Sharing the Graces of Reading
"They Come Back Singing"

The Fifth Week of Lent

Photo by Don Doll, S.J.

Pabbo, Uganda, a refugee camp for 67,000, Internally Displaced Persons, about 25 miles west of Gulu.

Justin Ochola, age 66, head catechist in Pabbo Catholic parish for 39 years. He has 10 children, and receives 8,000 schillings per month (USD$5.00). The World Food Program gives each family 50 KG of Maize, 25 KG of beans, and 5 liters of cooking oil per month. It usually lasts about two weeks, with one meal per day.
























































































The stories in this section were ones of courage.

Julieta’s courage in coming before Gary and the catechists (including Osura) regarding the issues in her and Osura’s marriage was powerful. To entrust the details of one’s life to the larger community is courageous – and somewhat counter-cultural for us westerners. It also points to the amazing possibilities that exist in community for nurturing, empowering and forgiving one another. This story even helps me become more mindful of the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the healing transformation one can experience in the spiritual life by “owning” one’s sins and taking responsibility before the community.

The story of Rose, who fought -- with the support of Gary and her father – to be educated rather than follow her culture’s expectation of arranged marriage is inspiring. This is one of the few stories in the book in which Gary got to do more than walk with the refugees; rather he played an integral role in empowering Rose to someday be an educated catalyst for the good of her people. The most poignant quote of the section for me came from Rose’s story because, for me, it points to the bottom-line theme of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection: “It is not just that we survive through dark moments; it is that we come out okay. And it is not just that we come out okay, but that we are aware of God’s presence in the whole tumbling process.”

Ed F. -- Cincinnati


I was involved with Fr. Gary's book one hour ago. I put little pieces of my experience on paper, and stayed amazed for a long time. It's hard to express what I found today! Can Jesus really surprise us when we don't expect it? Yes, and although He is a well-known friend, I was so surprised by His new 'event' in my heart and I have no words to describe Him in my new state. I'm full of joy, now. And it's mystery to me how His touch can produce marvelous happiness.

And what is interesting to me is that reading this book gave me excatly what I desired in the beggining of Lent! Can you believe this? I still can't! But, my introductory sharing testifies on this.

I just can't believe that one book can be so powerful to bring answers to me I desperately searching for, and graces I needed, which I wasn't even aware that I'm lacking!

Also, I was troubled in my mind with one thing for a long period of time. It wasn't easy to bear it. I had a very dear friend, a Jjesuit in the missions, whose friendship I lost because of not understanding his position. I couldn't imagine that Fr.Gary's writing would reveal this inner world of one who is in the missions. Through reading I slowly understood it, trials and crisis and hardship and loneliness one can experience as Jjesuit and in the missions. I paused many times reading this book, and recognized that my friend is not in Africa but suffered from the same, and I was blind to this. I was crying from my depth. It was true tears. I turned to Jesus. I made confession asking for forgiveness. I decided to pray for my friend.

A few days ago the existing government in Serbia collapsed, and now we live in a country without a government. No one predicted it. It gives hope and everybody is talking abouit it. Today, I went to the market to buy flowers, and even my flowers were 'accompanied' with political concern of the salesman ;-) Impossible to avoid tension.

But, one celebration is near - Easter, and it will provide opportunity for reconciliation between pupils who are Catholics and Orthodox. The time of 'Catholic' Easter, as people are used to call it, is the beginning of Lent for the Orthodox. It's very rigorous in rituals, fastings and prayers. The Orthodox will celebrate Easter a month later. If one who is Orthodox won't respect this, he will not receive holy communion on Easter. So, forgiveness to each other must come in these days.
The Post didn't deliver Fr. Gary's book to me, maybe they want to give me it as an Easter gift ;-)

Thank you, thank you very much, Loyola and Creighton.

In love with Jesus again,
Ivana K., Serbia

There were a lot of powerful things for me this week – it was a particularly beautiful section of the book. Two stand out.

First, Pamela, the “African Gem” who walked sixty miles in the hope of being able to attend the JRS secondary school in Adjumani. “Her one clear desire was an education.” What a gift, to know with absolute clarity what our desire is. She was willing to sacrifice everything else for this opportunity. I think of the philosopher Kierkegaard saying that “purity of heart is to will one thing.” This gem calls to me out of the clutter of my many superficial wishes that obscure the one thing necessary.

And then there was the beautifully told story of Hakim, being united after many years with a brother he thought was dead. Each, in fact, was sure the other was dead. I spent some time imagining what it would be like, to see the face of a loved one I thought was gone. “A little while and you shall not see me, and again a little while and you shall see me.” Like my reflection last week about having a home, the image of these two brothers meeting led me into the mystery of hope for what will follow this life.

Betsy, Philadelphia PA, US

'The community helps me believe', told refugee Charles, 32, and his words hit me. This is my first sharing, and I'm very grateful to Creighton and Loyola Press, in getting me the book, giving me chance to take part in this wonderful journey toward Easter. Also, I'm full of gratitude to all people here, whose sharings enriched my Lent.

Chapters of this week showed me that we are not alone, we do not pray alone. A community of believers is praying whether we are in Africa, in US or anywhere. My revelation was through stories about the 'african way' of caring for each other. I learned from these people how there is no limit in caring. It goes to the end of strength, to the end of life.

I was challenged to examine my own heart 'What I missed to do for others?, 'What I'm missing in my actions?'. And the answer is - more compassionate heart.

Now, I know that I was afraid to follow Jesus many times, because it could lead me into loss of my interests and in pain.

Lord, give me strength to love even when I'm caught up in fears. Give me grace to care for others more in the way African people can do.

Ivana K.,Serbia

I am learning that there is suffering that can not be remedied; however, the suffering can be shared. We can be with those who suffer; a presence, an ear, a shoulder, a touch. I can remember some of the warmest memories before I was 5 being spent with 2 elderly people who did not speak English but cared for me so loveingly. My aunt once remarked to me, how unfortunate for me that I was raised by those 2 people who could give me nothing but love! I was saddened that my aunt did not recognize in the simplicity of that experience how rich my time was with these 2 wonderful people whom I loved so much.

These stories resonate in me feelings of guilt; guilt that I have so much and they have so little. The death and disease of children and young people saddens me and yet I would like to think that Gary represents me and all of us in being there and with these people.
The stories of those people who experienced the death of their loved ones touched me this week. Like Gary and his friend whom he held and knew it would be for the last time; I know the piercing pain of holding my husband and knowing that it would be for the last time. And I could identify with Gary when he expressed gratitude to God for bringing that person into his life and the privilege of being able to share a part of this journey together.

I do not know if my faith is being strengthened or if my trust deepened. I have been experiencing a feeling of numbness, if that can describe it, but I do trust that this is where I am and I need to embrace this feeling and trust that as we approach the tridiuum, that the meaning of this will become clearer.

I am grateful for my life and all in it and I ask for guidance in knowing and accepting where I am to go from here.

Carol, Burlington MA USA

In the chapter, "God Does Not Forget His People", Fr. Gary writes of the refugees' gratitude for God's intervention in their perilous journey out of Sudan. The refugees do not see God's intervention in their miraculous escape as a single event, but as another example of his eternal presence in their life.

But how does one live with God moment by moment, honor him with gratitude, when one's life is filled with relative abundance? And when one experiences random blips of tragedy, instead of the refugees' blips of abundance, does one turn closer to God or turn away? That I may give to God all the abundance - and all the tragedy - that he may continue to teach me his love.

Denise, Wisconsin

The readings for this week have touched me profoundly. I realized more deeply that though we are separated by millions of miles and diverse cultures, in the matters of the heart the Sudanese refugees and I share more similarities than differences. Like Charles, Virgilio, and Cesaria, I have always felt God’s presence more often in suffering than in the good times.
Moga’s faithfulness to his wife, Rita, despite the hardship for him and his words, “She was not alone because I was with her.” were very poignant. I remembered so many instances in my life where God’s faithfulness to me and His promise to be with me always brought such comfort to me.

I am grateful for these good people’s witness to me and pray that some day soon I too may have the trust and faith and hope that they possess.

Rita, Allentown, PA, US

All throughout Fr. Gary’s book there is suffering at different levels. And yet, the people over there are able to rise above it and live in and enjoy the peace of our Lord. I try and understand why and how the Lord allows all this suffering over there. I’ve seen poverty and suffering first hand in the Philippines and last night, my husband who just came back from Bangalore, India also shared with me similar stories. It is good that I am reading this book during Lent. I am reminded of the suffering our Lord Jesus Christ endured on the road to and at Calvary and the pain He still must suffer each time I stray away from Him. While I do have my share of problems, (some I must admit are my own doing), nothing of what I have on my plate right now, or even in the future perhaps, compares with what is happening in the refugee camps nor in the Philippines, India or even I’m sure somewhere in skid row right here in Los Angeles.

“I believe that I was spared to help others.” Lord, You have blessed me with a comfortable life. You have given me a faith that continues to grow even though I have not experienced extreme poverty or the loss of a child or fear for my life. Through Paride’s words, You have made me realize why I am fortunate. I pray for Your grace now to show me how I can be more effective in helping Your people.

Menchie in California

The end of the journey; spiritual and otherwise is approaching. What have I learned and what should I have learned? Will these lessons change me or the people I love and come into contact with? In my position, I will try to do a better job teaching Africa especially Sudan. I will also include material concerning the Lost Boys of Sudan. The school I work at has several Sudanese and I learned that Omaha has possibly the largest group of Sudanese refugees in the U.S.

I was amazed to learn about the catechist and his wife who were having difficulties and how the village got involved in bringing the points of contention out in public.

The most touching moments were seeing how the Jesuits and others could show a little compassion and improve the life of one person and save their entire family with the donation of the amount of money that we would spend to see a movie. I hope that the lessons I am learning are “unhardening my heart” and making me a better person and Catholic.

The comments about Catholic Action made me think. I am involved in Christians' Encounter Christ which follows the Cursillo method. Cursillo began in Spain many years ago as an outgrowth of Catholic Action shortly after the time of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. What goes around, comes around.

Steve in Omaha

I am becoming ever more aware of how these refugees (as expressed on the back cover) "find the strength to let go of the many and deep sorrows of the past". They have grateful hearts, remembering the wonderful moments when they experienced signs of God's care. For Cesaria, that was when a woman, in the bush through which they were fleeing, gave her family a goat! This meant they were properly fed until they reached Uganda.

As I finished reading this morning, I looked at a photo of my husband with our 3 children, taken 20 years ago; they have all grown up safely in this country where health care for all is free at the point of need and where there has been free education for generations. Not for us the grinding anxiety over physical safety and finding the means to feed our family. I felt ashamed that I mostly take this for granted and thanked God for the blessings he has showered on me.

As I approach retirement, I am asking God to open my heart and mind to whatever plans he has for me.

Jean, Lancaster, England

What keeps coming back to me is the unwavering faith of the refugees; Pamela, Charles, Virgilio, Cesaria, Thomas, Matilde, and everyone Fr. Gary has introduced us to. The absolute ultimate trust they have in God. The ease in which they are willing to forgive. All of these attributes while surviving with what must be an underlying sense of constant fear.

My pastor shared a poem with us during a parish healing prayer service several weeks ago and I have been praying with it during Lent, as it seems to be hitting close to my heart. It’s The Inmost Fear by Daivd J. Hassell, SJ and it ends with:

Why then do I fear? God is here,
Deep within,
Life grandly vibrant,
Love scandalously flagrant,
yet heart quietly homing
and Lord wisely lording.

But, then,-why do I fear?

Truly God does not forget his people. And neither should we.

Susan, South Holland, IL US

Again the stories move my heart to places where, on many days, I would rather not journey, let alone enter:

  • the courage of young Pamela to take the walk and not terminate her own journey for a future full of hope.
  • the faith search of Hakim ending in the reunion with his brother, Thomas, and the unbelievable feeling of joy that “the lost has been found.”
  • the witness of Cora and her words for Wiley, “God, I love that man.”
  • the commitment and undying love of Mora to “be with” Rita on her long mountain climb to eternal life.

Over and over, I am struck by the fact that the descriptions of the refugees’ experiences of God begin with tragedy, trauma, trials, tribulation - and not with moments of silent, secluded prayer. Through these experiences, they allow themselves to be transformed by God’s loving presence and care for them. Their suffering, deep faith and trust in God makes me stand back. . . and look into mine.

Perhaps this is why the refugees possess such clarity about “What is really important in this life?” and live out of that clarity with courage rooted in the conviction that “God is with them.” This week I ask for the grace that God will keep wiping away my fears and allow me to never tire of asking the question, “What really matters?” and then, with deep faith and trust, never fearing to live into the answer.

Jacquelyn, SND, Ohio, USA

These pages of exodus could weigh one down with the enormity of problems still to be faced in this troubled place. There is still not enough food, education, medicine, available money and the list goes on. Although the war has ended, there is still an underlying fear of what lay ahead. And the rebuilding could take years. How does one pull away from all of this need and return to a country of excess and abundance?

I believe Fr. Gary has nailed it, as they say. He has allowed himself to become vulnerable and be totally immersed in the lives of the people he served. So he will carry them with him in his heart. And then pour out his heart on the pages of the books he writes and in the stories he shares. He has become the bridge, the conduit for broadened thinking in this country of so much wealth.

The question I am pondering is, how has this book changed me?

Nancy, Kimberly, Wisconsin

The images that stay with me this week are of massively handicapped people living as full a life as they possibly can. Yayo, the lady of 60 who looked more like 100 years old, was crippled with arthritis, as well as having a tumour on her thigh; in addition she was blind. "She was so happy that I was there that you would have thought Jesus himself had dropped by". Gary's love for these people is Christ's love. Then there was Joseph, a crippled man who walked on his hands, on which he wore flip-flops! He spoke perfect English and welcomed Gary to his village, eventually becoming a good friend. Then there are those with mental health problems who are accepted by their communities and kept safe. There is such acceptance of imperfection and a wonderful ability to rejoice in what is good and life-giving.

The freedom and joy expressed in the many services Gary describes, whether they are baptisms, confirmations or "ordinary" ones remain with me. Such spontaneity and confidence that each has a part to play, whether in acting out dramas or dancing are in stark contrast to the church services that I normally attend! Our culture expects high quality performance, and it's easy to be a spectator rather than a full participant.

At the edges of my mind are the really scary and appalling bits where Gary describes the "activities" of the LRA. How does he cope with that level of evil, knowing that young lives are being snatched away and distorted, families shattered. There is so much natural disaster around in terms of chronic and acute disease and constant lack of food that I can't imagine how Kony and his like can add terror to the mix.

It's Flabius who stays especially in my heart this week. He has now lost his wife and all 8 of his children. All Gary can do is hold the man's head to his own heart and whisper "I am sorry, my brother, I am sorry". His village community was clearly caring sensitively for this faith-filled and suffering man; they could all empathise, having lost children and experienced violence tearing the fabric of their lives.

The grace for which I am most grateful this week is being able feel the tremendous joy expressed by the dancers and singers in the services.

Jean, Lancaster, England

This week the chapter “God Does Not Forget His People” captured my attention with such force that I read it several times. In the chapter, Fr. Gary compares the traumatic journey of the refugees from Sudan to the exodus experience of the Israelites. He also presents short interviews with the refugees about their experience of God. They describe tragedies during their escape and time of exile but at the same time they tell how they discovered God’s intimate love and care for them in the midst of all this. They speak words such as:

“ I believe that I was spared to help others. I cannot leave the church because I am part of the church; to deny the Body of Christ would be to deny my experience of escape and that experience has changed my life.”

“God is aware of our suffering and each day I commit myself to God and pray for the wisdom to get through and to be able to share in the suffering of others.”

“Here in Uganda, I experience God in people as they live the gospel. The community helps me believe.”

Walking and praying with these refugees leads me to reflect on the various stages of my own journey so that I may become more aware of God’s personal intervention in my life and be able to join the refugees as they “come back singing” God’s praises.

Celia, Milton, MA, US


It is interesting how this book and its themes have melded into my personal journey during this time we call Lent. Each period, something has come forth that is intimatley linked to the content of the section we are exploring. At the moment, my 84 year old mother rests comfortably in a hospital bed, a second visit in less than one week. Both entrances were preceeded by extremely long waiting periods for services, attention, and finally an available room. My patience was aptly tested and all of this time seemed somewhat for naught - especially since there was little conversation to be had. However, this period of reflection has brought forth the gift that time spent sometimes means just being there.

This section of the book has focused on all that is important in this existence - dependence on God and one another. From Pamela's ultimate achievement after much struggle, to the testimony of the faithful refugees, to Hakim's incredible love for his wife, and finally to the reflection over the life of Dufner - all experiences point to this simple truth. Love is God and is shown in almost every part of our lives and exchanges with one another. We can choose to accept or avoid each opportunity presented to us that evolves from His creation.

Our greatest struggle (leaving out the challenges that we each endure in our respective existences) is to focus on this truth and respond. So often we are limited by our selfish and limited purview - we miss it all. My prayer and sincere desire is that each of us be motivated only by the most important catalyst for living - the love of God.

Drew - Wayne

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