Fr Brad Sweet, PhD
 
Profiles in Catholicism
 
An Interview with Father Brad Sweet. PhD


by Gordon Nary




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Gordon:   Possibly the best way of introducing you to our readers is to link to your website
     
Father Brad:

 
  For many of your readers I will be an unknown perhaps. I am from Nova Scotia in Canada, on the east coast. I was brought up in a Baptist family and became a  member of The Salvation Army while at university so that I could  serve those in need. I volunteered then to go overseas and spent the next three years (1987-1990) in Zambia at one of The Salvation Army missions. It may of interest to your readers to learn more of my background which they can read at my website
     
Gordon:   When did you start you ministry in Malawi and what are some of the principal challenges in your ministry?
     
Father Brad:









 
 

My current mission is as a priest working in Mzuzu Diocese in northern Malawi. The current situation in the country makes work a little difficult at times as we only have  electric power 50% of the day. We also lose water those days as well since in Nkhata  Bay where I live the water is pumped from Lake Malawi, but without the electricity we are not able to receive water.    As well the sheer poverty of the country and its  people. It is very hard to raise money locally for projects as I might have done at my  parishes in Canada. Here the average salary is $250 per year. This prevents people from helping themselves. The people are generous with what they do have though'  They will gladly greet you in their village or in the street in Tumbuka or Tonga.

The language is also a challenge for me. Though I speak a number of European languages I do not speak the language of Mzuzu Diocese which is Tumbuka. So I have engaged a tutor to help me become acquainted with the language and become  familiar with the patterns of speech. Then I will be able to interact on a more   personal scale with the people around me. At this point I need to call on people who have a grasp of both languages to help me be made clear.

Another challenge is to remain in contact with friends and family in the rest of the world. Internet and international calling are not common here and so to make connections I have to search out the places where I can find Wi-Fi. I often return to  the pen and paper which is sometimes a welcome means of communication. I enjoy writing with fountain pens and good paper so this challenge lets me indulge in this hobby.

     
Gordon:   What are some of the major diseases that affect you parishioners and how effective is the healthcare system in Malawi?
     
Father Brad:





 
  For most of the country there are any number of health challenges. The most  common would be HIV/AIDS and malaria. This country is hard hit by these two in particular. The health system is a national system as we have in Canada, but the number of doctors is not enough to meet demands. Medications are expensive and  hospitals need repair. There is a diocesan hospital in Mzuzu the St John Hospital', which was at one time one of the best in northern Malawi but which has suffered  greatly from neglect for want of funds in the last few years.                                   

I had two boughts of Malaria while I lived in Zambia 1987 to 1990 where I worked  as a teacher for The Salvation Army, so understand the results of such a sickness which is a problem for so many here. The lack of medication for even the most basic medical problems, the lack of doctors and nursing staff all contribute to the situation in the country. Many of the doctors and  nurses leave for western countries where they can earn a better living in much        
     
Gordon:   Please share with our readers an overview of your course on the History of Christianity
     
Father Brad:









 
 

I taught for one year a course on the History of Christianity for the American Military University, a component of the American Public University System based in   West Virginia. I thought it easier to teach the history of the Catholic Church but they needed to cover Christianity as a whole. Where this university reaches so many   serving men and women in the United States Armed Forces it was necessary to create a course that covered both Catholic and non-Catholic from the origins to  today. This was an online course and so notes and books had to be available through the Internet. I was able to provide a great many readings through PDF formatted articles which made the course easier to access when service men and women were overseas. The cost is much lower as well.

The course had components of early Christianity after the book of Acts. It entailed reading of documents from the post-Apostolic period and the early Church Fathers.   The course moved on to the Middle Ages and monasticism and into the Reformation  and Counter Reformation period.  And the final period leading up through missionary movements and finally to the early Twentieth Century. The Major text   "Concise History of the Catholic Church” by Thomas Bokenkotter.

The major challenge for students was the distance and time to work on the assignments where they were often deployed overseas who tried to work their schedule to include study times and preparing assignments.

     
Gordon:   When you served as a Navel officer in  the Canadian Royal Navy (RCN), what were your primary responsibilities?  
     
Father Brad:




 
  I was an Intelligence Officer in the RCN. I joined as reserve officer for the unit working with commercial shipping to liaise and de-conflict areas where both war ships and commercial vessels would meet. Though I was a reserve officer I worked  full time for the RCN from 1998 until I went to seminary in 2005


We are trained on both warships and commercial ships to know both and understand the operations and purpose of both. In this was when needed we can  work directly onboard a tanker or cargo ship and coordinate with the warships in the area. In some instances I was also to liaise between the navies of various  countries. In the Persian Gulf, NATO and in international waters off of Canada, I  worked on board ships of the USN and liaised between American, British, Canadian  and other allied navies. I have both English and French languages as well as a little of some other European languages and so could make do “in a pinch” to speak for  the ship on which I was serving.

     
Gordon:   What was you occupation when you received your vocation and what was the response by your coworkers?
   

 

Father Brad:










 

 

When I first made a serious step towards my vocation I was a serving Intelligence  officer of the Royal Canadian Navy. It was while I was “on loan” to the United States   Navy in the Persian Gulf that I made a decision to seek out if I should indeed follow  the vocation in my heart. I had been assigned to a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf in  2002. My work was to track suspicious commercial shipping which was my training  I would prepare reports every day between 4 and 7 AM for the commander of our unit at sea. I was posted ashore. And I was to provide convoy creation   information for protected units at sea in the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and the  various straits between the bodies of water.

Towards the end of my tour my building was bombed. In that short moment which was a focal point in life I made a more concerted effort to seek the Kingdom of God over the personal desires I had.

Upon my return to Canada I made inquiries with the diocese I lived in and also   visited the seminary in Montreal where I eventually went for my studies for the  priesthood. Many people felt unsure about the decision since I had a career in the  military already and was paid well. And members of my own family were unsure since I am a convert to Catholicism and this was well outside their understanding For many coworkers it was an abandonment of the mission we had. And it is hard to  leave those you have trained with in the military. You don’t get to wear the uniform and have “Canada” on your shoulder sleeve without having to earn it. (You won’t see many medals on Canadian uniforms. We tend to serve without fanfare “Queen and country”).

 
Gordon:   How can our readers support you in your mission?

:
   
Father Brad   What I would need most is prayer. The country is poor, one of the poorest in the  world. There are always projects to support and the diocese has so many areas to  support  as well. We have schools, hospitals, clinics, mission stations well away from  the most basic resources of water and electricity. A start could be to visit the web  site of the diocese and see the activities and needs. We have a new site and a link to the old one where much current information can be found at  www.mzuzudiocese.org