Mwanza, Tanzania, January 15, 2018
I hope that you are all doing very well. I am writing from Mwanza as Fathers Jaime and Victor and I have come here together, awaiting the arrival of Fr. Carlos Ferrero, IVE, who shall preach the week-long Spiritual Exercises to the priests. Fr. Carlos is a missionary in Cyprus, but also has great experience in the missions of Peru, Sudan, and Kenya, among other places.
My intention is to write a little about the beautiful trip that we were able to make with the parish altar servers. They are many, and we cannot give this reward to all of them, and so, the six boys who had gained the most merit during 2017 were chosen. At the parish center, we have a list of some thirty acolytes. Not all of them attend Mass and the meetings regularly, but a good number of them do. Further, we have to count those who are from other villages. In the parish camp for the altar servers, we had eighty boys, as I told you before.
Those who could go, plus those who made a separate five-day trip for the diocesan youth meeting in the city of Kagongwa, are those who were most faithful in attending Mass, including weekday Masses. That means that they come almost daily, even during vacations, to assist at Mass. On Saturdays they arrive at 5:30am for Eucharistic Adoration, and to wash their albs after Mass, and thus they are able to serve on Sunday or to accompany the priests to the villages. They come very early, they have Adoration and they pray the rosary, and they help at Mass. The majority of them have made their first communion and receive almost daily. They have been a part of the most difficult work over the past year, at the feasts, and above all, in the strenuous days of the pastoral visit of the Bishop, participating in two Masses each day, each of which was more than three hours long.
In short, it is a merited reward. This trip was made possible thanks to the help of some friends in Spain, without whom it would have been impossible. To them, we send our thanks, and the prayers which the children offer for them.
The idea was to pass through the city of Mwanza, and see some of the sites there, ending with a visit to the Serengeti National Park. We tried to do all of this “frugally”, taking food with us, eating fruits, cooking for ourselves, asking for lodging in some parishes, etc . They were very joyful days, where we saw that the boys learned how to travel, switching their seats, without fighting, helping in service and cooking, organizing and cleaning everything… This is not excluding the moments of prayer during the trip, with songs, the Holy Mass, the morning and evening prayers, blessing the food, giving thanks… It is really something very good, this “school of life”. Often it reminded me of the joyful trips with the minor seminarians in San Rafael… glorious times!
A highlight of the time in Mwanza was the “shopping” or mall. It is a new building, and it really awoke the admiration of our boys, who had never before seen an escalator (though they were now out of order) nor an elevator. Evading a bit the guards, we entered by groups of three into a glass elevator. It really seemed as if we were climbing a Russian mountain! The pictures and anecdotes from this place were really quite enjoyable.
In the evening: the pleasure of Lake Victoria! Another unique opportunity… for many of them it was the first time to see so much water, and especially to be able to swim and play. One of the boys, Gerard, the smallest of the group, entered the water when we arrived. He was very unsure about it, but then, for the three hours that we were there, he never got out of the water.
The next day we went to the parish of Mwanangi, where the diocesan pastor received us. He was very generous toward us. He have us a very nice place where the boys could stay, and we had full liberty to cook for ourselves. The first activity was to find a place where they sold fresh fish. This was something else that the boys looked forward to: to eat fresh fish is almost impossible in Ushetu, or better said, it is impossible. Fr. Victor cooked with the boys; their faces so happy. In the evening, the day closed with a trip to the beach in a nearby town. One of the postulants accompanied us, Mikael, to help us with the boys.
Arriving at the beach, just as it had happened in the last trip, a crowd of curious persons, mostly kids, gathered to see what we were doing. Our boys wasted no time in going to the water. The other kids watched, and looked at us, the priests…“Wazungu”.
We decided to drink some mate in Fr. Victor’s car while Mikael played ball on the beach with the boys from the town. Some girls came complaining that the boys would not let them play soccer with them. Luckily we had another ball in the car and gave it to them. You should have seen how happily they went running! They began to play, one game after the other, and in the end they were playing soccer too. It was funny that many girls, quite attentive, responded to the questions that we asked. Some were Catholics, others not, but the majority were ignorant about religious things. We had a little catechesis, and thought about how good it would be to be able to offer them some catechesis between games. We bade them all farewell, with the promise to return on another occasion.
Finally, the day they were most looking forward to had come: the visit to Serengeti Park. It is a marvelous place where one can appreciate the grandeur of Creation, its order and perfection… the generosity of God and His power. We all piled in a truck, accompanied by a guide. By the grace of God, this year we were not swamped (some of you may remember a chronicle from two years ago…).
We were able to see a great number of animals, especially the “tough” ones, such as lions, leopards, crocodiles, etc. It is a joy to have been able to take them, because really, their land is an earthly marvel, which the Tanzanians themselves can never enjoy. It is almost exclusively foreign tourists here, because it is generally expensive. We saw very few locals.
At lunch time, we spread out in the middle of a great number of tables filled with European tourists. It brought me a lot of joy that the boys had this opportunity… and had lived it simply, since lunch consisted in of some crackers, mangoes and bananas.
We were just about to leave when we saw the most admirable animals, including more than thirty giraffe, more than ten lions, but the elephants we couldn’t see close up… We were driving to the park exit and praying a Memorare to the Blessed Virgin that she would grant this little detail to her sons, and not leave them “unaided”… Fifteen kilometers (9mi) from the park exit, we encountered an immense herd of elephants next to the road. There were so many we could not count them. We guessed maybe forty or fifty. They were the last animals we saw.
The next day we began the return trip of more than 10 hours to Ushetu. It goes without saying that the boys were so happy and grateful. We give thanks to God for this merited reward, thanks to all those who by their generosity were instruments of divine goodness toward these boys. Many of them have been altar boys since they were four years old, and many of them desire to be priests and missionaries. I entrust them to your prayers.
God bless you.
Stand firm in the breach!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE