Emmitsburg Council of Churches

A Pilgrimage and Prophecies

Father John J. Lombardi

Recently a group of sixteen Americans went on mission to South Africa and Tanzania, and experienced some joyful, sorrowful-and prophetic things. The purpose of the Pilgrimage was "Three S's"-spiritual, service and safari (in that order, even though it was all fun-and spiritual!). Anyway, while listening to this Sunday's Gospel (Lk 12:49-53), Our Lord Jesus Christ is pictured like Jeremiah

(600 before Christ) in the Old Testament, as prophetic, and I began to think of the prophetic nature of our encounter-pilgrimage; hopefully these reflections can help you.

  1. Joy: We Americans-though Tanzanians often described as "the most powerful country in the world, the richest"-- can sometimes be without joy-even though we have so much. A friends' prescient response to "the powerful and rich" comment was: "Yes-they don't understand what all that brings." And it is not always good. So often the teens among us (nine of them) remarked how infectious and consistent were the greetings, embraces, hospitality and rampant joy of the Tanzanians-they seemed to be always greeting and cheering us on. One choir group sponsoring a party for us even provided a barbecued goat-something only done for special occasions (and we were strangers) along with some wine and respectful dancing-I didn't think I'd be doing this on pilgrimage!). Often children would greet us on the road or while walking the streets with exuberant smiles or by raising both their hands to wave and welcome us--even though they barely had shoes on their feet or food to eat-always, the smiles and radiating joy. A phrase used often by our housekeeper cook (known as "Mama") was: "No problem"-she said it in an enchanting sing-songy voice. You believed what she said because of both her smile and her affection. That became a minor theme of our pilgrimage-"accuna matata"=no problem: problems aren't all their cracked up to be-don't take them all so seriously. Point: in our preoccupation with, and pursuit of, possessions, we have sometimes lost our way. The Tanzanians and Africans showed us prophetically how captive we are to materialism and, oppositely, how uncaptivated by joy we are.
  2. Indivdiualism or Socialism?: We were in constant amazement-and entertainment-by the ceaseless life of the streets, marketplaces and culture. We loved seeing people on the roadways talking, sometimes dancing, selling merchandise, greeting us, making pottery, playing music, burning maize (corn), and so much else ad infinitum: the social nature of Tanzania/Africa was just amazing, glittering and mesmerizing, so unlike America where we can be stuck inside our houses or offices-- and allegedly comfortable. Our lives can become individualistic and atmonized, in a kinda "solo life" by computerization, videoization and slavism to technology and possessions. While over there, we especially liked taking walks on the streets for the sheer joy of seeing and experiencing the social, interacting joy of Tanzania -whether in the country or the city-and greeting people along the way as happened often. One time in Pretoria, S. Africa, we took a lunch-break walk after serving in Mother Teresa's orphanage. As we walked around, neighborhood children began following us, talking and playing with us. Soon: a dozen children became our friends, and then we even held foot races and, later a football-soccer game. We got to know the neighborhood and friends in it because that is their life-social, communal and beautiful. It was both enthralling and revealing to us of what life can be when we become more interacting. We realized how drained, de-spirited and separated we had become by our individualistic lifestyles… How about you?
  3. Pace: "Pulle, pulle," was an enticing Tanzanian "mantra" of our trip-first from the native Tanzanians and then amongst ourselves as we learned to "slow down, slowdown." Whether it was meeting appointments, serving others, eating meals or speaking-Tanzania helped us to learn that fast, speedier and manic-ness is not always better. Lucas, one of our guides and drivers, who was quintessentially Tanzanian-bright smile, warm, humorous and paced-once wore a T-shirt, which read, "Don't hurry you're in Africa." On the last day of our pilgrimage Joey, one of our teens, bought a shirt with the same logo--he was converted-hopefully like us all…How can you slow down, relax more in life?
  4. Purity: Though I wasn't explicitly looking, not once during my seventeen days away did I see any street pornography or un-beautiful dress in those African lands. There was beauty without immodesty-and we can learn lots and lots from this cultural construct.
  5. Who was teaching who? We Americans went over for mission-to especially serve the poor and also to teach. What we found out was that they, all the Tanzanians, were teachers as much as we were, in that we realized thru their exuberance, love, joy and outgoingness how poor and indeed we, in fact, were.
  6. Secualrism or Spiritualism?: One of my favorite things about this whole blessed, magical Pilgrimage was the interpenetration of spirituality with everyday life-the pictures of Jesus and Mary prominent around the cites and homes; the icons and personal decor of individuals, the respect for the Catholic Church there, and also-so refreshing, when two Catholics or Christians meet, the greeting goes: Tomsayfu Iesu Christu-which means praised be Jesus Christ; and the subsequent response is: Millele amina-both now and forever. This was a common greeting even though it took me a few days to get the right pronunciation. Anyway: this took place infinitely as we walked the streets and greeted perfect strangers. I was glad I was visiting their spiritual country.
  7. Humility: One of our drivers during our Safari (more on that next week) was Lawrence. He was kinda quiet but, one time we were taking a group picture and he came up to me, held my hand upon his head, kneeled in front of me and kept my hand on his head during the picture. I wondered what this meant. After that I started to give him a blessing and he did the same thing-and I knew he wanted the blessing, needed it. It was prophetic for him to show me, a man, that it is not bad for a man to want, need and ask another, for God and help, even without words.
  8. Inculturation: We all learned, via the "Culture Question", that:
    • While we love American culture it is not the only culture;
    • We loved the Tanzanian culture with all it's newness, differentness and exoticness;
    • It was good for us Americans to "get out and learn new cultures" and realize both the good and bad of one's own. Perhaps many hadn't heard Gospel or African spiritual music before or even kept separate from it.

