How beautiful this past month of June has been! It has been full of so many blessings, all of which I will do my best to share with you. It is the month of the Eucharist, the month of the Sacred Heart. The photos here are more eloquent than any words of mine… Still, here is the first part, on Corpus Christi:
Let´s begin with the Corpus Christi celebration. Since I was still alone in the mission and unable to do too much at once, we decided to do no more than two celebrations, considering the procession with the Blessed Sacrament takes a fair amount of time. Every year, one of the more organized centers requests a Mass and a Eucharistic procession, which they host in a different village each year. This year it was the village of Mitonga’s.
We planned the Corpus Christi celebration (for First Vespers, the Saturday Vigil) so that on Sunday we could celebrate in the mission’s center, in Ibelansuha. In the first center, called Nyamilangano, the people like to plan this ceremony like a great feast. We went with a sizable group of altar servers, the girls of Watoto wa Yesu, and two sisters of the Servants of the Lord. There were a lot of people; during the preparations for the procession and Eucharistic benedictions, I heard confessions. There is always but a small window of time available for confessions– we always have to put a time limit, with so many people asking for confession. Regrettably, I cannot hear all their confessions by myself; if we don’t make a time limit, I could be there until nightfall.
Once everything was prepared, we began the celebration, and after the Mass, the procession commenced through the village streets.
Eucharistic processions here in Tanzania are incredibly special events, especially for the missionary priest. Many different factors contribute to this distinctive character… First of all, we are in a missionary land where there are many pagans, most of whom have never seen anything like this. Moreover, we are in the middle of the country, far from civilization—it can be almost surreal, finding oneself in a procession in the wilderness. But it is more than just that…this is a landscape that is very harsh: one of fields, earth, sun, beaten footpaths, and altars under the trees or with corrals and adobe-frame houses. This is the environment in which a multitude of the Faithful surrounds the Eucharist, praying and singing with devotion. The pagans watch: some laugh, but certainly all are surprised to see so many people, so many Catholics, so much solemnity.
At different intervals during the procession, the girls walking ahead turn to face the Eucharist, singing some simple and very beautiful verses and toss flowers at the monstrance. They then bow, and the procession continues on its way. Upon seeing all the people and hearing the girls sing their songs to Christ, I exclaimed within myself: “Blessed be the missionaries who taught these people these things!” They are traditions that the people have kept for a long time.
On Sunday we held a solemn celebration in the parish center of Ushetu, in Ibelansuha. The Sisters had prepared the altars for the procession, even making carpets in front of them. Since they have this procession every year in Ibelansuha, the people usually process in a very orderly manner, staying in two long lines the entire time. This year, however, there were events in both processions that sought to disturb the piety and take attention away from what was most important. In Mitonga, during the distribution of Holy Communion in Mass, a young girl started to shout and draw attention to herself, acting as if she were supposedly possessed by the devil. None of the catechists were very eager to get close enough to remove her, so, leaving the ciborium on the altar, I got to be the first to “take the bull by the horns.” Between the four of us, we were able to carry her outside. There she quickly quieted down, and it became clear that it was nothing serious. In Ibelansuha, there was a commotion at the back of the procession, because a dala-dala (minibus) wanted to pass through the people, ignoring those who were in charge of keeping watch for traffic and paying no heed to the children surrounding the vehicle. The result was a broken windshield, followed by a long dispute in the office between witnesses and the accused… finally, to avoid lengthening the quarrel unnecessarily, we settled on splitting up the cost fifty-fifty.
Both events, minor compared to all the good that was done, is not considered minor as to the origin. The devil always want to ruin the works of God. That is the synthesis. Moreover, seeking all means. What anyway always amuses me, because in one way or another, they are always ridiculous things, and surrounded by the seal of the devil: confusion, hatred, jealousy, and always desire to outshine the glory of God, which he is impossible. This should prompt us to be vigilant, especially here in the mission, where the enemy will not allow us to rob souls so easily from a place where he has reigned for so long.
Stay firm in the breach!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE