Sharing the Graces of Reading
"They Come Back Singing"
This holy week has been the most grace filled of my entire life! The faith and witness of these wonderful refugee people has given me a deep longing to imitate them. Their trust in God amidst the most deplorable conditions has encouraged me to trust God in a way that I couldn’t 6 weeks ago. I fasted during this week and each time I felt hunger pains, I remembered my new refugee friends. Though my temporary hunger couldn’t compare with their constant deprivation of food, I felt a solidarity with them.
I believe the Spirit is leading me to be with the bereaved members of my parish community. I have learned a great deal about suffering from these refugees and hope that I can be a healing presence of Christ to those around me who are suffering in spirit.Rita, Allentown PA USA
These last six
weeks have been a gift. Initially I spoke about the fact that I was
retiring as a chaplain in our cancer center and would be a volunteer
there. This is true for now but after spending these six weeks with
the refugees in Uganda and the Sudan I would say I remain open to the
surprises of the Lord.
Margaret, RSM from Fort Lauderdale
been a wonderful companion..." during this Lenten season as I enter
into the celebration of Easter. Not much has drastically changed - just
the renewed sense that I am not alone on this journey. The suffering
around me and in the world becomes a journey in which my God has chosen
to live. This I MUST remember. Now all I need is the courage to continue
to believe and live this TRUTH.
lived and ate together,we talked and prayed together,we laughed and
wept together" wrote Fr. Gary.
And I think that I have to be grateful to St.Ignatius of Loyola for this unique gift. I prayed to him every time I opened this book to face things with courage and to endure my journey.
There were many
points in this book where I found comfort, but when I look back I found
myself cought by two - cross and love. It was revelation to me in Fr.
Gary's book how cross and love perfectly go together, and I was attracted
to that new image more and more.
I have one decision
now - to pray in my own words to St. Francis Xavier daily for Jesuits
in missions and for all Jesuits around the world, or better to say "Those
Damn Jesuits" ? ;-) as the title of chapter suggests.
Of course, I will
miss you. And I hope to fulfill many new missions with this new strength
I got from you.
I love you and love you all,Ivana K. ,Serbia
I do not belong
to a brotherhood, such as the Jesuits. I am a mom, grandma, x-ray tech,
singer, traveler and the list goes on. I have never lived in mission
for longer than two months. I have only been able to taste the cultures
of this world, but never simmer long enough in their juices. Yet my
life has been colored by Africa, too.
Our enthusiastically, joyful "Hosanna" entrance into the Psalm Sunday service gave me a conscious feeling of connectedness with the Universal church, for the first time (although I have traveled widely and attended various services throughout the world) in my life. I know that Fr. Gary's descriptions of the people's joyously, active praise and my recent attendance at a concert given by a children's chorus from Africa heightened my awareness and sensitivity. It was a most blessed beginning of Holy Week for me!
As I travel through Holy Week; their long, patient, suffering; their trust in the Lord; their joyous, prayerful gratitude will knock on my mind and heart and cause me to pause -picture them, and hold them in my heart during our services and celebrations! I pray that this vision will remain with me for it gives me hope for the future of our church. " The Spirit leads wherever the children of God are in deeper need."(P219)
I have no idea where the Spirit will lead me, I only pray for the strength and courage to listen and trust.
Thank you for offering this lenten opportunity!PGR, Green Cove Springs, FL. USA
If I had read a story like the confrontation between Julieta and Osura, in the context of contemporary U.S. society, I would not give them much of a chance of preserving their marriage. The rest of the story would read: Osura went on the wagon for a month, but started drinking again. Because he had been exposed in public, he was more angry with Julieta than ever. He beat her more often and more severely. Finally she fled, with the youngest children, to a shelter for battered women and got a “protection from abuse” decree from the police. My fellow North Americans, does that sound familiar?
But in the context in which these events actually occurred, I believe there is real hope that they can renew their love and “forgive forever.” The difference is the quality of the community that surrounds them, embodied in the elders to whom Julieta appeals. Their community does not come into existence at this moment, but is already there -- demonstrated by the immediate sense each participant has of his responsibility. The only person surprised by the honesty and depth of the encounter (besides me, the reader), is Gary Smith. I am challenged by this event. In my culture, I think we are encouraged to give up too easily on relationships and to run away from conflict.
I’m writing this on Holy Thursday, and the call to persevere through conflict and tension in loving those I have been given is quite apropos.
Betsy from Philadelphia, US
was deeply moved by the honesty and forthrightousness of the woman confronting
her husband within the community of the church. How they reaffirmed
their love for one another. When we love another, we will forgive them
anything precisely because we do love them. God forgives me because
he loves me. I can not earn His love, I do not deserve His love. But
I know that he is my Beloved and I am His.
The Sudanese also are on a journey, some for 15 years but their hope is that they will go back home in the future. Hope is hope in the future and a vision that it will become a living reality. Their hope of returning to Sudan is different from Gary's hope of returning to Africa. Both are returning from whence they came, their home, although on 2 different continents.As I have come and gone through various events and places, I find that it is true that you can not go back to what was. Both have changed. The events and people that I left have changed without my being part of the experience and I too have lived different experiences that have made me a different person. I have come to realize that where I go from here can not be back to something familiar but must be a continuation of the journey. I have to have hope and faith that I am being led and that I will not be betrayed nor toil in vain.
I continue to pray for the grace of discernment.
Carol Burlington MA USA
I began this Lenten journey envying Fr. Gary who is clear on what God is calling him to do. I end envying him because he was able to do, with joy and love, what he needed to do. I am sure he will continue to do what needs to be done with the same zeal if not more.
God planned for me to have this opportunity to read Fr. Gary’s book and in particular, in this guided way. Truly, Genty and Pasqualina will forever be in my heart and in my prayers as I continue to pray for the many others now with them in the Lord’s bosom and still those they have left behind. Likewise, I will continue to pray for Osama Bin Ladin, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army. At the Easter Vigil this year, I look forward to specially remembering all of them as the minister says “The Body of Christ” and I say “Amen”…Yes, we are all part of Your Body, Lord, bruised and broken for each of us.
The refugees are all far from me that I can only be one with them through the Eucharist. Sending a check over to the Jesuit Refugee Service would be good too. But, beyond that, I am reminded that I am near to other parts of the Body of Christ. With the Spirit’s guidance, may I start Easter week discerning the place, the time and the means to “confront the heart of darkness with the heart of God.”Menchie in California
I am so
grateful for what has been a very deeply touching Lenten journey. Thanks
to Andy and Maureen and Creighton for this invitation. I am grateful
to all the others who have shared their response, too. Each person has
brought something helpful thoughtful, and insightful. I was especially
glad to see Ivana had received the book and that she is doing fine.
“She was present in a situation that would have broken most human beings and hurled them into a paroxysm of self-pity.” Pasqualina was about to die from AIDS, her husband, who infected her, and her two children have already died from it. Yet, “Her thoughts at that moment were on God, her mother, her daughter, and me.”
How I so pray for the grace to be like Pasqualina at my death bed. Oh, I am such a complainer. When I was told I probably had lymphoma way over a decade ago, I asked our Lord to spare me. In 2005, doctors took out some cells from my breast and I am fine now. Yet, I always profess how my threshold of pain is so low rather than being quiet and enduring everything in union with the suffering of our Lord on the cross!
God has given me so many chances. He has forgiven me time and again. As this Lenten journey nears its end, I have come to appreciate and recognize more deeply His love and mercy that have sustained me all these years. I notice I catch myself right away when I say or do something not pleasing to our Lord and immediately ask for His forgiveness. And, knowing that I am forgiven precisely because of what we will be celebrating this Holy Week is awesome. Yes, Lord, thank You! Thank You for being so patient with me!Menchie in California
Week begins I find that I am full of different emotions. Lent seems
to be drawing to a close more quickly this year than any other. I have
found it difficult to put my feelings down on paper this week (in fact,
this posting is late). I know from experience that life is full of "hellos"
and "goodbyes" and no matter which side one is on (staying
or leaving) there are deep feelings involved.
I was sorry
when I reached the last chapter of "They Came Back Singing"
but then I realized that I can add many new friends to my prayer list.
At the top of the list is Father Gary. It was so inspiring to follow
him from his arrival in Kenya to his work with the refugees and finally
Father John's visit followed by the conclusion of his work in Uganda
and then home. We learn so much from people of different cultures if
we just open our minds and hearts to them. Father Gary seemed to communicate
love and respect to the people he came in contact with and they responded
in a like-manner. I began to look at my culture and way of life differently.
Things that are "absolute necessities" are not available in
other cultures and people survive and are happy as we are. When people
do not have a lot of things, they are able to focus in what is important.
Of course, they must have the basics. I would be happy to join the Jesuit
plotters mentioned by Father Gary at the end of "Those Damn Jesuits".
Psalm Sunday 2008
the presence of such fierce heart talk, words seemed superfluous and
dumb” (199). Abuna Gary reacts here to Rose Adoo’s expression
of gratitude for her education and chance of a good life. This sentence
appeals so much to me as I try to assess how reading this book during
Lent has affected me. Meeting the people to whom Gary ministered, and
who ministered to him, is an overwhelming experience. It will take me
much longer than forty days to integrate the wisdom in these pages into
my own life vision. Maybe even “vision” is the wrong word,
a “superfluous and dumb” word. I want to learn what Abuna
Gary learned in my heart, not in my mind where I have always gone with
words to resolve my human quandaries.
Christine in Massachusetts
Came Back Singing" has really changed my life. I was used to living
in a materialistic culture where the size of your home, the cost of
your clothes, the type of car you drive mark you as successful or unsuccessful.
The refugees described in this book are truly "the beautiful people".
They have so little of this world's goods but they are loving, spiritual
people who are so close to God.
Here we are at the end of Lent, the end of our reading and the "end" of the story. We all know it is not the end of the story. These people don't just all get up and go find other books to be in, like what happens we so many of the celebrities we are so enthralled with for some reason.
I don't want to refer to all the people Father Gary has introduced us to as "refugees". The word somehow diminishes their value as human beings. What they are, are children of God, making a daily struggle to live through the conditions and limitations others impose on them. Don't we all do that? One might say, "Well they've been removed from their homeland!" This is true, but what is a homeland other than a place you are most familiar with. After 15 years in a camp, haven't many of these people developed a new homeland, where their community is centered and they live among friends and loved ones. Don't get me wrong. These people are all much stronger than I am, and have lived through much more adversity than I am ever llikely to see, but at the same time, the things they are going through happen around me everyday, but until now my eyes haven't been opened to it.
Father Gary has shown me that the things I fear most in life are happening all around me; every day. Sometimes to me, sometimes to friends, sometimes to people on the other side of my "village", but they happen. I have the ability to make changes in my life that would benefit others, and that, in turn, may benefit still others. I've been likeing this to the lighting of the Paschal candle. One small seemingly insignificant light, begins to spread from candle to candle and soon the whole room is ablaze with the love of God, brought to us through Jesus. You might think , "That one light was not insignificant because it was brought by Jesus, the only son of God!", and thanks to 2,000 years of hindsight, you would be correct. However, at the time and except for those who knew him best, he was merely seen as the son of a carpenter. Father Gary carried the light Christ gave to him into the heart of darkness, yet his flame sparked another, half way around the world in California, in someone he's never met. My goal is to spread that light across the street or even next door. Who knows where it will go from there.
I would like to thank Father Andy, Maureen (especially Maureen) and everyone involved for giving me the opportunity to live this experience, and providing a forum to share my thoughts. The book gave me a better understanding of the situation, but the sharing gave me a better understanding of myself. Thanks so much, and I hope to have the opportunity again someday.
Larry -- California
Father Gary begins "The Tears of Rose Adoo" with Ezekiel 16:6-7. Verse 8 continues:
Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were
Old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you
And covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and
Entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord,
And you became mine.
An allegory, yet so much more. Two lives, Lillian and Rose, twisted and misshapened by a history of unimaginable suffering and pain, yet nonetheless graced by His shed Blood upon a hardened earth; only to yield a newly begotten, and rarest of flowers, whose Gardener labored not without tears, not without giving His eternal Best, that with each unique and fragile petal, His love would forever be reflected towards those attracted by His life-giving fragrance stemming from the Lilies in the Valley and the Roses of Sharon.
In His Eternal Love
Dear Fr. Gary, the lessons you have learnt made you more human. And so you broke down, not once, but many times. I am trying to capture some of your primordial experiences and make it my own. 'We find our redemption by honouring our relationships with God, neighbours and nature... There is no way I can not reject the injustice and the madness of the unequal distribution of the world's resources… In the presence of such fierce heart talk, words seemed superfluous and dumb… The vulnerable were part of the Body of Christ… The best of the church is discovered among the poor… Pasqualina in her dying was gracious, personable, simple and direct. She would pray for me in this life and the next… The Sudanese refugees are poor but it is the abuse of money that they resist…'
Gary, you have received your reward for the hard work. It will not be an exaggeration to say that you have received more from the people than you have given. That is the grace I ask for: I do not have much to give but give me a humble heart to receive more from the poor.Joe Xavier, Bangalore, India
story of Julietta and Osura was really awesome. I had to read it several
times as it really touched me deeply. The courage that Julietta exhibited
by coming before the gathered catechists and Gary to talk about her
husband's drinking and abusing her and moving out was truly a magnificent
testimony. She truly loved him to be able to be that honest. She really
"took him over the coals so to say". But in the end the honesty
of Eiyo and longtime religious leader in her community was about the
most direct and honest that I think I have ever read about much less
heard. To read this story during the end of Lent was truly a lesson
in what a community gathered in love can do to bring about reconciliation
between husband and wife.
Palm Sunday is fast approaching as I write this reflection. You will probably not see this submission until after Palm Sunday. I really enjoyed the statements about the Jesuits. I grew up in an area that had diocesan priests, Sisters of Mercy, Notre Dame nuns, Franciscans, and Trappists but nary a Jesuit to be found. When I moved to Omaha, I met several Jesuits and also heard a few jokes which emphasized their great educational skills along with their sometimes controversial stands on social justice. The last two chapters on They Come Back Singing speak to how the Jesuits enjoy comradeship and teamwork and the term used is “companions.” This was an excellent word choice as Ignatius originally referred to the order as “companions of Jesus.”
The final chapter is bittersweet as vacations or work abroad can be. You are happy to be home among friends, coworkers, and family. You will miss the people you met and shared your life and vocation with especially is you probably will not ever see them again. It probably was felt by Christ’s apostles and disciples twice. Once when he was crucified and again when he left them at the Ascension.
In conclusion, I ask myself why the title? The people keep on with their faith and sing even when they are running for their lives in Sudan and Uganda. Fr. Gary learns a lot from the refugees. They do not see priests often and their catechists may have some training but probably not as rigorous as what priests and deacons go through. I comprehend this best when a child helps someone and I am slow to react. Maybe that is why Christ asked the apostles to let the children approach him instead of shooing them away. Their simple faith is a lot more genuine than mine. My journey is definitely not over!
Steve in Omaha
To say "yes" again and forgive. How difficult that must have been! From a human perspective so hard and yet not so hard for our God. That is the mystery that keeps my faith alive. To know I am part of that loving, creative power of a God who wants us all to share that eternal peace and holiness - now, that puts all my temporal struggles into perspective. Struggles do not go away, yet to be companioned by my God allows me to get up each morning and continue the journey even when I am not totally sure where this journey on earth will lead. Once again Gary talks of the people and their stories. Once again he gives "life" to their hopes, dreams, and continuous faith in a God, that I at some weak moments, I would think has abandoned them. With all they continue to suffer, they can with love and courage say "don't worry, we will pray for you!"Lord - I wish to learn how to have that simplicity, that courage and that strength to PRAY! As I move into Holy Week I only want the strength to remove some of the human blinders that prevent me from seeing the grace God is offering through the "Sacrifice" Christ endured while here on earth.
Ann Z., Philadelphia, PA
I cried as I read "The Tears of Rose Adoo," and marveled at the depth of her gratitude. It made me see my education in a whole new light.
The weather has been wonderful and it gets harder and harder to sit in class, knowing that I could be reading outside instead, enjoying the sunshine. I read this and felt ashamed! At first I thought "if Rose were in my shoes, she would probably feel the same way," but then I realized that I could just as easily be in her shoes. I think it is part of honoring the mystery of God's grace to strive to be as thankful and humble as if you were standing in the shoes of the least fortunate person, even when walking on paths strewn with opportunity and wealth. This Lent and this book have given me so many moments of awakening to my role as a Catholic, and the way our faith changes how we approach situations. I pray going into this final week of Lent that we will stay always willing to learn from our brothers and sisters and seek out their voices tirelessly.Elena C. Chicago, IL
Yes Again and Forgive Forever
We experience God's love and mercy through our interactions with others. In order to achieve this we must be open and honest with ourselves as well as to others, individually and in community. For it is only with open, loving hearts that we can truly realize compassion, forgiveness and support!
Right now, I am not comfortable with my prayer life and the surrounding church. This surprising realization came as I read "-- the local church is owned by it's people, and people are being taught in their own language with their own symbols and images." (p.194) I wonder if it is true of my local church, and that I'm no longer a true member, and if so, why?
The statement "nothing will happen unless we are instruments of God's willing to make things happen" (p.207) makes me ask for the grace, wisdom, and courage to "step out" if that is His will. I need to trust!Patricia
First, let me thank you. My book finally arrived a few days ago and I have been rushing to catch up so that I could participate in the sharing. What an amazing experience! I have been so moved by these stories. Often horrified - that I must admit - but overwhelmed by the ways in which the Spirit is active in this world and can bring joy to even the darkest places. We've been reading The Acts of the Apostles in my Bible study group, which has been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It may seem strange, but one of the things that struck me is the resemblences between the two books - for the Spirit is clearly as active today, in the most unlikely places (at least from our human point of view) as then. It's giving a new view to my reading of Acts.
I was particularly touched by the story of Rose Adoo. I myself am a teacher and motivated students are always such a wonderful experience. I have to admit that I felt rather jealous. I'd love to have students like that - so desperate and eager to learn. What an extraordinary privilege it must be to teach them. Most of my students show so little curiousity.
I've always been particularly interested in the education of girls which is so difficult in many parts of the world. I found this story one of the most hopeful in the book. And hope, I think, is one of the most important elements of the Christian message. Maybe that's what i've liked best about this book- it's message of hope in a world where there is so much despair.
There are so many other things I'd like to say but I'm a bit overwhelmed by all I've read. I hope to have thought things through a bit better by next week.
Anyway, thank you for he privilege of letting me read this book.Lori from Paris