The following days were divided between trips to the city for the Chrism Mass and trips to the villages to have confession wherever we could… all of the people ask for it. There is only one priest who hears confessions now, and he is so tugged at from all sides, that it seems like he’s being pulled to pieces.
For the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, I celebrated here in our church and Fr. Victor celebrated in the village of Nyamilangano. In both places we made the effort to have nocturnal adoration, with the invaluable help of the lay missionaries, who took shifts in turns and helped with some guided meditation, to teach the people a little how to pray. There were some hours that were difficult to cover here, like from 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning, but it moved one to tears to see, in the darkness between 4:00 and 5:00, a good sized group of faithful arrive, almost 80 in number. We may think that there are a lot of people here, which is true, but we are in the middle of the country and the houses are far apart. I had given the 5:00am turn to the altar boys and about 25 came. How moving to see Christ… not totally abandoned.
On Good Friday we prayed the via crucis in the morning, and in the afternoon I celebrated again here and Fr. Victor celebrated in the village of Uyogo, with much fruit and the people’s gratitude, since they have never had this opportunity. Thus we waited on Holy Saturday, and since here in Africa they have the good tradition of accompanying those who have lost family members for a few days, I told them that we were accompanying Our Lady, so they signed up for turns and we spent Saturday with her. It was beautiful to see the different groups that came, the girls, the Legion of Mary, the group of the Sacred Heart, and many families… they came in shifts to pray the rosary. You could hear prayers and songs throughout the whole day, since a few people, sometimes three or four, interspersed songs between the mysteries.
The Catechist, Stanislaws, in the doorway of the house for the priest in Ilomelo
The bedroom at Ilomelo
For Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday we switched roles; Fr. Victor stayed here and I went out to the villages. I celebrated the Easter Vigil in Ilomelo, some 30 km from Ushetu. I went early to be able to have a short meeting to see to the preparations for the ceremony, and I was astounded to see how well they had arranged everything. It was the first time in history that they have had the celebration of the Easter Vigil with a priest in this place.
It was a fantastic atmosphere. Everyone followed the rites very attentively. We had 22 baptisms: 15 adolescents and youth, and seven small children.
At the end of the Easter Mass the people stayed for a bit for the festivities to dance, but since the ceremony had lasted almost four hours, around 1:30am we were alone with the village leader and the catechist, drinking soda at the door of the little house for the priest. They had prepared a room for me there very well, but I was excessively hot. And there was a pen of goats on one side of the house and corral of cattle behind it…. which kept me awake a good part of the night. Between the smell and the noise, it was a good composition of place for a manger.
On Easter Sunday the faithful in Kangeme were waiting for me, only 8 km away from where I slept the night. There, I took the opportunity to hear confessions a little, but then we began the ceremony, because they also had baptisms and we couldn’t fall behind too much. Twenty-eight children received First Communion there; seven youths and seven small children received baptism; and one older woman was baptized, confirmed, and received Christ for the first time.
I imagine that many of you will say: great, that’s it, they finished… but honestly I will tell you that after all this, it is the general rule here in Tanzania to continue celebrating Easter on Monday. So on Easter Sunday and the Monday of the Octave we were with all the children and youth, continuing the festivities in a joyful climate of a festive oratory, with the help of the sisters. And as if that wasn’t enough… we had to prepare everything for the visit of our bishop on Tuesday!
We have traversed Holy Week as missionary priests: from the entrance into Jerusalem, passing through the washing of feet, the institution of the Eucharist and the Catholic priesthood… suffering the agony of the garden with Christ thinking of the souls who are not faithful, to see so many souls reject redemption. We have prostrated face down on the ground to show our sorrow on Good Friday; we have spent hours hearing confessions, with fatigue, and the pain of hearing so many sins… pouring out blood for all men. We have seen the church stripped of altar cloths and images, and accompanied Our Lady in her grief. We have rejoiced with so many souls who have received God’s mercy in confession, with those who had not confessed for many years, with those who were baptized, made their First Communion, and were Confirmed… We have resurrected with all of them.
I can tell you that, in a way, although it is very difficult to explain it, the priest lives Holy Week in the “first person” – an unmerited grace.
Stay firm in the breach!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE