Fr. Evans was ordained on June 29 in Italy, and after the first Masses with his ordination companions, he traveled to his home in Kisii, Kenya in order to celebrate his first Mass there before he could leave for his new destination in our mission in Tanzania. It was a great desire of Fr. Evans that some of the IVE priests accompany him on this occasion, especially some of his superiors. He wanted to do everything possible, but the vast distance between Kenya and Italy made it difficult to organize the trip.
But Divine Providence arranged things in such a way that at least two of us priests could go to Kisii and accompany Fr. Evans in his first mass. By the grace of God, my brother, Fr. Marcelo, at the end of his three years as Provincial Superior in Italy, was able to plan for a visit to our mission for three weeks before going to his new destination. And certainly it was a very pleasant surprise when we saw that his return ticket was dated two days after the first Mass of Fr. Evans … and the flight made a stopover in Nairobi (capital of Kenya).
Everything was arranged: after two weeks of Fr.Marcelo’s visit to the Ushetu mission, we traveled by land to Kisii (Kenya), participated in the first mass of Fr. Evans, and the next day we traveled to Nairobi from where Fr. Marcelo took the flight back to Italy.
And Providence thought of even the smallest details … we had a trip with many adventures and anecdotes. We made the journey by several means of transport … as varied as surprising. We traveled from Ushetu in our van to the city of Mwanza and it took us 6 hours. There we rested and looked for a bus to go to Kisii. There was no direct bus – we needed to go to the border, do the paperwork, cross over and find out what is on the other side.
The adventure began … we were going towards “the realm of the unknown” … beginning with the language: I can barely understand and express a few words in Swahili. And my brother was only a visitor and he knew nothing of Swahili. Neither of us has had much experience traveling in Africa since this is the first time that we are in Africa … and the first time that we had left Tanzania. There’s always a first time.
The bus that took us to the border was to leave us in the city of Sirari. It was a fairly normal bus, a kind to which we are accustomed to in Argentina (not like a sleeper, but overall very comfortable, clean and new). The trip was not long, about three hours or so. Three hours of loud music … modern music of this area, which is a sort of “African cumbia”. One gets used to it, that is, it becomes like a background noise. The landscape was beautiful, because we were passing by the Serengeti National Park. We were very attentive to see if we could spot some animals, such as elephants or giraffes … this national park does not have closed perimeters (it spreads over 40,000 sq. km. … imagine fencing all that) and often the animals are said to prowl nearby. No luck for us, but the scenery delighted us anyway … and as we were going to the north, it was getting greener.
Our first surprise began when the bus stopped in a city and many people began to get off. We asked some of those who were left on the bus: “Is this is the city of Sirari?” “No”, they answered, “this is Tarime”. Well then, we remained in our seats. A few minutes later the driver of the vehicle came up to tell us that the trip was finished and that we were to go on a combi (mini bus for 12 people).
The mini bus left a lot to be desired. As an “attention”, because we were foreigners, and also since the driver was an evangelist, he said: “No, the ‘servants of God’ should move forward”. “Well”, we thought, “how attentive!”. The matter was that the distance from Tarime to Sirai was about 15 km or so, and at times we were going at 140 km per hour! It was the closest thing to the feeling you get on a roller coaster … pure adrenaline. And “the servants of God” were in the front row!
We arrived at Sirari … we took a deep breath when the vehicle stopped. But on getting off, we had another surprise. There was, as usual, a lot of men offering taxi service. Upon seeing the two “mzungu” (white men) who got down, they come directly to us (tourists are known for having money … and well, that draws attention, incidentally). Two of them were fighting over my bag and the bag of Marcelo. We recovered the bag of Marcelo, and we got one of the two who was grabbing my backpack to let go of it before making a Solomonic division of it – one half for each … that is, not for anyone.
The means of transport to the immigration office was “motorcycle taxi”. We jumped onto the bikes … for a short ride. While we were traveling, I thought about the sequence we had had: bus, mini-bus, bike … what was left for us was to go on bicycles. Thank God, the descending scale did not go further.
We passed through immigration without any difficulty. And we were in Kenya … what was next? We had to find transportation to Kisii. We asked around and were told they only had … mini bus! But one seat for each person was not available … no sir. That would be luxury transportation. We piled into a dilapidated van… which had seats for 15 people, but was carrying 21, one more for each row; there were also bags, including two bags of 50 kg of corn, occupying two seats. We traveled for three hours … and I was reminded of Fr. Castellani’s fable “el colectivo”.
At last, we were getting close to Kisii, and that would be the end of our torture. We had thought that Kisii was a small town, and that when we got off, we could ask for Catholic church or for Fr. Evans, and that everyone would be able to tell us. We learned that it was a city of 500,000 people … it was not a village. We asked for the cathedral … and they dropped us at the door. We breathed easy … especially since we went out of the crowded mini-bus. We entered the church and were received very kindly by the priests there; they told us that that was not the cathedral, but that it was close by … At that moment, a priest arrived, who was from the Cathedral; he knew about the Mass the next day, and he knew Fr. Evans. Thank God, everything was simplified.
After dining at the Cathedral with Fr. Evans and the priests who worked there, the priest who had helped us left to help Fr. Evans’ family with the arrangements. The next day we went in convoy with three cars and in one of them was the new priest. Upon arrival at the church to which his parents belonged, there was a group of men and women waiting for us on the road.
They began to sing festive songs, and were waving branches. The men carried Fr. Evans on their shoulders and brought him to a park next to the church where everything was ready for Mass. There was a large number of people; they were singing, shouting, dancing, waving branches, applauding, whistling … there was indescribable joy. These people are very happy by nature… we had witnessed this in Tanzania, and now we saw the same in Kenya. Fr. Evans was tossed up in the air twice, and was then taken to the church to be vested.
It should be said that everything was very well prepared for the Mass. As there were so many people, there was not enough room in the Church, and so they had set up large tents outside. There was a huge and lively choir. The children danced in the Mass, so did the youth and the women. There were many songs … and lots of rhythm: it’s in their blood. Six priests concelebrated in total – several of them were diocesan priests. The Mass takes its own special time because of the processions that take all the time in the world … the lectionary procession, offertory procession, offerings after communion, etc. A peculiar thing is that it is a tradition for them to have performances at the end of the Mass: dances of the various groups, singing in different choirs, and recitations. What would be ‘fogon’ for us after lunch, happens here before going to eat. There was a large number of gifts, and also discourses: everyone came up, as they were named, to give their gift and to greet the new priest. Meanwhile, the choir was singing, and those who came up, came dancing. It was a very joyful gathering.
Before leaving, Fr. Evans said a few words of thanksgiving, in which he especially thanked God, his parents, his relatives, his teachers at the seminary, the priests of his parish, and all those present.
Once again, before he departed, Father was carried aloft everywhere amid the joy of all. It was a total of five hours since the beginning of the Mass until the end of the celebrations. It was already 4 pm and everyone was getting hungry, and those who spoke last said: “we will be brief, because lunch is waiting for us”. They were not always brief, anyway.
From there, we went to lunch. It is a tradition to invite everyone to lunch. And “everyone” literally means “everyone”. It was an awesome feast. The home of Fr. Evans’s family is 100 meters from the church, so that in a few minutes, we were enjoying a well-deserved lunch.
It should be noted that Fr. Evans is already the third African priest of the Congregation. It is a great grace. These priests are the result of the work of our missionaries who sacrificed themselves in such difficult missions as in Sudan and Kenya. They have not seen these fruits that we can see now. And Fr. Evans will be the third priest for the mission in Tanzania, along with Fr. Johntin (originally from Uganda), and myself. We can say that in order to carry out our mission in Africa, we can count on African priests themselves, which is a great grace, a great help, and very advantageous for the apostolate.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the IVE priests who started these missions; they plowed the land with so much sacrifice, watered it with sweat and tears, which has allowed us to harvest so much fruit today. Thank you! We will always pray for you, and you will always be an example, especially in times of difficulties.
Finally, we ask you to pray for this new priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word and for our mission in Ushetu. And please pray for all the missionaries in this land, who continue to work as we have been taught … and may we also know how to bring forth many holy vocations through prayer, work, and example.
Firm in the battlefront!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE.
PS: I am not writing about the adventure of the return journey … but we can say it was something similar … and I leave it to your imagination, if you supplement with punctures, delays, lost bus connections, finding where to sleep in an unfamiliar city … well, adventures … which I can tell you now, being tranquil in the peaceful Ushetu.