Ushetu, Tanzania, October 6, 2015.
Today in the Holy Mass, at the moment when I was elevating the chalice, I asked Christ to ignite my heart with love for souls. One sees so many souls in need of His grace, and in need of missionaries, that we always feel humbled and limited. The limitations of language, our defects, our own deficiencies… and yet despite all of these, we see the marvelous fruits with which our poor efforts are crowned. This humbles us more, in a good way, to see the hand of God in all of this and to know who it is who is carrying all things forward in the mission.
The first of those benefits that I want to tell you about today is the enormous grace of the first religious profession of the first Tanzanian vocation for the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará (SSVM), the sisters of our Religious Family of the Incarnate Word. Many of you may remember that I wrote a chronicle about Sr. Maria Upendo wa Kristo’s investiture (Mary of the Love of Christ) some time ago, and so you will be grateful for this update also.Sr. Maria Upendo wa Kristo completed her year of novitiate in Italy and last month returned to Ushetu to profess her first religious vows. The sisters decided to do it this way, not only so that her family could be present, but also so that it could be a great vocational apostolate among the youth and girls here. Since it was such an important occasion, she came accompanied by the sisters’ General Superior, Mother Maria de Anima Christi. Our bishop, Mons. Minde, upon finding out about the sisters’ decision, wanted to personally preside at our parish’s celebration.
Since it was the first time we have had the profession of a religious’ first vows in this mission, at the end of the Mass the leaders of the village and Mons. Minde himself all expressed that it was a historic day. The faithful followed the celebration of the Holy Mass with attention; they did not miss a detail of what was happening, and it was funny to see the heads sticking out in the aisle so that they could see. The ensuing festivities lasted almost until sunset… there were songs, dances, gifts, and theatrical representations.
Whenever someone, a missionary, rejoices in things like this, nothing remains but to give thanks… and to humble oneself. Perhaps when the sisters first arrived in the mission they dreamed of the day when they would receive local vocations.
Today, I remembered these graces… and I want to keep adding to them. In spite of being alone here for such a long time after Fr. Johntin’s accident, despite not being able to satisfy all the petitions from villages that beg me to go celebrate Mass for them, in the midst of all these limitations, we have had more than 1,000 baptisms in our parish this year, and I have been able to perform 825 baptisms with my own hands in these past five months… and more months still lie ahead of us. I have done more baptisms in these past months than in my three previous years of priesthood combined. And all that remains is to be humble and thankful. In the face of the great work to be done, I think the missionary is the one who best understands these limitations. He sees and is keenly aware of his defects, limitations, and sins
A few days ago someone wrote to me and said, “I just saw videos from your mission… I’m speechless!! It is a piece of heaven and you are so fortunate.” And of course, I am very fortunate. Before the sisters’ feast for Sr. Upendo’s vows, I was able to visit an Italian priest, Fr. Salvatore, who worked here fourteen years ago. We had just met and started to talk when he said to me, “Fr. Diego, we are blessed by God to be able to be here.” And he repeated it about three times.
I give thanks for my beloved Congregation, The Institute of the Incarnate Word, which sustains so many missionaries in so many extreme places around the world, in far and inhospitable places. I give thanks because if it did not, so many souls would be left orphans without priests and missionaries to baptize them and preach to them. Of course, God is not bound to anyone in particular, rather it is He who chooses… and He has brought us here. I can picture with my imagination hundreds of priests of our Institute of the Incarnate Word, working in extreme places, giving their lives day by day… saving souls. That is why today I asked Christ present on the altar to ignite my soul with love for souls, so that I may be offered like Him, and that I may be sacrificed, like so many missionaries who occupy themselves with this alone, giving their lives drop by drop for the Gospel.
I am fortunate; I am blessed by God to be able to be a missionary. The three biggest graces that I have received in my life have been to be a religious, a priest, and a missionary. And for this I must thank my Congregation, our founder (Father Carlos Miguel Buela), and all my superiors and those who were in charge of my religious formation. Without them, I would not be what I am. I am a priest, a religious, and a missionary… and by the grace of God, I’m in Africa. I see that my Institute is the mother of so many souls. Today I was in a village which I haven’t visited in a year, on a very hot day, in a small, dim chapel that was packed with children and people who exploded with applause and shouts upon hearing that new missionaries will arrive, and that they will be able to have more Masses…
There, in that place, I remembered the words of the martyrs of Barbastro, words which were always so encouraging for us during our years as seminarians.
I like to use these inspired words of the martyrs, and use them to pray, taking the liberty of adapting what they say about martyrdom for the missionary life, which should be a daily martyrdom:
I will shout at the top of my lungs, and in our enthusiastic cries you will be able to discern how much we love you, beloved Congregation, since we will bear the memory of you even into those deep regions of suffering without Christ…
We all die happy each day, with no regrets or misgivings. We all die in the apostolic labor, praying God that the blood that falls from our spiritual wounds may be blood that, by entering red and living into your veins, may spur your growth and expansion throughout the world. Farewell, beloved Congregation. Beloved Congregation! Your sons, missionaries throughout the whole world, salute you from this exile and offer you their anguished sufferings as a holocaust to expiate for our failings and as a witness to our faithful, generous and everlasting love. Long live the Congregation! And when it is our time to part, we will say: Farewell, dear Institute. We are going to heaven to pray for you. Adiós, adiós!
Stay firm in the breach!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE.