Ushetu, Tanzania, April 27, 2016
“The mystery of the Incarnation is the great missionary mystery”
God teaches us many things through our contact with these people. I was surprised a few days ago while I was talking with Stanislawsi, the catechist from Ilomelo. This happened during my visit to this village to celebrate the Easter Vigil, as I told you about in my previos post, Living Holy Week in the First Person. In order to be able to celebrate this ceremony at night, as the liturgy requires, I slept there rather than make the long return trip back to the parish house at night. This also allowed me to celebrate the Easter Mass in another village in that region the following day. They had prepared the little priest’s house for me, which is only 20 meters away from the church. It was very small and hot, but arranged with care. We went to bed late that night and there wasn’t time to stay and talk, but the next day the village leader and catechist came to join me for breakfast. The village leader arrived first, and after the blessing we began to eat – I drank a few good mates, which drew great astonishment – and we began to chat. It was a great, calm, Easter Sunday breakfast in a village in the extremity of our parish. I emphasis that it is on the farthest point of our parish because there aren’t any other villages or inhabitants further west, only a reservation park, where there are also wild animals. On a previous occasion when I went there to celebrate the Mass, they offered me gazelle meat to eat.
But to get back to the story, the village leader began to ask me about my country, and what types of crops they cultivate there. I was trying to explain to him, when I remembered that I had a few pictures and videos on my camera that I had taken when I went on vacation at home last year with the intention of showing them to the people here, above all pictures of the fields and crops. Providentially, on one trip with my family we were able to see a wheat harvest machine in full operation. After these pictures there were a few of the cathedral in my city, San Luis. By this time, Stanislawsi had arrived and was looking at the pictures of the church with great admiration, pictures of the outside, inside, the large altarpiece from the main altar… the Eucharistic adoration chapel. I told them that the church was more than 300 years old, and their eyes widened even more. This is nothing for us, and means even less for those from the Old Continent who have many more centuries of history and churches that greatly surpass those in America in age, but it is something unimaginable here in these lands. We have to realize that the faith arrived here in Tanzania 151 years ago, and the nation of Tanzania was born as such only 52 years ago. They began to ask me about the number of Catholics, how they live the faith, etc… and very quickly this pleasant moment was over. Then it was time for me to prepare my things to go to the Easter Mass in Kangeme.
I saw that Stanislawsi was very pensive in his chair, and when I began to head towards the car he said to me: “Missionaries are like the Word of God, who was incarnate and came down to us sinners. You also leave your land, and these churches and traditions, to come to us.” I told him that we see a much more thriving faith in these African lands, and that as far as the churches and grandiose works of art, not all that glitters is gold, although they seem to be very important things… but I also said this because a remark like this made me a little uncomfortable. It is a great truth, but especially great in my case. Nevertheless, reflecting on this, I remembered what I had read in Fr. Carrascal’s famous book, If You are Going to be a Missionary, which has so inspired us: The author tells us that we must strive to remember the example of the Incarnate Word… the example for all missionaries.
I’ll mention a few texts from Fr. Carrascal: “The mystery of the Incarnation is the great missionary mystery. […] What missionary would dare to compare his distance from a gentile people with the distance between God and this vile world? What a sublime example is the Word made man!
God descended from heaven; the most exalted man, no matter how much he lowers himself, lowers himself from the same earth. Come down, then, to them. Quit mounting laments over your moral abasement, as if it were not God who told us: ‘Go and preach and baptize…’ Look, they are like sheep without a shepherd. Come down to them through humility and patience. The missionary comes down and draws near to them when he visits them, when he speaks with them, when he builds friendships with them, when he even eats with them and is like them; he comes down when he listens to their matters with interest, and hears their cares with attention. He lowers himself when, for their good, he has to abandon his tastes, his comfort. He lowers himself when he is compassionate with their calamities, compassionate with their shortcomings, and conceals their duplicity. […] What gains authority in the eyes of any people is the missionary Father’s naturalness, when he finds himself among them as if he is among his own. When they are convinced that we don’t long for our own land, and live among them like they are our own people, that we belong to them and they belong to us; that we love them and they love us.”
The thought, “Que grande Stanislawsi!” welled-up from inside me, above all because it made me realize that he has meditated and prayed about these supernatural mysteries well. I’ve never preached about this idea to the catechists… yet he knew it like a great spiritual author. I was left exceedingly amazed.
Stay firm in the breach!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE.
 P. Juan Carrascal, SJ. “Si vas a ser misionero.” Editorial translation.
God Doesn’t Leave Us
I returned from the Easter Sunday celebration in the village of Kangeme. There we had baptisms of babies, and also of a few older children and adolescents. An older woman also received baptism, was confirmed, and received Christ for the first time. Then after Mass, we proceeded to the festivities with the 28 children who had received First Communion. Everything was late, as always. While we were waiting for the food, we sang some songs to celebrate and entertain ourselves. Then the celebration continued normally, with the meal, cake, and more dancing. It was a beautiful climate of joy, in which the children died laughing to watch their catechists and parents dance to some children songs. It was a simple expression of a true interior joy, joy in the resurrection of Christ and in having resurrected with Him through the sacraments.
But in reality the protagonist of this story is someone who I met on the way back to the mission. It had been a long day and a short night. There had been a lot of work, confessions, and the night was greatly interrupted by animal noises. Then there was the Easter celebration and the ensuing festivities. I was coming back in the truck, accompanied by a catechist, at about 4:00 in the afternoon, in the great heat. We were on a part of the road that was very desolate, where there are no houses for kilometers and the sand, the heat, and the mercilessly beating African sun made the way more difficult. I was hot in the car; the cassock makes us sweat a lot… However, I was surprised to see up ahead, far away and alone, a woman walking in this striking sun, carrying a child on her back and a bag in her hand. As we drew next to her she called out, “Lifitiii!,” a Swahili version of the English “lift,” something like “Give me a ride!” But she said it when we had almost already passed her, and so I stopped a little further on ahead.
The young woman came walking, and looked exhausted as she got into the car. We greeted each other, and then I asked her where she was going. She told me to the next village, but added: “I thought I would never make it.” Without knowing yet whether she was a Christian or not, or if she believed in God or not, it occurred to me to tell her: “But God never abandons us.” To which she responded, “It’s true, I had just prayed three Our Fathers to him to help me and you appeared!” I was amazed… to see these things that we say and know explained so simply and concretely. Everyone in the vehicle agreed, and I think it was a lesson for each one of us.
When we arrived in the village where both she and the catechist were going to get out, I asked permission to take a picture, since I was already thinking of telling this anecdote to all of you. I don’t know what her name was, maybe she told me and I don’t remember, since it has already been a month since this happened. I think it is a very simple story, but it teaches us that God never leaves us; he is our Father. This young woman, with her son on her back, tired and trekking across the hot sand in a deserted place in Tanzania… experienced this, and she taught it to me.
Stay firm in the breach!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE