It has been some days since I had the grace to visit, accompanied by Father Emanuel Martelli, our mission in Ushetu (Tanzania), where our priests have been working since 2010 and the Servants since 2009. We always read with much attention and not with less pleasure what the chronicles that frequently arrive from this mission tell us, but it is not the same to read about a mission than to be there and to confirm what was told in a personal way.
The mission in Ushetu is an extremely attractive reality for one who boasts of having a missionary vocation. The best thing that one could have dreamed for his pastoral ministry is found in abundance there: an enormous quantity of souls obviously thirsty for God. The parish accounts for about 100 thousand people, of whom 60 thounsand are Catholics. The vast majority of them are young people and children (families in Tanzania normally have between 7 and 15 children).
The numbers, however, do not say everything about the mission. As I say, what makes this special place so attractive is the openness and the enthusiasm with which the people receive the things of God. The people of Ushetu are characterized by their constant joy, their laboriousness (wherever you gaze, you see cultivated fields), their generosity (they give from their poverty with joy), their talent and enthusiasm for music, etc. But what catches your attention most about these people is their faith and receptivity to the missionaries.
It is hard to leave a place where the people, when told that they would have to wait for the celebration of the Mass (which resulted in an hour of waiting) because the priest had to hear confessions, responded with a true explosion of joy at knowing they would have the chance to go to confession. Their joy made you think they were celebrating a soccer goal. It is difficult to forget these people who prefer to confess themselves kneeling on the ground, instead of being seated comfortably in a chair, and even more so when those who do this are pregnant women, blind people, the elderly, etc. People took off their shoes when they came close to the place of confession as a sign of reverence for the sacrament. It is amazing to see them practicing in the choir for many interrupted hours, even in the moonlight, in order to sing well in the Mass on the following day. Interestingly they sang and practiced a hymn whose text says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” (Isaiah 52:7). More striking still is to hear them say and emphatically repeat, “please come back, pray with us in the language that you know, but pray with us…”
It is not that surprising that during the course of the 20th century, the number of Catholics in the African continent increased from 1.9 million to 130 million: a 6,708% increase. The growth trend is not diminishing but continues growing by the numbers of births as well as conversions.
Our priests in Ushetu, like the Servants, are doing a truly fantastic work. It would be fitting for me to write another circular about the work of our missionaries, but I will defer this to the chronicles and pictures that can be found on the mission’s blog.
Approaching the date of the first 30 years of the foundation of the Institute, with the background of the mission in Ushetu, many thoughts come to my mind, fundamentally of profound gratitude, and consequently of humility, of hope, and of confidence in the inscrutable ways of Providence. By the grace of God and the generous response of our missionaries, throughout these 30 years, the Institute has developed and expanded in a way that was never imagined in the beginning.
It is God who brought us to the very special place of Ushetu. He also brought us to other places that, like Ushetu, have particular difficulties. Being in Africa, one cannot help but think of some missions entrusted to us, such as Vanimo (Papua New Guinea), Santa Rosa and Charity (Guyana), the Gaza Strip and Beit Jala (Israel), Alepo (Siria), Bagdad (Iraq), King Mariut, El Fayum and Alexandría (Egypt), Anjara (Jordan), Kalmet (Albania), Skadosk (Ukraine), Greenland (Dinamarca), Reykjavík (Island), Omsk y Jabarovsk (Siberia, Russia), Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Shymkent (Kazakhstan), Bagong Barrio (Philippines), Chiquitos and Oruro (Bolivia), Cotahuasi, Chuquibamba and Cabanaconde (Peru), El Guasmo and El Gualel (Ecuador), Vila Guacuri (Brazil), La Pintana (Chile), Los Juríes (Argentina), Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), and many more. Likewise I was thinking of another type of mission in which we work and whose difficulties are perhaps less overt at first sight. Being more subtle does not make the difficulties less real. In these the work of the new evangelization must be carried out with all the challenges that this brings.
One of the most attractive aspects of the Church is her missionary character. By her very nature, the Church is missionary (cf. Ad gentes 2), which is closely related with her catholic and apostolic character.
But the fact that that the mission is always so attractive does not mean that it doesn’t involve sacrifices at the same time. On the contrary, the mission is a testimony, an authentic unbloody martyrdom, with the possibility, sometimes very real, of it turning into a bloody martyrdom. The numbers of the martyrs, particularly of the 20th century, speak for themselves in this regard.
It is for this that we have the duty to remember and recognize those who have announced the Gospel, likewise those are doing it in this moment, according to what the Scriptures tell us, “remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider how their lives ended and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). We should never forget that we are benefactors of the apostolic mission of the Church, of the preaching, and of the testimony of so many of her valued children.
Because of all this, goes our most sincere respect, heartfelt gratitude, and profound admiration to all of our dear missionaries who, in one way or another, have made in their lives a reality which Father Jeronimo Nadal indicates in relation to men to their Order: “It should be noted that in the Society (of Jesus) there are distinct classes of houses or dwellings. They are: the house of probation, the college, the professed house, and the journey-and for this last the whole world becomes (our) home.”
Very often we have the pleasure of hearing from our missionaries, “I am willing to go where there is a need”, and when there is a lack of missionaries for a difficult place, by the grace of God, those who offer themselves never lack. On the contrary, in conformity with our spirituality and the search to imitate the mortifying virtues of Christ in the Incarnation (cf. Constitutions 11), for our edification, it is not necessary to wait for the offerings to arrive from the four corners of the world. The whole world, to which the Gospel has to be preached, effectively is transformed in this way in the house of our missionaries. Saint Luis Maria, in his ardent plea, asked precisely this: “Liberos: priests free with their liberty, detached from everything…without goods, without impediments or worries, and even without their own will…Liberos: men always available…always quick to run and to suffer all with you and for your cause, like the Apostles: Let us also go to die with Him…”
In celebrating these first 30 years of our small Institute, I take as my own the words of Blessed Paolo Manna, referring to the members of the PIME:
“I admire, I love, I honor this Institute of ours which, more than just an Institute of missionaries, is an Institute fearless of martyrdom, not to the martyrdom of blood, that is finished with a prompt and glorious death, but many times a prolonged martyrdom, hidden, painful that damages slowly- and not always so slowly, the precious supply, generous of so many of its members.”
We will join together on the 25 of March in an action of thanks, that with “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32), we will rise to the heavens from the four corners of the world!
We entrust in a special way all of our missionaries, our works and projects to the Mother of the Incarnate Word, under the title of Virgin of Lujan, and to Blessed John Paul II, who will soon be canonized. May God give us the grace to live the fullness of our call.
In the Incarnate Word and His Blessed Mother,
Fr. Carlos Walker, IVE