Day 6_– Fr. John’s Tanzania Mission Trip

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Sunday, Jan. 22

Today our schedule called for us to participate in the 10:00 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral, “have lunch with Bishop Flavian,” tour the diocese’s campus and visit the diocese’s orphanage.

Since Mass wasn’t until 10:00 a.m., we were told we could sleep a little later than we had any previous day on the trip.  But I had set my alarm for 6:00 a.m., planning to work on my journal before leaving the hotel for the diocese.  When the alarm went off I got up and with great hope emptied into the hot-water carafe on my desk a previously unopened bottle of water. I then plugged the hot plate under the carafe into the power strip on my desk and pressed the on/off button to the “on” position.  To my great delight, the hot plate under the carafe came on immediately, and less than two minutes later I had boiling hot water.  I emptied two packets of the ubiquitous Tanzanian instant coffee, which is very good, into my traveling plastic Grand Canyon mug, added to the mug my usual dose of Truvia and powdered Coffeemate French Vanilla creamer (I like my coffee strong but sweet and light), and then poured the steaming hot water into the mug.  I stirred it with the teaspoon that I keep with my traveling coffee kit, snapped the cap on the mug, said Grace, and took my first sip.  While certainly not Heaven, it was wonderful to be able for the first time on this trip to have my coffee first thing in the morning after awakening, as I’m accustomed to doing at home.  I began my morning prayers but foreshortened them in order to work on my journal, which I also consider doing the work of the mission, since Fr. John had asked me before we left to be the chronicler of the trip.

The next thing I knew it was after 8:00 a.m., and we were scheduled to be picked up for Mass at 9:00 a.m.  I hurriedly brushed my teeth, shaved (using cold water, which is all my sink lines had), and then took yet another cold shower.  (In the heat and humidity of Africa, I’ve reverted to my former showering schedule that I had for all the years when I lived in the heat and humidity of southeast Louisiana.)  For some reason it’s not as unpleasant for me to take a cold shower in the morning as it is in the evening, and this morning’s shower wasn’t too bad at all.  Since I can’t use my hair dryer here in Africa (and my close friends and family know what a “sacrifice” that is for me), getting dressed and coiffed is less time-consuming, but after I was dressed I still had to save the work on my journal and shut down my computer, unplug the converter and adapter plug, and re-pack the computer and its appurtenances, my portable cellphone charger and charging cord, my iPhone’s charging cord, and my electric toothbrush and charger.  Then I had to finish re-organizing the stuff in my bags, some of which I had done the night before after I had arrived for the night at the hotel.  I needed to put in my carry-on bag to take with me the remaining soccer balls and inflators I had for the kids at the orphanage, the remaining rosaries of Alice Smith’s that I had, many of which were destined for many people at the diocese, and my computer and appurtenant stuff, which I hoped to be able to use at some point during the day to send another journal report by e-mail at Fr. Mathew’s office sometime during the day.  At Fr. Matthew’s office.  (Little did I know at the time that the opportunity to do that would never arise today.)

At 9:03 a.m. I went to the lobby of the hotel and saw Jay, who told me that Fr. John had just left with a carload of people, and would be back as soon as he dropped them off at the diocese.  Anthony came into the lobby a short time later and filled me in on what had happened with them the day before, some of which I reported with yesterday’s journal.  Anthony also told me that, regrettably, they were unable to buy any auto parts while they were in Mwanza yesterday, because the auto parts stores closed early on Saturday and were closed by the time they ran their other errands, which included recovering two missing bags from the airport and picking up some welders’ helmets.  However, thanks be to God, one of the bags they recovered at Mwanza airport included the one that hadn’t made it to Dar es Salaam when we arrived there last Wednesday afternoon, and it had the religious articles destined for the diocese, including some ciboria, some chalices and a beautiful monstrance.

About 9:30 a.m. Fr. John returned to take Jay, Anthony and me to the diocese, and when we got there it was close to 10:00 a.m., which was when the Mass to be celebrated by Bishop Flavian was scheduled to start.  Fr. John led us to the cathedral, and I asked him if we could get close to the front.  (I’ve always been a front-row guy.)  He led us in, approached a gentleman apparently acting as an usher, and asked the gentleman to escort us close to the front.  There was already a large gathering of people in the church, and the choir and an organist were performing some of the most beautiful, joyful and spiritually uplifting music I’ve ever heard anywhere, much less at a Mass.  The usher began to direct us to a row of pews several rows from the front and off to the side, and then I spotted an almost empty pew in the second row just off the center aisle, which was occupied by only two nuns sitting next to the center aisle.  I asked Fr. John if we could sit there, and before he could respond I just headed there.  The usher began to protest, but Fr. John said something to him, and he relented.  In the front-row pew sat several beautiful children, 11 of which were girls and one of which was a boy, and they all had on matching outfits of white tee-shirts and yellow skirts, except for the boy, who had on yellow below-the-knee shorts.  I estimated their ages to be between 7 and 10.  Behind us were a number of people in white albs.  Being “mzungus (sp?),” i.e., white people, we drew a lot of attention and curiosity from many around us.  Across the center aisle from us was the choir, all of whose members were in matching green outfits, the women in dresses and the men in matching shirts.  The choir director was immediately in front of the front pew on that side of the aisle, and the organ was in a pew a few rows back from the front.

