22 August 2023
By: Fr. Diego Cano, IVE. Alexandria, Egypt, July 31, 2023
When the time of the popular missions approaches, everyone begins to ask where they will be held. And I say “everyone”, because it is the priests, the sisters, the religious, the aspirants, and the young people… who want to know where they will be. It reminds me of the time when I was in the seminary at La Finca, and at the end of the year, every time we came to the dining room, we would look at the bulletin board to see if the “list of missions” would appear.
It always produces enthusiasm, because it is about missionary work, days of many sacrifices and generosity, but at the same time they are days of immense joy, deep joy, joy that the world cannot give. Above all, when at the end of these days of grace we see the communities stronger and more joyful, participating in the Mass and the Rosary, and in a special way receiving the sacraments, that is, living the true life of Jesus Christ, the life of grace. The youth of the Voices of the Word (Voces Verbi), for example, wait anxiously every year for the names of those who will participate in the missions. We always choose from among those who have made the most effort during the year, and this year the chosen ones were only ten, especially because we had no more spaces in the vehicles. And the youth who had participated in the last meeting of the Voices of the Word were one hundred and twenty! It is impressive how they like to come on mission with the religious.
This year in the mission in Tanzania there were two popular missions, one in the village of Namba Moja (Number One), and the other in Namba Nane (Number Eight). Funny name, isn’t it? From what I have been able to understand, they have received these names when a tobacco company, between the ’80s or ’90s, arrived in these areas, and since the populations were not established, they began to divide “lots” or “sectors”, giving them a number. It reminds me of what I have seen in the area of our parishes in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, where there are places with names like “Lote 15”, and similar.
These two villages are on the road that leads from Ushetu to the parish of Kangeme. Between the two parishes there is a distance of 20 km and these aleas are located halfway, a little closer to Kangeme, and therefore belong to that parish. The missionaries stayed in Kangeme and Ushetu; the men in Kangeme, and the women in Ushetu. And every day they met very early at the missionary center, to begin with the rosary of the dawn, and after the missionary act and the fogón, each group went to their lodging.
The mission of “Namba Nane” took place in the chapel of St. Joseph, and was preached by Fr. Francisco Rossi, together with 24 missionaries. The chapel of “Namba Moja” has St. Anthony of Padua as its patron, and was preached by Fr. Pablo Folz, also accompanied by a group of 24 missionaries, men and women.
The mission of Namba Moja had to endure a more worldly environment, if I may say, that surrounded them, because our church is near a small center, where there is electricity, and therefore they play loud music all day long. That’s why they had to play religious music in the mission to be at peace and to avoid the noise. The mission was a little hard at the beginning, perhaps three or four days in which almost no adults attended the missionary act in the afternoon. But the number grew day by day, and at the end of the mission, the fruits were seen, with the whole community working and with much joy. Some people told the missionaries on the last day that “the church was full, and we had never seen it like this”.
At the closing mass, three marriages took place. In one of them, he is an elementary school teacher, and he was not even baptized. So he prepared himself and was able to receive the sacraments at the closing of the mission. He already had religious training, and knew something of the faith, because of his wife and because he was sympathetic to our church. Being a school teacher, he is a person of some authority in the village, and this made everyone there happy to see him receive the sacraments and join the Catholic Church. Also in this mission, a handicapped girl, about two or three years old, received baptism and confirmation. Her parents were pagans, but they left her with her grandmother, and she, being a practicing Catholic, and a very good one, took her granddaughter to receive the sacraments.
The religious, together with the youth of the Voces del Verbo, were giving the “doctrinal talks” and the debates, with very good preparation. Some youth have already participated in several missions, and they are taking the spirit, walking and working hard. Some days they have walked more than ten kilometers to and from different places.
The missionaries told me that they had encountered incredible cases. On one occasion, they arrived at a house, where all were pagans, and a neighbor, who was a Muslim, was there visiting. The missionaries spoke with the man of the house and offered to bless the house, and invited them to the mission. With some reluctance, he let them do the blessing, and when they began to say goodbye, the neighbor who was there began to insist to the sister and the missionaries that they go to his house, which was nearby. He insisted that the family would be very happy, because he had two wives, and both were Catholics. His family “prays”, goes to church, except for him. When they arrived at the house, they found a lot of children, and he insistently asked for his house to be blessed, and for his children to be blessed. He was very happy, so the missionaries asked him why he did not come to church, why he did not become a Catholic… and he answered: “I have two wives”. But anyway, the missionaries urged him to come, and little by little God would show him how to fix his situation.
In this mission, 22 infant baptisms, 6 confirmations, 7 first communions, and three marriages were administered.
Let us say something about the mission in Namba Nane. It is a smaller center, with less business, and at the same time the church is more remote. But that does not mean that there are fewer people, on the contrary. For this reason, the atmosphere was much calmer. The missionaries said that there was a group of grandmothers, three or four, who walked with difficulty, helped by a cane, and at 5:30 am they were already in the church, for the beginning of the Rosary of the dawn, and they stayed all day, until the missionary act in the afternoon. Since it was so difficult for them to move, they preferred to do it this way, and stayed to eat with the missionaries. They could not walk in the procession in the morning and in the afternoon, so they prayed the rosary in the church at the same time as the others. In this mission, several people who had not gone to confession for many years came to the mission. Father Francisco said that during adoration, every day of the mission, he was hearing confessions. A lot of people went to confession during those days.
In this mission it happened to Mother Protectrice, along with some postulants, that they arrived in a very remote house, who had never heard anything about religion. People of the Sukuma tribe, and at the same time with almost no contact with the society, but only with the immediate surroundings, their Sukuma families, etc. They had to be communicated with them in the Sukuma language, as they had very little fluency in Swahili. There they began to explain to them the first truths of the faith, and they listened attentively. While they were there, they saw that many children had necklaces and amulets that the witchdoctors usually put on them, and then they proposed that if they took them off, they would give them medals of the Virgin. They agreed, and they took all those things from them… but the funny thing was that the missionaries did not have enough medals for all the children and adults. They told them to go to the mission and there they would give them the missing ones. The next day, two young women from that family were at the missionary event, sitting there without understanding anything of what was being said in Swahili. In the middle of the missionary sermon of Father Francis, one of them stood up and began to speak loudly in Sukuma, saying that she had been told to come, because she would be given medals of the Blessed Mother. Many of them were surprised, and they told them that after that white man finished speaking, they would give them those medals. They also came some other days to the mission, and it is incredible because it was the first time in their lives that they saw a missionary, and that they entered a church. All this will certainly bear fruit, like the seed of the gospel, which will grow in their hearts. It was the first time that they saw an image of Christ and of the Virgin, and that they arrived in a Christian environment. May God continue to attract the pagans to the light of Christ, through the missionaries.
In this mission, 13 baptisms, 5 confirmations, 5 first communions and two marriages were administered.
It is incredible the good that the Popular Mission does to everyone, to the missionaries and to the recipients of the mission. It is an immense grace to have learned to carry out these missions, according to the spirit of our dear Congregation, which has taught us to be missionaries.
We pray for the perseverance of these souls who have received Christ through the sacraments, and for those who have received Christ in the person of the missionaries, for “whoever receives you receives me” (Mt. 10:40). Let us pray that they may continue to draw closer and closer to Our Lord, until they can receive him in their hearts by grace.
P. Diego Cano, IVE