Sharing the Graces of Reading
"They Come Back Singing"
The Second Week of Lent
am unsure as to where to start. This last week seems to have disappeared
so quickly....I did take a few days off and tried to have extra sleeps....yet
the tiredness was so that I did not have a good rest...
My attention shifts from Gary’s experience to what he is seeing: the African church. Among the people Gary works with, we see none of the pretentiousness, none of the legalism, none of the clericalism that is (sadly) so familiar to North Americans. Perhaps because of their material poverty, perhaps because Catholicism is fresh for them – no doubt for many other reasons as well – we are down to the basics. Community, Eucharist, faith, joy at the wonder of the Christian message.
I have no doubt that he played an important role while he was there, but it may be more significant in the long run that he has brought the African church to us. How could we look at the intelligence and commitment of the catechists, and doubt that the call to spread the gospel is addressed to all the baptized? How could we read about the splendor of the village Eucharistic celebrations, and doubt that communities should have the freedom to adapt the form to their cultures?
I do not know where this line of prayer leads me, but I hope what we see in this young church is a sign of what the worldwide church can be.Betsy, Philadelphia PA, US
Cause of Death: Life
As I continue this Lenten journey, I asked myself, “How much more can I take in?” Story after story of heart-wrenching grief and loss. . . . and yet within the telling arises a communal well-spring of faith and love giving the refugees life. I can barely put my arms around all this. Then as I reflected on the day ahead of me, I could feel my own grief arising. Today I will attend the service for a young man who has taken his life: the youngest of four, the only son, talented and loved. How will I “be there” for this grieving family? Where did we, the community, fail him? May the women of Ngurua be my guide.
In this reading I was also captured by the drumming, an integral part of Ugandan rituals. Yesterday at our high school, children from Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire joined us for our solidarity prayer service. In their native dress, the young boys were drumming while the four girls were swaying together in dance as they led our students into the gym for prayer. We had just completed our school-wide campus conversation on Escape from Slavery, a true story of Francis Bok set in the Sudan. These children became a symbol to me of God’s invitation to me to welcome the poor of the world into my life and in that entry to change how I live, how I think and most of all, how I love. Lord, in your mercy, I beg this grace for all of us.Jacquelyn SND, Ohio, USA
“Her mouth was listlessly wrapped around her mother’s nipple.” Lord, I’m sure You were with Genty at that time, providing her with warmth and showering her with love especially after Fr. Gary baptized her. Please bless her mother especially now that You have chosen to bring back her two babies unto Yourself. I can only imagine her pain and suffering when she lost them but I get inspired by her faith and acceptance of Your will. I praise You that my 20-month old grandson still breastfeeds from his mother at night. May our family guide him in Your ways and help him grow and mature according to Your plan for him. I pray for all the other mothers and babies over there. Each time I feed my grandson, let me lift them up to You in a very special way so that with Your love and mercy, some relief from all the hunger and suffering may come their way.Menchie from California
Fr. Smith's journey, to me, is a sharing in the cycle of life and death, joy and sorrow in a deeply moving way that many do not get to experience. I have walked those steps and know that when Fr. Smith writes that no matter how dire a situation he knows that God walks with him. No one person can eradicate this poverty, malnutrition, disease and suffering. To be there and to share in this experience and know that you can not fix it, is like being at the foot of the cross and praying for the grace to faithfully remain there. I see the beauty of Christ in our suffering brothers and sisters. In this poverty, I also see the deep richness of tribal community, interconnectivity, and care and concern for each other.
The images of the people that Fr. Smith introduces us to are vivid and memorable, but what has resonated with me this week has been his prayer reflection upon reading the bookThe First Jesuit. How aware I am when reading about such people like Fr. Smith that I know "my shortcomings, my sin, my loneliness, my distractions, my anger at people and my distance form a passionate love for God." I believe that God is saying to me: I know you, and I love you in this place in this time with all of your failings and stumbles. Rely on Me and transform the place that you are in and bring Me there.
The grace I am seeking this Lenten journey is to love my brothers and sisters in my here and now with the merciful love that Christ has for me and to bring that love into action.Carol, Burlington MA USA
This latest section of the book provides much material for reflection, almost to the point of distraction. Yet, the blessing of this journey has been the Spirit's gentle promptings toward content as opposed to my feeble efforts at focus. Throughout Fr. Gary's experience, there is a rhythm and a constant - the liturgy. Its expression in this environment is lively, engaging, and central to the people's very existence. It is the core that allows them to endure and accept their circumstance as a reality rather than a punishment.
I attend daily liturgy and am often distracted and consumed with mundane mind's play. Here in this place with the liturgy so available and packaged, we may easily miss taking part in its very essence. Obviously, we are part and parcel of the enterprise and its celebration is a culmination of all of our gifts and flaws. It also is the springboard and lifeblood for all of what we do. As we move forward, I pray that my participation and involvement in the liturgy deepens and that those who worship together are enriched by one another's presence.
Drew - Wayne
I experience the feeling of wholeness! The communities respect, support, and uphold each person. They work together for the individual and because of that, ultimately the whole. The Church, as Fr. Gary has revealed, is alive and well and growing in strength. Oppression, only seems to water the faith which encourages growth in love for each other and of God. The laity are empowered,"their faith is what gives them life and makes sense of life" (P76). This gives rise to a remembrance of the early church where the love of God and neighbor enabled it to thrive!
As a widow, I was struck by Pauli's response of "Everything" (P63) when queried as to what she missed about he dead husband.Father's moving from Rhino Camp to Adjumani caused me to reflect on that portion of my life when I moved to a new location every 3 - 4 years. The people I met, the skills I acquired and the realization that He kept me in His hands and enabled me to serve Him with different gifts, at different times. I need patience, during during this desert time, not knowing my path.PGR
Green Cove Springs, FL USA
Dear Fr. Gary, I have some disturbing questions to you. Did you baptise or bury more in Africa? Did you supply more of food materials or money and things needed for burial? How easy or painful was it for the people to say that 'we are in God's hands' when they were burying people one after another? I am disturbed by reading these pages. Obviously if history of flight and suffering and death was one side of the lives of refugees it is their deep faith in god, sense of justice and hope for a better future keep the refugees going. This experience was not just of an individual but of the community. That is why a teenager could break the good news and say, "God created us out of love and will answer our calls with that love. And God expects his creatures to deal with each other with love and to do it fairly".
Joe Xavier, Bangalore, India
In reading about the father's need of cow's milk for feeding his baby in the chapter "Cause of Death: Life", I am left feeling angry that so much of the world does not even have access to items as basic as baby formula. At the same time, I also feel sad because I, myself, participate in this Western culture that keeps things that way. I am one of the people that Gary describes as " the people in wealthy developed cultures who have learned to compartmentalize the poor of the world into a 'problem out there', a global version of 'out of sight, out of mind.'" So what am I going to do about it?
In "Letter from Tanzania" Gary addresses his own smallmindedness in dealing with the father who has just lost his fourth child. It was a stunning "Kingdom of God" moment for Gary. I have had similar poignant moments when I realized how limited I allow myself to be in my thinking, and how big and infinite God's ways are. Have you?
I find it interesting that in Gary's journal, he skips right over September 11, 2001, without a mention of it. Obviously in this country it colored whatever you were doing at the time and it was almost impossible to discuss that timeframe of your life without referencing it. Whether there is significance in Gary's not mentioning it, I do not know; it does remind me, though, how remote the concerns of the U.S. are to those around the world who do not have food and water on a regular basis. With all due respect, the momentary suffering of the U.S. in 2001 pales in comparison to the suffering that takes places around the world every day.
Ed F - Cincinnati
Each of Fr. Gary's stories has moved me, but that of the trip back to Rhino Camp and his encounter with Joseph Lemi stands out. Because Gary could not sleep he went out for a walk and had a beautiful encounter with Lemi whom he had helped out many times with family matters and finances and did so again. Lemi recognized that Gary's assistance made a great difference in what he could provide for his family and by doing so was a "father" to his son. It was a moment of deep intimacy when he offered his son to Fr. Gary who compared it to the Father who offered His Son for all of us.
Another description that I find moving is the Celebration of the Eucharist in the villages and the way the people dance and sing. How wonderful to see people without the inhibitions of our culture...who can let go and just BE. How pleased God must be with them ....the poor is spirit...who "get it"...who recognize and respond to the reality of the Presence in the Eucharist...and in each other. I find myself reminded of Eucharistic meals around the table when I worked in the inner city of Brooklyn, NY many years
ago. It was a very graced moment and God was definitely there in the Host and in the people.
