishop

Rugambwa would one day be appointed Cardinal!

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Talk about being a great seer! This reminds me of Emmanuel Herts’ Abraham Lincoln: The Seer.

It is with great joy that I rejoice and congratulates Archbishop Protase Rugambwa on his elevation to the rank of Cardinal by His Holiness Pope Francis. I pray for God’s continued blessings and protection upon him as the Cardinal-elect and that he may continue to inspire all the Catholic faithful.

His fellow countrymen, ‘Bongolanderz,’ are proud of the international recognition he has gained for his continuing contributions to his society and all humankind!

Mzee wa Atikali is a writer based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He’s available at +255 754 744 557. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further clarification.

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