Promptly at 10:00 a.m. a gentleman clad in an outfit of black, well pressed shirt and pants came up to the ambo on the large dais and began speaking in Swahili, so we didn’t know what he was saying, but since it was promptly 10:00 a.m., I presumed that the Mass was commencing.  (Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had again failed to take into account “African time.”)  Then the choir began singing beautifully again, accompanied by the organist, and people started marching up the center aisle and dropping things into a basket at the front of the aisle and then shaking hands with and otherwise greeting a nun that attended the basket.  I thought that it was interesting to see what I thought was a collection being taken at the start of the Mass, and our group all decided to join the collection procession.  So we marched down a side aisle to the back of the center aisle and proceed up the center aisle at the rear of the procession.  As we dropped our Tanzanian shilling bills into the basket and shook hands with the nun, we noticed that in addition to money, there were other articles that had been dropped into the basket as donations.  When we went back to our seats we suddenly noticed that the cathedral was emptying.  Then we realized that we had entered the cathedral near the end of the 8:00 a.m. Mass, and that the “10:00 a.m.” Mass had yet to begin.

I could write pages and pages about the Mass that Bishop Flavian celebrated, but I’ll instead try to describe only an overview.  First, I have to say that it was one of the most, if not THE most, beautiful, joyful, and spiritually uplifting Masses in which I have ever participated, even with the language barrier.  Among several other priests, Fr. Tom (of the dinner with the bishop the night before) and our Fr. John and concelebrated the Mass.  The choir and organist performed many songs of worship, and they were so beautiful and joyful that I was frequently in tears listening to them and watching them dance in unison in their pews.  I started video-recording them and then other portions of the Mass with my iPhone, and by the time the Mass was over, I must have had two hours of videos.  (My iPhone battery, which had been completely charged at the start of the Mass was almost completely drained by the conclusion of the Mass.  The beautiful little children in white and yellow who had been sitting in front of us at the end of the prior Mass marched up the center aisle at the beginning of the Mass, smiling, singing and dancing in perfect unison and then marched left across the front of our section of pews and took seats in a pew directly across the side aisle from us.  I didn’t time it, but Bishop Flavian’s homily was very long, yet the time didn’t drag at all for me.  (I suspect that many American Catholics at an American Catholic Mass would have been fit to be tied with such a lengthy homily.)  While I couldn’t understand most of what the bishop said in Swahili, it was clear to me that it was a very spiritual and loving homily.  At one point early in his homily Bishop Flavian spoke specifically to our group in English, telling us that in addition to the Mass, the Bishop would mandate a number of new extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and that they would also celebrate the 50th anniversary of a beloved nun, Sr. Antonita.

After the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist had been celebrated, Bishop Flavian called up the new E.M.s, and approximately 50 people came up to the front of the sanctuary dressed in white albs or nuns’ habits in the case of several nuns.  After the many new E.M.s were mandated, the bishop, with Fr. John’s participation, called our group up to the front of the sanctuary, and Fr. John spoke to the congregation about us and our purpose in being there and asked us to introduce ourselves to the congregation.  When I introduced myself and then spoke my version of “thank you for having us” in Swahili, everyone broke up in laughter and applause.  Then Fr. John talked at some length to us in English about the length of the Mass (by the time everything was over, we had been there for more than three hours) and the fact that it was not the Lord’s hour but the Lord’s Day, and that proper celebration of the Mass shouldn’t be circumscribed by the time that passes on the clock.  It was a point well made and well taken by us.

After the bishop had recognized us, he asked up a representative of the Geita Gold Mine, which is a large sponsor and supporter of the Diocese’s orphanage, to come up and be recognized.

Then came the recognition and celebration of Sr. Antonita’s 50th anniversary as a nun.  That was an amazing celebration that went on for at least a half-hour, with much singing by the choir and music by the organ and another instrument that I can only describe as a combination of a washboard and a tambourine.  Most of the congregation came forward up the main aisle and dropped donations into baskets, which ushers kept replacing, and greeting Sr. Antonita with handshakes, hugs and kisses.  We joined in that parade as well, and by that time we were making our fourth donation to collections taken up during that Mass, not including the donation we had made during the prior Mass.  (I was almost out of cash.)  During the celebration of Sr. Antonita’s celebration, Fr. Tom, in a jubilant manner, came down from the sanctuary, took the washboard/tambourine instrument from the musician who had been playing it, and began shaking it over his head and dancing next to Sr. Antonita at the front of the main aisle.

