Ushetu, Tanzania, February 28, 2018
“Sherehe” is almost a magic word. It is capable of moving many people, making them happy, gathering them together… and even the bishop emphasized this when he visited us last year, saying that the people here love this word. “Sherehe” means “feast” in Swahili.
When someone desires to gather people to the parish here in Tanzania, what they have to do is organize a “sherehe”… as in other places where they gather to raise funds for the parish or for apostolates, they organize bingo, raffles, fairs, sell food… Here the feasts can be counted by the dozens: catechists feast, feast for men, for women, for the youth, for children, the parish feast, the diocesan feast, wedding feasts, first communion, confirmation and baptism feasts, etc.
That is how we go “from feast to feast” or “sherehe kwa sherehe”, until the great Feast of heaven. The feasts in these places are always very simple in regards to the external, but they always encompass a great interior joy due to the religious content. The people enjoy the feast greatly, and above all else, the Mass must be long, with many songs, and with many speeches at the end. More than anything else, they enjoy the liturgical celebration… and this- the liturgy well celebrated and well participated in- makes their joy very sincere.
A few weeks ago we had the patronal feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Last year I was not able to experience it like this year, because I was in Egypt due to health problems. I was surprised by the great number of people who participated. They came representing almost every village in the parish boundary. Many of them traveled more than 35km (20mi) to be present.
There was an atmosphere of solemnity, joy, and prayer in the Holy Mass. There were so many persons that the children had to sit outside of the Church, near the side doors. There were so many persons outside that next year we must be prepared to have the celebration outside.
After the Mass, they made a procession, not very long since there were many other activities following it and we didn’t want the people who came from the greatest distances to have to return home to their villages at night. I also didn’t want it to be very long because at that hour, nearly noon, the sun was very strong. The people were happy to see such a long procession- someone counted more than 1,100 persons in the procession. The image of the Virgin was carried the whole time by the members of the Legion of Mary, and each year this tradition becomes stronger. They consider it a great honor to be able to carry this image on their shoulders.
More than 550 people stayed for lunch. A true “sherehe”. And for the entertainment during lunch, different groups presented themselves to sing or recite some verses. The little girls from the village of Lughela –there were many despite the fact that there is not even a chapel in this village, but all gather to pray under a tree- prepared for this occasion a song to encourage the faithful to work without tiring in order to build their own church. To see these girls with such a spirit… really makes one eager to get started on the work.
At the end of the activities, the sisters gave fabric to the girls of the “Watoto wa Yesu” (child missionaries), so that they could make their white and yellow dresses in order to participate in the liturgy and dance before the altar. All of the girls from the villages who received this gift gave thanks with such enormous smiles and clasping their hands. You can imagine the “feast” that the girls from Lughela had. This gift was given especially to the villages from where more girls attend our camp, many of them walking more than 20km (12mi).
In the afternoon, those who could stay participated in the oratory with great spirits. Especially admirable was the group of ladies who stayed to play “basket ball”. They played as if they were children, and we can say that they “would have killed” to win. It was a sign of very good spirit and happiness. Each group of boys and girls had their own games and competitions. At the end of the day we had a raffle for gifts and gave prizes to the winners.
I remember now that some years ago, this patronal feast wasn’t even celebrated… and now I see the great family spirit, the spirit of joy, and a spirit of love and devotion for the Virgin… and only words of thanksgiving come to mind, gratitude to God and our heavenly Mother. It raises the strength to continue ahead, working in the mission, because the fruits are notable… and the faith grows and takes root.
God bless you all.
Steadfast in the breach!