While reading the story of Edward, the wounded man in the bush, I thought of how Jesus walked throughout his ministry and brought healing to people. I walked along with Gary and Longa and the community walking single file to visit Edward and I saw the bush crowding in on them and felt the rocks under their feet. The difficulties inherent in being a refugee and so removed from medical care are highlighted in the narrative...and to think I complain when I have to wait a long time in the doctor's office! Longo wanted Gary to anoint Edward which he did....and so also did every person of the Community...a real understanding of what community is.
Walking with Refugees is a graced experience and I want to thank Fr. Andy and Maureen for the efforts made in offering this retreat. The pictures by Fr. Don Doll add another dimension and give an opportunity to see the people in their daily lives. Because of the stories and the pictures I feel as though I am becoming more than just an observer. I am beginning to feel a real kinship with the people. I ask for the grace to allow this kinship to grow and for the wisdom to follow where that might lead.
Mo from Mills River, NC, USA
and Being Anointed –
During a Baptismal liturgy in the middle of a Eucharistic celebration, Fr. Gary anoints 53 children. After the liturgy ends with enthusiastic applause, the author writes: “I myself was anointed by the sanctity of the good hearts surrounding me. In that moment I was experiencing the body of Christ.”
As I pray and reflect on the stories of these refugees, who struggle with malnutrition and disease, surrounded by frequent death, I am overwhelmed by the strength of their faith in God. It propels them not only to endure but also to live with compassionate love supporting their brothers and sisters. They truly “provide an image of the church and help us to understand what we are called to be.” I am deeply touched when I realize that I belong to the same body of Christ as they do.Lord, through the mystery of our participation in your body, may we become more conscious and intimately concerned about our brothers and sisters who are most in need. I pray never to forget these refugees whose prophetic voices are heard today through Gary’s words.
Celia, Milton, MA US
I am starting to realize that "the body of Christ" is so much more than I ever imagined. I really have no appreciation for the kind of existence others around the world must endure. Yet, I can feel through Gary the overflowing faith and love of God that "his" people have. I want to become "alive" in the Spirit of God, not simply survive. How I wish I could "sing" my life as the people seem to do constantly - both in joy and in sorrow or just to pass the time of travel. Sometimes I think that poor persons have a great belief because they "have nothing else" to cling too. And yet, I do not see this in Gary's writings. I see a people filled with faith and love because 'that is who they are inside" and not because of the external factors around them. I see such poverty around me in the US, not because of what surround me, but because of what we lack inside ourselves as a people of God. I do not see any way to change this form of "poverty".
This journey I am undertaking will perhaps grant me some insight of the vision that Gary's people seem to have.Ann Z. Philadelphia PA
The more I read of Fr. Gary’s experiences the more deeply is the realization that we are all God’s children embedded in my soul. There is a slow, but persistent awareness of my interconnectedness with these wonderful, faith-filled refugees. It’s kind of like an intravenous drip. It takes hours for a pint of fluid to enter your body. So as I read of hope in the depths of so much suffering I pray for peace for them and ask God to bring peace and hope to the suffering in my life. These people are an integral part of our “universal church” – a term that my heart is only beginning to fully grasp. I am envious of their vibrant celebrations of the Eucharist and wonder when we as a parish community lost that wonder and awe. My prayer is that God’s Spirit may rekindle in me a deeper love and appreciation for Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.Rita, Allentown US
Second Week of Lent
of Death: Life
Letter from Rhino Camp Refugee SettlementIn heading from from the Rhino Camp refugee settlement, the catechists, Luaate and Asega offer a most powerful gift, and I am glad for Gary to receive it. Luaate tells him, "Your presence is a testimony that the world has not forgotten us." ( Letter From Rhino camp Refugee Settlement, p.60) My gratitude grows, also, to have glimpsed the wonderful people, to have cried with their suffering, and to be amazed at the "very dignity and courage" they exhibit, and to realize the gift they offer in being "a people of unpretentious goodness, enduring faith, and unyielding hope." (p.60)
Through this journey, I am coming to know the real meaning of 'blessed,' as put forth in the Beatitudes: The word traditionally translated into English as "blessed" or "happy" comes from the Greek original 'makarios', which may be translated as "possessing an inward contentedness and joy that is not affected by the physical circumstances". Gary has found that, and I am grateful to share in it. Perhaps that can lead me in my own journey, in my own current circumstances, to find God's will for me.
blessings, Susan in Kentucky
happier that on this night they could celebrate the Resurrection with
the Eucharist.” Lord, I pray that like the Oceans I may
be truly happy at every Eucharist I participate in. Grant me the grace
to leave my mental baggage outside of church and just be wholly dedicated
to You and the sacrifice happening on the altar. You know very well
how many times during Mass I would beg your forgiveness because my mind
wanders to my mundane and material needs. May continuing to reflect
on the stories of Fr. Gary help me have a very special Easter celebration
The title of the
book, They Come Back Singing, begs the questions
from where did they come back singing and why were they singing? As
Fr. Gary experienced the transition from the Rhino Camp to Adjumani,
I thought of the time of testing experienced by our Lord Jesus in the
wilderness, where he neither eat or drank for forty days. Then while
the Christ was at His lowest physically and psychologically, Satan appeared
to test the truthfulness of God's Word.
I was initially
struck by the idea that Gary went to Santa Clara looking for a theology
that might help me better understand my faith. The idea that faith comes
before theology seemed very right, but it was not something that was
so clear before. Then he began the references to “heart”
– the same persistent tapping at my heart’s window, and
from Kierkegaard, “the movement of faith in a person’s heart.”
Christine - Massachusetts, US
Fr. Gary reminded me this week of the significance of human relationships, of "the richness of people." He describes the many situations in which he is touched and touches those in the refugee community. So many of the gifts exchanged in these encounters were unexpected, but so meaningful in experiencing the love of God.
I am reminded of my wedding when my husband whispered to me, "I can't believe all these people are here." I chuckled, thinking, of course they're here, we invited them - but realizing his greater intent, that we were celebrating within this great community, in the presence of their love. What an unexpected, but rich gift to receive.
This week, I ask God to help me accept his invitation to be more present in my community, to receive the unexpected gifts that can only be exchanged through human relationship, and to be with God by truly being present with others.
Grief is shared by the tribe because they live so close to each other. The catechists are very important for the functioning of the local church. They lead scripture study and also help with grief counseling. Death is a part of life in northern Uganda with pneumonia, malaria, AIDS, and malnutrition. The poverty, illiteracy and corrupt and oppressive governments make this situation a never-ending cycle. Father Gary says he prays a lot.
Life is difficult
for the priest as he has an appendicitis attack and after he recovers,
he has to worry about evacuation as the LRA approaches. Finally the
bugs appear. Grief and sorrow seem to be the theme of this week’s
The title of the book, They Come Back Singing, begs the questions from where did they come back singing and why were they singing? As Fr. Gary experienced the transition from the Rhino Camp to Adjumani, I thought of the time of testing experienced by our Lord Jesus in the wilderness, where he neither eat or drank for forty days. Then while the Christ was at His lowest physically and psychologically, Satan appeared to test the truthfulness of God's Word.
Similarly, Fr. Gary encountered a near death experience, brought on by the enemy of all God's family, Satan. But, in accordance to the Love of God and the Divine purposes of God, Fr. Gary passed through a time of testing. Following Our Lord's time of testing, in the wilderness, it ended with the ministering presence of the angels. Fr. Gary's ended with the assurance of his calling, that the Lord God was intimately and personally with him, and would always remain so regardless of life's journey, be it in sickness or in health, for better of for worse, and riches or poverty.
I pray the analogy holds, therefore, in attempting to answer the questions raised initially where and why did they come back singing? They came back singing from having experienced the power, presence, and love of God while personally in the midst of horrific pain and suffering, where surely our Lord Himself must have whispered in their spirits: I am the Lord your God, and you are my children. Know that I will never live you or forsake you, to the end that you shall return, restored, reconciled unto Me, and forever rejoicing, to the praise and glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
May we all come back singing His praises this Lenten Season, as our faithful brothers and sisters in Uganda have graciously witnessed to the world.
Because of Calvary,