Slain African priest had Citrus County ties

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By Nancy Kennedy

CRYSTAL RIVER — During the years the Rev. Evaristus Mushi was assigned to St. Benedict Catholic Church in Crystal River, if it was mealtime, you could find him eating at the Olive Tree Restaurant off U.S. 19.

A pastoral bulletin from the Diocese of St. Petersburg announced Tuesday Mushi, 56, was shot and killed as he arrived at his church Sunday in Zanzibar, Tanzania.

A priest for 27 years, he came to the Diocese of St. Petersburg as a graduate student from Duquesne University during the summer of 2001, and served at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Parish in Spring Hill.

In November 2001, he was assigned as a parochial vicar at St. Benedict in Crystal River. While in Citrus County, he often said Mass for the students at Pope John Paul II Catholic School. 

“We have heard from many who knew him and were touched by his ministry of love and kindness,” wrote the Rev. Bishop Robert Lynch in a statement Tuesday, noting he had gone to visit Mushi during a 2004 tour of Africa, and enjoyed the welcome and hospitality of his family. 

Parishioners of St. Benedict were shocked when they heard the news, said Charles Guth.

“He was a marvelous man,” Guth said. “I remember when his bishop in Zanzibar came to this country and visited, and after I saw the two of them together there was no doubt in my mind that Father Mushi would be a bishop someday. Instead, he’s been crowned with martyrdom — there’s nothing better than that, because our Lord himself was given that crown.”

John Conroy recalled him as a “nice, likable person, a holy person and a holy priest.”

“He had just sent a text message a couple of weeks ago saying they had killed two priests near his church, and two weeks later they shoot him in the head,” he said.

Tom Hubbel said Mushi was a hard worker and while he was here he would send money back to his own diocese in his country.

“He loved his country and what he was doing, and he loved coming here,” Hubbel said. “He was a worker. Like the Lord said, ‘Go out and work in the vineyard and in the fields,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”

“There was a radiance about him,” Guth said. “At his going-away party, some of us sang him his favorite song in Swahili. He loved it and everybody loved him.” 

A Mass will be said for the Rev. Evaristus Mushi at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at St. Benedict Catholic Church, 455 S. Suncoast Blvd., Crystal River.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.