Dear Friends of Africa, January 15, 2013
Here in Magamba, in the Usambara Mountains of Tanga region, we had hopes of starting a secondary school for African girls, but the barriers to the idea of educating girls were mighty. Our local Bishop expelled me from the diocese on two occasions, but for some unexplained reason the hand-carried letters never arrived. A new Bishop arrived on the scene, but the opposition from the ultra conservative tribal leaders outdid the former nay-saying Bishop. The by-law for being a girl meant tending sheep and goats, keeping gardens, minding children, and getting ready to have your own babies.
Our local chief was my nemesis. At every attempt to get a school going for girls, I was thwarted by the machinations of the unholy tribal politician named angelically, Rafael. The trials to get a school started were endless and wearisome, but in the end the school, St. Mary’s Mazinde Juu, was opened in February 1989. The school opened to the joy of parents and their daughters that had been accepted. My not-so-dear friend was resigned, but not repentant.
Last year I was called to the bedside of Rafael to administer the sacrament of the dying. I looked for a tear as a gesture of reconciliation – not a drop. Rafael died two days later. A shelter was set up for a Mass to be said for his burial. I presided as the resident parish priest. I did all that was required with the exception of a eulogy.
It was a relentlessly rainy afternoon. My un-dear friend had requested to be buried next to his grandmother. The hill to his grandmother’s grave was a steep slope of slick mud. In full vestments I was now required to ascend the height, all the time pondering the perversity of Rafael with this last defiant demand. Two stalwart young men were at my right and left to assure that I would ascend the hill and preside at the burial of Rafael. In spite of their solicitude, I did slip and with that came all of the indignity that accompanies a fall in the mud. But, muddy and annoyed, I did arrive at the graveside and performed all the burial rites of Holy Mother the Church.
The final jab of the day from Rafael came just as I was given the shovel with which to dispatch the deceased with “dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return” prayer; there was an audible remark, “Rafael got Father in the end – he fell in the mud on the way to his grave!” I briefly paused before depositing the last of the dust, now a clod of mud, and declared unceremoniously, “Yes, Rafael put Father down on his way to the burial, but Father got up again. And now Rafael goes down and we can be quite sure that he won’t be up again soon.” A rather unpriestly prayer, but I could not repress it and it got whistles and cheers of approval from our congregation.
So dear friends, the work we do is that of the Lord and the schools we build are for the good of the people and the uplifting of the young women of Africa. This work should not be put down. Thank you for your unstinting support and we do pray that you keep it up.