Finally, the bishop invited us and all the other groups separately up to the sanctuary for photos with him.

By the time the Mass was over, we had been there for three and a half hours, including the time we had spent at the end of the 8:00 a.m. Mass.  Then we left the church and headed over to a pavilion, where the diocese’s personnel had set up a table in the middle of the pavilion and arranged chairs in rows perpendicular to the table.  The bishop and some other priests were already sitting behind the table, and we were shown to the front row of chairs immediately to the left of the table.  Next to us and behind us were mostly religious, including Father Tom who sat directly behind me.  Fr. John asked us to go get the gifts we had brought for the diocese, and as we went across the road to fetch them, it began to rain.  (Mabula strikes again!)  I ran to get my duffel bag containing Alice Smith’s rosaries, and someone fetched the newly recovered bag with the religious articles for the bishop.  Women from the diocese dressed in beautiful and colorful dresses and nuns in their habits began serving drinks to the bishop and the other priests at the table and then to us.  They offered us water, soft drinks, red wine, pieces of a cake made to celebrate Sr. Antonita’s 50th anniversary and, later, champagne.  The rain became a torrential downpour, but we were dry under the roof of the pavilion.  Fr. John told us to go ahead and present our gifts to the bishop.

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I selected several very nice rosaries in cases and stacked them up to give to the bishop.  I also presented the bishop with a very large rosary with wooden beads the size of cumquats and a large wooden cross with a metal sculpture of the corpus of Christ attached to it.  I told the bishop that the rosaries had been provided by 94-year-old Alice Smith of Loveland, Colorado.  Then, with Fr. John introducing the religious articles, we presented to the bishop in a group the beautiful monstrance, chalices and ciboria.  When I went back to my seat I began handing out more of Alice’s rosaries to the religious sitting on our side of the pavilion.  Those instantly became a hit, and I ended up handing out rosaries to everyone on our side of the pavilion.  Then I took my duffel bag to the other side where I was literally mobbed by the crowd of lay parishioners on that side of the pavilion.  I finally had to break away from that crowd and return to our side of the pavilion.

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Then, after two vans had driven up to pavilion and staff members of the diocese began setting up large amounts of food, there began another celebration of Sr. Antonita’s 50th anniversary.  Much dancing, singing and taking up another collection for her occurred.  Then with buffet lines set up at one side of the pavilion and across the table where the bishop and other priests sat, the food was finally ready.  It was about 3:45 p.m.

Finally, at about 5:00 p.m. the “lunch” ended.  Bishop Flavian asked if we were ready to go see the orphanage, and we readily said yes.  We took two cars, one of which, Fr. Matthew’s Ford Explorer, I was allowed to drive.  The orphanage is located on the campus of the diocese, and it houses 102 children and older persons.  The youngest, Victor is two, and the oldest is 28.  When we arrived at the driveway to the orphanage, we could see and hear the children singing and dancing with happiness at our arrival.  We parked the cars and got out, and I joined in the dancing.  Eventually the kids were quieted, and we spent time with them taking group pictures and talking to them as a group.   Bishop Flavian told the kids, who were extremely well behaved, who we were and why we were there.  As usual, we had to introduce ourselves, with me including my now usual best-attempt-at-Swahili greeting, which drew laughter and applause from the kids and smiles from the adult caretakers.  We then gave them four soccer balls and a couple inflators and handed out candy to all of them.  Then we took a tour of the orphanage, while the kids said their evening prayers, with the two youngest, Isaac and Victor, following us around eating their candy.  The dormitories and all the grounds were very well kept and well maintained.  They grow corn and cabbage there and have three ponds in which they keep and breed tilapia.  All the kids are taught to help with the farming.  The bishop answered all our questions candidly and patiently and gave us a lot of information about the running of the orphanage and stories of how some of the “kids” had gotten there.  It was clear that he personally cares deeply for all the kids there.  At about 7:30 p.m., we finally said goodbye to the kids and the caretakers and went back to the bishop’s house for dinner.

Dinner with the bishop was again a very nice affair, but we were all, including the bishop, I believe, worn out from all the activities of the day, and by 9:30 p.m. we said goodnight and headed to our hotel.  I took another cold shower, inspected a couple mosquito bites I had gotten at the orphanage, one on the back of my right hand and the other on the inside of my left wrist, and hoped that nothing would develop because of them.  By 10:45 p.m. I was in bed and shortly after that fast asleep.

Salty

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