    A feeling we all had, hands down: couldn't get enough of their spiritual singing. Our second night the parish priest of the Cathedral in Pretoria gave us a treat: the choir was practicing and we went and listened and heard three songs. They wowed us over immediately as the volume, beauty and swaying-ethereal, wafting African voices and soulful tones echoed thru and penetrated our souls. It was, as we agreed, "soul music," but in a way different from what we've ever heard. We learned thru these experiences that "different" needn't always mean threatening; or that one Western expression is not always absolute or best; and that variety is the spice of life. And: it's one thing to listen to and watch a choir, and it's absolutely another to physically be in the center of a choir while they're singing, as a few of us were privileged to be as they invited us-even though we couldn't sway and gently dance as they did!

  9. Is Tanzania perfect? No. Are there sinners there? Of course. Is the culture perfect? No. But we pilgrims learned how beautiful, enchanting and Christ-centered so many people can be, how starving we can grow without knowing it, and how attractive, enveloping and infective it is to all of us who have the privilege to visit and pilgrimage.

While we had the privilege to safari in the Serengeti plains-and see thousands of wild animals-almost beyond belief, a universal sentiment of us returning pilgrims was: we were glad to get back to the city and the Spiritan House where Fr Minushi and Sr. Angelina were our hosts, where we had home cooking and there was a hospitable, warm feeling, and where, in Arusha, the town we were staying in, we missed seeing all the smiling faces and especially the children, while away on safari. This was a lesson: you can have it all-a world famous game park and reserve-- and still be missing the best thing-God's people-especially those we grew to love in so short a time. The Faith, piety, participation at Masses with singing, bowing and silence-were all inspirations to us, and surprises too, as we get stereotypes stuck in our heads. The Tanzanian Catholic and Christian Faith helped us to love our Religion more and Our Lord and Savior, and also the people we were serving, as the locals taught us it is not how much we own or possess, but how much we love God and one another! Next week --Part II. Out of Africa.

Prophets, more specifically -

What do Pope John Paul II, Gandhi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Martin Luther King all have in common? They were all prophetic in their unique ways-Pope John Paul against rabid, unbridled capitalism which sometimes promotes endless materialism; Mother Teresa against forgetfulness of the poor and unborn; King and Gandhi against racism. Jesus says He has come not to bring peace but division. Sometimes true, deeper peace can only come when there is "division"-like when you gut a house which is in need of big repair; when a doctor gives you tough medicine to cure an ailment; when you undergo pain for gain. When we hear of houses and families divided amongst themselves as in this Gospel, we may, too, think of the American Civil War when so many families were disunited. In this Sunday's Gospel Jesus says, "I have come not to bring peace but division." Why did they kill Jesus? Because He was more for the poor than the privileged; because He spread the Good News of Universal love of God; because He demanded perfection and purification and not just lukewarmness. Why was Jesus killed? Because He revealed man's true meaning and also his weaknesses, and the many ways religion is used, misused by mankind. Christ is not a warm fuzzy God of our own wants and needs; but is both loving and challenging. So let Him cause upset so as to bring true, deeper Peace.

Some comments may have been made recently: Communion on the tongue is a universal way of receiving Eucharist in our Catholic Church, and receiving Communion in the hand is allowed too. No one way is holier than another. However, when we receive Our Lord Jesus Christ we should be both reverent and loving. Any comments made that one way or another is holier should be challenged and lovingly corrected. Also: before receiving Communion you are called to bow to the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion as the person in front of you receives. Additionally, differently: the Catholic Church does not, nor cannot sponsor any political candidate for legislative office, no matter who they are. Also: the Divine Lord God blesses us because He is God and we need to rely on and ask for these blessings from Him. Put simply: God is God and I am not.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi