Pope Francis Awards High Medal to First African Ever at Vatican Radio: Tanzanian-Born Janeth Mhella
Vatican Radio || By Father Paul Samasumo || 29 September 2016
Janeth Mhella of Vatican Radio’s Africa Service became the first African ever at Vatican Radio to be honoured by Pope Francis for having served the Pope and the Church diligently in her work at the radio. Mhella, from the KiSwahili language Service, was handed one of Pope Francis’ highest awards that can be given to a lay person.
Also known as the “Cross of Honour,” the medal and certificate were presented to Mhella by the Monsignor Dario Viganò, the Prefect of the Secretariat for Communication of the Holy See. Five other persons from the new dicastery, the Secretariat for Communication were also honoured.
Mhella’s “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” Medal which is Latin “For Church and Pope” is an award of the Catholic Church established by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. The award is for deserving clergy or lay persons and is given for services done for the Church and its head.
Janeth Mhella is simply known to all her colleagues at Vatican Radio as Mama Mhella. She retires from the Radio at the end of October.
It all started more than twenty years ago, in 1992, when her husband, a Tanzanian diplomat, the late Joseph Mhella was posted to Rome by his government as Minister Counsellor and Permanent Representative to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
In Tanzania, Mama Mhella had worked as a social worker first for the government and then for UNICEF. In Italy, with her husband, she suddenly found herself without a job and with long empty hours ahead of her. It was a new experience for one who was not used to being a stay-at-home mum.
In 1993, the English Africa Service of Vatican Radio had started daily broadcasts of the day’s Gospel readings in KiSwahili. With children at school, a husband at work, Mama Mhella then decided to volunteer to read the daily Kiswahili readings for Vatican Radio.
In 1994, the KiSwahili Radio Programme was quickly becoming an established language of Vatican Radio. Mama Mhella was asked to come-in three times a week to help with translations. Her big break came in 1997 when she was employed on a full-time basis. The rest is history.
Twenty-three years later, Thursday, at the ceremony in her honour, the Director of Programmes at Vatican Radio, Fr. Andrea Majewski, SJ, read the citation before Monsignor Viganò handed over the medal and certificate.
“Over the years Janeth has worked closely with various persons that have passed through the department. Today she can truly be considered one of the founders of the KiSwahili Service at Vatican Radio,” said Fr. Majewski as he read the citation.
Apart from English, KiSwahili, a Bantu language is the lingua franca of East Africa. It is widely spoken in Tanzania and Kenya and some regions of Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. About 120 million people, if not more, are said to speak KiSwahili.
The KiSwahili Service of Vatican Radio produces a half-hour programme on the daily activities of the Pope, the Holy See and the Church in Africa. As with most Vatican Radio broadcasts, the daily bulletin is broadcast on the Shortwave frequency, the Vatican Radio podcast and is re-transmitted daily by more than 24 FM Catholic radio stations in Africa.
Source: Vatican Radio…