Ushetu, Tanzania, May 5, 2016.
At breakfast I told Fr. Victor my plan for the day: to sit at my desk in the office and take the opportunity to get up to date on some secretarial work. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Immediately after that, Filipo told me that they had called from Seleli to ask me to go to see a sick man. To be honest, my first reaction wasn’t highly enthusiastic. May God grant that I can improve on this and be willing to change my comfortable plans in the first instant. Perhaps if you knew where Seleli is, you would understand me a little. As an excuse to gain time and courage, I asked if the illness was serious. Filipo told me clearly that it was, and that he had asked for confession and anointing of the sick. Fr. Victor and I deliberated about who should go, but we saw that it was better if I went, because of the difficulty of the language and hearing confession. So in that moment I pulled myself together. When we undertake things for God, everything changes, that is to say, a supernatural vision enables us to confront anything.
I’ll tell you that Seleli is one of the farthest villages in the south of our parish. It is 35 kilometers away, and since this is the rainy season, there is a river that, although it isn’t very large, cannot be crossed with a vehicle. So if I wanted to go in the car, we’d have to make a 51km detour. This didn’t strike me as convenient in the least. Finally, we made our arrangements: one of the lay missionaries from the parish, Mikaeli, would take me by motorcycle as far as the river. There I would cross in a boat, and on the other side a catechist or some family member of the sick man would be waiting for me to take me by motorcycle to the house. Sometimes motorcycles cross in the boats, but if you could see what the boats look like you would understand why I had doubts… moreover, we had had the experience with Fr. Johntin who once while crossing with a motorcycle sunk in the middle of the river, and it was a problem to get it out and then to make it work again. He had to call a mechanic to come to the river with all his tools, take it apart, put it together again, put in new oil… which cost us, but above all took a lot of time. I didn’t want to run the risk.
Mikaeli and I set out on our way to the river around 10:30 am, passing through the village of Mkwangulwa, then we got lost for a stretch and had to go back, but thanks be to God not very far. Then we went through Makuba, a new village, where there isn’t a single church… I watched it pass, with a great urge to go to mission there, plant the seed, start with a chapel. God knows when we will do this. After that we came to a large rice field that was completely flooded. I thought we wouldn’t make it through, but Mikaeli is a very good chauffeur and is used to this out in the country where he lives with his family… so with great skill, he brought the motorcycle across this great, 80 meter lagoon with a lot of mud at the bottom and the water reaching up to the axle of the wheels. Having overcome the obstacle, we reached the river.
There, the “boat” arrived – if you can call it in a sort of nutshell a boat. Better put, it is perfectly cut tree bark, in which several people, bicycles, etc can travel. The people who do this work earn their pay… but only in the rainy season. We watched how they transported a motorcycle towards us from the other side. Then I got on board, seeing that Robert, the catechist from Seleli, was waiting for me on the other side.
Without wasting time with greetings and introductions, we got on the motorcycle and set out on the trip to Seleli. I’ll tell you sincerely that, from the beginning, I really enjoyed the trip. This time of year is very pretty and green… and this region of the parish is particularly beautiful because there are a lot of virgin forests, with large trees, alternating with cultivated fields. The weather couldn’t have been better for traveling by motorcycle, not too hot or too cold.
In the course of the trip, since it took a good amount of time, I was thinking that in the interior pocket of my cassock, very close to my heart, I was carrying the Eucharist. Jesus was traversing my parish, and enjoying a motorcycle trip with me on a fantastic day. It couldn’t get any better. God’s plan, as always, was excellent.
After the river we headed towards Itumbo, from there we passed through Nyassa, and reached Mwendakulima. There we stopped to get some fuel… I want you all to see a picture of the gas station.
Then we headed without stopping to Seleli. On the road we came across two trucks stuck in the mud, and many people working to get them out. Robert told me that they had been there a long time, since early morning. When we arrived in Seleli, I thought, “That’s it”… but no, we continued and continued along a narrow path for several more minutes. From the river to the house it took us about 45 minutes.
The family was waiting for us there, and you can imagine their joy at having a priest come to their home. As always, they were very hospitable with the traveler… they know you have come from far away, they take your backpack, pull up a chair, and everyone greets you. Since I had left Mikaeli waiting for me on the other side of the river, I didn’t want to delay too long. I had told him to bring a Bible and the Imitation of Christ to make the most of the time, but I didn’t want to linger because he didn’t have anything to eat.
I heard the confession of Damasi, a grandfather, who was very conscious, and who recited all his prayers for me in sukuma. Thanks be to God he also understood Swahili. We prepared the things, and together with the family, prayed, administered anointing of the sick, and I gave him communion. He didn’t look so bad, but he’s an old man, was weak, and no one knows… and since it’s not very easy to get there, it is better to ask for the sacraments when there’s still time. He smiled so much when we said goodbye. I imagine that we’ll see each other in heaven. Perhaps his smile will be the same; the joy that he showed was impressive.
I wanted to leave immediately, but African hospitality cannot be refused or resisted. They had already prepared the food. There is nothing more offensive than to leave someone with the food they have prepared to receive and thank you. They brought the food to Robert and me, while they stayed outside of the house. We polished off everything in a few minutes, and embarked on our return. Going back along the paths I was amazed at the greatness of the love of Christ, who had wanted to reach this house personally, sacramentally. Christ reaches where no one else does.
After the 45 minute trip we were at the river. Mikaeli was faithfully waiting there, under the shade of a tree. He had waited three hours for us. The total journey took us five hours, two motorcycles, a boat, six villages… all to see a sick man, Damasi, who wanted to receive the consolations of religion. Let us think how Christ did much more than all this to redeem us.
Today I rejoiced in God’s plans, although it cost me a little at the beginning… I should learn to trust more.
Stay firm in the breach!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE