Sharing the Graces of Reading
"They Come Back Singing"

Easter Week


































Easter Week

Once again, I have come to the stark and honest reality of how small my world is and how wondrously immense the world of God’s love and mercy is! Although I have been blessed to travel to many places, Africa is not among them, nor is a refugee camp. They Come Back Singing invited me into a “new world.” Why now at this time in my life? I am not certain. . . I freely entered into this 40 day retreat. . . I will now allow the graces to unfold in God’s good time.

As I conclude, I bow in deepest reverence to the Sudanese refugees for the witness of their living and loving. Men, women and children who tore my heart apart, who brought me face to face with suffering and death, who “get” the meaning of the Body of Christ, and who, amidst daily adversity, have clothed themselves with the mind and heart of Jesus. Yet, after reading the book, I am still haunted with the question: “Can I walk in their shoes?"

· Endure with hope?

· Live in faith?

· Love in depravation?

· Embrace anyone as my brother and sister?

As I try to respond, I hear Jesus’ repeated call, “Follow me!” It is the ever-old and ever-new invitation to walk with him, listen to him, follow him. So simple; so difficult.

Lent was very different for me this year – on many accounts –and the praying and sharing of this book in company with 49 other men and women was a great and blessed world-wide experience – if only we could all meet!. My heart is filled with gratitude to God and for the initiative and invitation from Andy and Maureen and the transparency of Gary Smith. A joyous Easter Season to all!

Jacquelyn, SND, Ohio

I am stopped cold by the Say Yes Again and Forgive Forever chapter. This section summarizes our entire life - we struggle, we fall, and we can only rise with the help of another through God. Recently, my wife and I were in conversation with a dear friend struggling in marriage. As in all cases, both parties (like those in this chapter) share the responsibility but can only be helped if they are open to their own flaws and missteps. Our friends face the greatest pain since only one of them wants to come to terms with the reality at hand.

This all brings to mind, that reflection and contemplation are necessary for openness. I so often question myself to ensure that my motives are not always self-centered and that I may remain a consistent and faithful follower of the gospel. So often, hypocrisy and judgement sneak in in very sublte ways. At those times I pray that those who love me will step forward and intercede with me. This is the love of God that I desire, full of forgiveness but tempered with an honesty that will allow for real healing. With all this in place - I (we) can truly rsie again with Jesus in Easter joy.

Drew, Wayne, Pennsylvania

I write these few words "Coming Back Singing !"
As well as being my 74th Lent in a very full life, this one just completed has been a new and different experience for me. I questioned what made this so different and I think that the reason is that many prior years I looked at Lent as a burden...something where I had "given up" what I most enjoyed...a time when I tried to fast and overcome my tendency to criticize a particular person....a time where I was faithful to prayer and attended Mass every day.

While I did do some of these things, this year there was no "burden" involved. I was so taken by the story of Fr Gary and by the people I met in the book that today, Easter Sunday, I am present in the chapels and under the big trees along the Nile in Uganda. I hear the children and the people singing, uulating, and I see the women and children rhythmically dancing in the procession. My participation in Holy Week conjured up visions of beautiful black faces with wide smiles and gleaming eyes praising God in their simplicity and in their love and in their deep spirituality.

I have tried to describe my experience to my husband and my children and felt very inadequate in the process. I realize that the journey cannot be "told about" - at least by me...(Gary did a very good job !) must be experienced. Granted, the experience that we all had was in the reading and immersion in the story and judging by the sharing of my co-travelers the process has touched and changed us all.

I am so grateful to you, Fr. Andy and Maureen and to Creighton for the graces of these last weeks. I want this relationship to continue and I want to know where Fr. Gary is and how he is doing. I want to buy his other book(s) and read about all of his experiences. I want to read all about the 35th General Congregation of the Jesuits and how they will continue to serve God in the least of God's children. I want visits to Creighton's Online Ministries to be an essential part of each of my days. I want to continue to be aware and a part of ALL of the church wherever the Body of Christ is. I want the living of the remainder of my life to be centered on the Presence of God in each and every person put in my path. In short, I want to continue to be touched and changed as I was this Lent!

With Gratitude,Love and Peace and Wishes for a Glorious Easter Season.

Mo - Mills River, NC

Two days ago I joined with the Church in praying the responsorial psalm at the Holy Thursday liturgy, “How can I make a return to the Lord for all the good God has done for me?” As I conclude these forty days with all of you and especially with the refugees of Northern Uganda, I sing with unending gratitude, “How can I make a return?”

In the closing pages, I hear the childlike slogan rising in my heart once again: stop, look and listen! What makes these people, with all their setbacks and suffering, keep recognizing God in the very fabric of their lives. They “get it!” The Oligi women ask Father Gary to anoint the frail Lucietta. They accompany him. As he cups her face with his hands, he knows that “this touch was an encounter with the heart of God.” No words, no books, no erudite talk – just the meeting of two hearts who know God. And the Oligi women led the way. . .

The communal encounter of Julieta and Osura is not my everyday experience. The community surrounds them, calls them to honesty, to reconciliation, to forgiveness of one another. The Body of Christ is being shaped and reshaped into who they are called to be. I am not sure which is more challenging for me: to be Julieta or to be a member of the community. What a grace to be either – erase my fear, O Lord.

Finally and perhaps this is the capstone as I read Gary’s words that he sees with “two sets of eye.” I know this is also true for me. And while I will always have two sets of eyes, I hope my vision more and more coincides with the vision of Jesus who never hesitated to take a stand for the least. I pray that our God keeps providing opportunities for me to rub shoulders with those who are poor because they, more than anyone in this world, keep me honest and teach me how to answer the ever present question in my life, “What really matters?”

The hope of the refugees as they seek to build a future, a new Sudan, mirror for me the hope deepest in my heart: that Jesus and his vision of the reign of God will be the source of all we are and do.

Sr. Jacquelyn, SND, Chardon, Ohio

As I finish this book I am left with a sense of how am I to be of service, how am I to be a servant. Today, as I walked the halls where I work, I received a sense of what that service can be. I was amazed at how much pain and suffering is going on around me, hidden by faces of cheerfulness and graciousness. But today as I ventured out for my mandatory "health" walk; I met people on my way with stories. I could not solve their problems but I could listen and be there for them and affirm their suffering. it seems so little to do and so easy in terms of cost. I think that is what I am to do. Simply to be to those who cross my path and to listen with all of my being and to offer their stories in prayer. Now my walks will not be put off. I will approach them as an adventure, an adventure as truly as going to Africa is an adventure.

I thank you all for your sharing and I will keep you in my prayers.

Carol Burlington MA USA

After reading this book, Fr. Gary and the Sudanese refugees are forever part of my life. Not only did Gary teach theology to the catechists but he also teaches all who have the good fortune to read the book as he shares his spiritual reflections about the events in this journal. His words reveal God’s real presence and concern about every detail in our lives.

In this story, the catechists are the ones who touch my heart most deeply. These men and women are heroes who receive no pay for their services yet dedicate their time and lives to proclaiming God’s word. Fr. Gary refers to them as being “the church as it moves and breathes” in fact, “the church, in its best moments.”

One of these people expressed his vocation: “I think I am a catechist because I feel that since God has allowed me life, then it is important to share my life of God with others.” After more than 25 years as a volunteer in faith formation programs for inner city youth and adults, I feel renewed and energized by the example of these holy people.

Celia, Milton, MA, US 

Any answer I would give to the cosmic questions – how do I remember the people and what they gave me – at this point would be superficial. I will know that answer in time. So, instead, I add one more reflection on one more striking person I have met, Jacelin Ojok (“The Beautiful Mouth of…”).

Yesterday I had a conversation with one of my students, a biology major who hopes to go to medical school. She told me that for various reasons she has set herself to become a cosmetic plastic surgeon. I was not sure what that did and did not include, so I asked her about cleft palates. Would that be part of what she treated? Her answer sticks with me because it disturbed me. She said that she would never want to treat cleft palates because she is a perfectionist, and she would never be happy with the imperfect results she could get. I remarked that the people having the surgery would probably be delighted with the improvement. She acknowledged this, but still said that was not good enough for her.

So I enter into Good Friday, today, and then the Easter mystery thinking about the secret sense of loss and need each of us carries, the parts of us that are struggling for life. The healing and lifting of burdens Jesus brings responds to each of us as we are, not to someone else’s idea of “perfection.” To a child born with a cleft palate, just having a face one can show to others is miracle enough. Jacelin Ojok’s smile is beautiful.

Betsy from Philadelphia, USA

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