Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Out of Africa:
A Pilgrimage Reflection, Part 2

Father John J. Lombardi

An elephant appearing at the front of our hotel-lodge entrance. Meeting a Masai warrior young man visiting his dad in the hospital, dressed in his bright robes and ebullient jewelry, humbly smiling for a photo-op with us pilgrim-Americans. Listening intensely to choirs at Mass singing in swaying Swahili, wishing it would never end. Dancing African style, with our hosts at a party held in our honor, after eating a roasted goat served only for special occasions. Always, the ever present, hand waving Tanzanians-children especially-greeting us with smiles miles wide, "Jambo (greetings)"-even running after us while we were in our bus or walking on the streets.

I once met a parishioner years ago who often talked of her Peace Corps service in Africa. On and on she would speak of her time there and of her longing to return. Underneath my breath I would think, something like, dreaming of Italy or Palestine, or, "Pass the salt," not understanding what she meant, or dreamt. Now I do.

Sixteen of us pilgrims went from the states to Africa and we "were bit" by the "Africa thing".

We discovered simple people, suffering and joyful people, and, of course, lots of wild animals, "all creatures great and small". In South Africa we served at Mother Teresa's Homes for orphans, the sick and handicapped, and AIDS victims. In a surprise visit a priest arranged for us to hear our first African choir sing and we were beholden to their melodies and soothing music sonorously grip our very being and bones. We then traveled to Tanzania and served in various places, took a safari, and served and visited more and more. All the while God was revealing to us His creations, sometimes suffering, other times joyful, in landscapes and new people-scrapes of towns with brightly clad folks-seemingly always wanting to greet and meet us. Jambo-greetings we would hear and would respond: a constant revelation and ecstasy - such was our pilgrimage.

Now we are back in our native lands, following our homespun ways. Did it ever happen, I sometimes think? Was it a dream? What about some lessons about being back? We are no longer there, but here, and this is where we are supposed to be. Nostalgia is lived by those who keep wanting to go back, and yet cannot--ever. Alternatively, genuine wisdom, as this Sunday's First Reading in Sirach calls for (3:17ff), is for those who use memories to impel themselves more deeply into the present and realize what God is calling us to now, by using past lessons in the present.

Now, I think of "Five S's of Ongoing Pilgrimage" as touchstones of Lessons of Memory for us all …

S.O.S=Sense of Service: we met persons with AIDS, handicaps, street children, sick in the hospitals, all kinds of Jesus in distressing disguises. One time a street lady came crying to us at our home as were going off to serve, and unwittingly "stopped us in our tracks": here was need right under our "noses" as we prepared to serve others. And a pilgrim came and comforted her, gave her embraces, and water and food, too. We met Jesus there in all kinds of folks like this, and, now, it is time to meet Him here where and when we can. Will you-in our hospitals, nursing homes, soup kitchens?

Simplicity: many, most of the people we met were poor, without many possessions, and, yet: the revelations, the greetings, the hospitality. They were not constrained by their "containers"-their possessions, for they had few, but, rather, actually, seemingly, they seemed to leap out of them, their few "containers," because they realized that people, not possessions, were the language and treasure and meaning of life. One boy at an orphanage showed us his only possessions-kept in a small locker the size of our suitcases, pointing to the label with his name on it That was all he owned, yet he was proud he had come so far, with so little. Perhaps you have realized that it is not how much we own but how much He--Jesus, owns us…Now, what can you let go of, be un-constrained by, to find Jesus in others, as so many of the Africans did?

Serenity-joy: So many of us pilgrims mentioned how affected we were by the serenity of the Africans: the constant joy ebulliently eschewing from them no matter how little they had. Even those children of St Francis of Assisi orphanage near Kilimanjaro, many who could not normally speak or hear, sang songs and greeted us with revelry and love…How can you spread the joy where you are, now and here?

Solidarity: One of our pilgrims, upon hearing the plight of a Spiritan priest who could barely pay for his medical treatments, instantly gave me a hundred bucks on the spot to help the priest. This was instant solidarity, and inspiration, too, for both of us priests! We pilgrims vowed to help Dr. Kwai, who valorously runs St. Elizabeth Hospital in Arusha, with so little, and yet so many waiting for help. We saw people waiting for eye appointments, tests, entrance to the hallowed halls of this state of the art medical institution yet was seemingly spartan by our standards. We vowed to help him with his greatest need: an ambulance. Let us not fail!

Savior: As Shannon, one of our young pilgrims said, He, Christ-the Savior, was what united us Americans and Africans: He was the common vocabulary and that bridged the gap of our bare Swahili. We did learn-hopefully!---the common saying of Tanzanians, on the streets, Tomsayfu Iesus Christu: Millele amina= Praised be Jesus Christ: Both now and forever!

Africa is still melodically going thru my head, the sing-songy phrases we learned and heard so much--I still remember the phrases: Haccuna motata--no problem; Karibou-welcome-; pole, pole-slow down, slow down: all flowing melodies in swirling Swahili which pacified us, got us into an African mindset.

Now, friends, think of the irony: sometimes they, many of the poor, wanted what we had-money or ambulances or possessions, and, alternatively, we wanted what they had: joy. So, you see, it is an exchange of goods, a Holy Communion: the pilgrimage never ends. Jambo!

*********************Briefly Noted**************

Mother Teresa: Many have recently commented on this saint's spirituality and recent revelations thru her diaries of her reports of the loss of perception of the God in her life. Some accuse her doubting God and so forth; others say she is therefore not worthy of saintliness, etc. Actually, see the excellent article in The New York Times-Aug 29, by Fr James Martin, SJ, "A Saint's Dark Night," where Fr Martin says that Mother Teresa's experience of the absence of God's presence in her life-for decades-is not only not new amongst saints but is, contrarily, insightful-and inspirational-- for all, and helpful to us, too, because, in fact, most of us experience similar feelings at some point in life-a loss of the felt absence of God; and also that we are in darkness and trials that make God seem far away (as Jesus perhaps did on the Cross). Be not afraid. Know that saints, even though having this feeling and experience-still chose to be faithful, to love the Lord with all their hearts and souls, and also, esp like Mother Teresa, to serve Jesus in the poorest of the poor. Now, with such challenges, that's a saint-precisely the example we need: human but also heroic!

In Today's Gospel (Lk 14:1-14) Jesus call us to humility by taking the lower seat at a table and also by inviting people we do not normally associate with. What is humility? It is allowing someone else to have some better food than we do. It is thinking: It's about Jesus, not about me. Humility is doing everything thru Jesus, in Him and With Him instead of selfishly focusing on self-gifts. And Jesus is calling us to invite people to a metaphorical meal--to associate with someone different or in need, unfamiliar, in whatever way-and also He is asking us to invite others to a Metaphysical Meal-a heavenly banquet. So, do you really believe in inviting people to Jesus, to Heaven, or are you embarrassed; doubtful; unconvinced? Do you really love your brother or sister you do not yet know-esp. the poor and unfamiliar--so much that you talk to them about Jesus the One Savior of the World? Do you really believe Jesus is truly Present in the Sacrifice of the Mass?

New challenging book: "The Death of The Grown Up," by Diana West, analyzes the loss of discipline, maturity, and seeming pursuit of perpetual adolescence by Americans. This critic analyzes modernist, commercialist values and questions materialism; embarrassment of Christians for their Faith; adverse affects of culture upon parenthood and families; the neglect of the West to challenging militant Islam, and so forth . Anyway: Catholic-Christians should be counter-cultural, maturate their Faith-following of the Lord and Holy Catholic Church and Be Not Afraid!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi