Homily: Father David of Kilimanjaro
Blessed Sacrament Parish
August 26, 2012 - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
10 AM Service
Good morning. I would like take this opportunity to thank Father Michael for giving me this opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist with you. Again, my name is Father David Eliaona (phonetic). I am a native of Tanzania which is a country located on the eastern side of Africa. You may, or, may not know that name. But to make it more familiar I come from a region called Kilimanjaro. There is a mountain up there, a very high mountain. So maybe that will sound a little bit familiar. I grew up there. My parents are still living. They are still there living on the slopes of the mountain. And my brothers and sisters still live in Tanzania.
I was ordained to the Order of Holy Cross in the year of 2008, and for four years I was privileged to work in two different parishes that the congregation of Holy Cross is running in the northern side of Tanzania near the Serengeti. It is very remote and far away from any civilization. It is a difficult area for work. But that is how the mission of Holy Cross is. The congregation of Holy Cross tries to have its mission where people are still in need and working very closely with the poor. We have our missions in education. We try to give a good education to people who are underprivileged, and most of them would not even manage to go to school, maybe they won't be able to pay for tuition, but we try to work with them to make sure that they have everything that they need so they can go to school. Because it is only if they get a good education will they have a good future.
We work in parishes. We have parishes in very remote areas. The parish I was working at in Tanzania had 15,000 Christians. They all live in very far places so they do not get to receive the sacraments as often as they want to. But they do receive the sacraments because we are there, and we chose to be with them.
We also try to work with some systems of justice because we have a special committee to work on peace and reconciliation and justice. So we try to teach people about their rights, justice and peace.
I will have many stories to tell you. I won't be able to tell you all of the stories but I'll just tell a few to complement what I am trying to say. As you know, I am here to ask you for a donation and contribution for these missions.
As a priest of Holy Cross I am supposed to have a retreat once every year. It's a directed retreat - it's meant for me to bring myself back to Christ, and to be able to be able to receive Christ just like the way I stand in front of people and teach them about Christ. And I remember in the year 2008 - the year I was ordained - and I had worked very hard throughout the year and at the end of the year I was really tired and I really needed some time to rest and go be with the Lord. And I was ready to go for my retreat on one of the Fridays, and I said Mass in the morning and I knew that right after Mass I would leave to go for my retreat.
And I was praying that after Mass I would not meet anybody who needed my help because I wouldn't know what to say. I was feeling completely washed out. And so after Mass as I was walking out I met this lady, exactly what I was praying would not happen. And she was carrying a couple of fires - she was very worried and she said, “Father, I have seen you here this morning and I am asking you to pray for me because I am going to court. I have a case.” I asked her what the case was about and she started giving me the story.
She said, “My husband died five years ago. But before he died we had a piece of land, about four acres. And he had hired it out to because we needed money to send our son to school. So we had the whole piece of land. It was supposed to take three years for us to get the land back. Now this is the fourth year, it's coming to the fifth year, and this guy doesn't want to give me the land.
And he claims my husband sold the land to him. But we don't have any paperwork that shows that this land has been sold to him. And I know we don't have any paperwork because I know my husband did not sell the land to him. So I decided to take this matter to court and he is a rich person and so he goes through the system of justice and there is lots of corruption and he gives money here and there, and it seems like I am going to lose my land. So I am asking you to pray for me so at least I can have my land back. Because this is what I need for my kids, this is what I need for food.”
And by that time, again I say I was completely washed out, and I didn't know what to say. So I took her by the hand and I took her to one of my favorite spots in all of the world. It is right here in front of the altar. That's my favorite spot.
I brought her into the church, and I told her to kneel down. We all knelt down and I just kept quiet. I didn't know what to say by that time. I am sure she was talking to Christ. And I was talking to Christ, too, and saying, “Well, you know, Christ, I need you, too. And she needs you, so you better talk to her.”
She was kneeling down there and she was weeping, and crying and crying and crying. And after 25 or 30 minutes she stopped crying, she dried her tears and she stood up and said, “Father, I think I am ready to leave because I am delayed.”
So I stood up and blessed her and I said, “I hope you go well, and I hope everything goes well for you.”
She left and I went to my retreat. When I came back I looked for her first thing. She was very sad and she said, “Father, I lost my case and I lost my land.” And I talked to two other priests I was working with and said, “I think we need to go and find out what really happened.” And so we did. We went to find out but it was so difficult to get into the system. It was difficult to get into the system because so much money has exchanged hands around the system and it was difficult to find out any information about anything. So we knew definitely she was losing her land.
So we decided to start seminars, and we decided to go to one school after the other trying to talk about issues of justice, and peace, and reconciliation. We found out that because it was so difficult to get into the system at this time, then it is better to train a generation that is coming up to know about people's rights and to know about issues that affect their own society, to make sure that as they grow up and get into the system - then they will clean the system and teach and help people with their own rights.
That's one of the areas where I work. But I also work in very difficult areas, and very difficult conditions. I was telling Father yesterday and saying, “The parish where I work has a radius of 33 or more miles. You can't begin to measure it out. So the parish had almost 15 out-stations. And if I have to leave from the parish center to go to the farthest out-station, I would be traveling two or three hours to get there. It is not as easy as driving from South Bend to Quincy, taking I-80 and I-55 and I-72. I wish it was that easy. But where I was working you always get stuck in the mud. You drive a full-drive vehicle and you fear to go down the gorges and up the mountain. But you drive up and down the hills and somehow you make it there.
I remember this one Christmas that the pastor asked me to go celebrate Mass at one of the farthest out-stations. It was the rainy season and usually when it rains in that area you have a soft soil and the ground and soil become very soft quickly. And when it rains even for five minutes you can get stuck in the mud. So my pastor is asking me to go celebrate Mass, Christmas Mass. And the out-station has 300 to 400 members and they are waiting to have Mass for Christmas.
So again I went to my favorite spot, right in front of the altar, and I knelt down and I prayed to God, “These are your people and I am their priest and you need to take me there because it is Christmas and they need Mass.”
And the Lord being so faithful he took me there and it took about three hours. I left about six in the morning and I was there by nine. It was a little difficult as it had rained overnight, but it was not raining as I was driving there. So I reached there and the people were so happy and they expected to start Mass at ten, but I had to listen to Confessions and you know if you have more than 300 people you know it will take more than one hour. We have a saying in Africa, “There is no hurry in Africa.”
Things come momentarily, they are just going to happen. So we started Mass at eleven. And we had a wonderful celebration, lots of singing, the choir was beautiful with many beautiful voices and there were lots of children. I had to speak very loud because we did not have this (pointed to microphone). This is a luxury. So I have to speak loud. And sometime during Mass it started raining. And it rained lots of rain, which is what I think we need here at this time. And it rained, it rained for a long time.
As I was celebrating Mass it kept raining and that is when I discovered that my prayer was not very wise. I asked the Lord to bring me there, but I didn't ask him to bring me back home. So it kept raining for a very long time. And after Mass the people were very happy and they said, “Father, it was very nice of you to be here.” They were very appreciative. They don't have money to give you, they don't get so much money to give for offertory but we get things like chicken and eggs for the offertory. We get things like beans and corn and that is what they have and want to offer to the Lord.
And they said, “Father, we think you should spend the night with us because we do not think you are going to make it home with this rain.”
And I said, “Yes I know that, but we had planned in the community to go out for dinner tonight. So I will try and drive and go back.”
And they said, “Since it is going to be very dangerous for you to drive, we will give you a couple of young strong men to push you in case you get stuck.”
So we left about 4 or 5 p.m., and we are driving in the rain and we get stuck, then there is a truck following us and when we get stuck they pull us out and they are using everything that they have to make sure Father gets back home. And then they have to get back home. And we make it home a little bit after midnight. That's how difficult it was to get back home. And that is something we go through almost every time, because every time it rains we go though very harsh conditions.
Sometimes I question myself and ask, “Why am I doing these things? What's the reason for me to do this? What's the motive?” And I think the motive is that everyone of us asks ourselves at some point, “Why am I a Christian? What is the reason?”
As I stand here today and I ask you to contribute to our mission, you may ask the same questions - why do I have to contribute? I think the motive is - Christ left us with the responsibility to make him known, loved and served by everyone. We have a motive to let everyone know about Christ. We have a motive to make Christ loved by everyone, and be served by everyone.
So you may not be able to go there and drive a four-drive vehicle and tell everybody about Christ. But you may be able to help with a contribution to help those who are trying to do that - so they can do it in a way that is manageable.
We may not always have the will and the strength to do that, but through our prayers, through our loving each other, we are able to do that because we are able to show Christ. In today's reading Christ is talking about motives. Because we hear about people who give up, we go to our former way of life. And we may discover that in our lives when we are faced with challenges, many times maybe in our families, maybe in our work, maybe whatever kind of situation we find ourselves in.
Several times we question ourselves and ask if God is there, if God actually helps us? And if we don't have a proper motive for knowing God is there, we lose hope. Many times we are tempted to return to our former ways of life. And Christ is telling us today to have a motive.
I am going to tell you a story, another story. My stories are always true stories. I come from Kilimanjaro and as a young man in high school I climbed the mountain - twice. It is not a simple task, it's a difficult task. As students we do not pay the National Park Service anything to go to the mountain. We only get a proclamation and we are only given three days to be in the national park.
So we are given a simple route to go up to the base camp and we have two days to acclimatize and be able get to the summit. And this is a difficult task but two times as a student I tried it and made it up to the summit and it is 19,340 feet. Now when I say that you know it is very much less oxygen. You don't carry any oxygen mask - there is some oxygen up there and it is manageable.
So last year I was here as a student at Notre Dame and I met many friends and I met a family and we became very good friends. And they tell me, “We want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.”
And I say, “I am going home this summer and if you want you can come this summer we can climb Mt. Kilimanjaro together.” And they try, and only one of them manages to come and it was the mother of the family. Her name was Ann Vole, she was 58, and I am sure she knows I am speaking about her today.
She comes to Tanzania and we climb the mountain together. Now this time I don't climb as a student, but I climb as a local tourist because I am from Tanzania. She climbs as a tourist so we used the tourist routes. We used one the hardest routes and it is a six-day hike. It's meant to help you get used to the climate and get rid of the altitude sickness. So you begin from 7,000 feet. The first day you hike up to 10,000 feet, then you come down to 9,000 in your camp. It is about a six- to eight-hour hike depending on your sleep. But they always tell you to “take it slow” because you need to acclimatize.
The following day you leave 9,000 feet and you go up to 13,000 feet and then you come back down to camp at 10,000 feet. It's a challenge. The third day you leave 10,000 feet and you go to 15,000 feet. And you come back down to 11,000 feet. Now that is a very, very difficult day and I remember this very vividly. We come back down to the camp and I was very tired, completely
fatigued and my body was really shaking.
It was cold but I wasn't shaking because of the cold, but because I was so tired and everybody else was feeling the same. So we get into out tents and all we want to do is sleep and the guides are telling us, “You need to eat. You need to eat a lot because you need energy.” Everyone wants to eat very fast and go to sleep. And that's a mistake because you are supposed to eat your meals slowly. And that's the day I saw many people throwing up because the body couldn't hold anything more.
And that was the day I saw many people give up. I saw eight people that day say, “Tomorrow morning I am going back. I am not going any farther.”
So eight people went back. But the following day we woke up and we are now seeing the mountain very close to us. And we start again and go now to 17,000 feet. That is a ten-hour hike. And we are at 17,000 feet and we sleep for six hours, and we wake up in the middle of the night, and at midnight we begin to attempt the summit.
And I am looking around and everybody is standing outside looking at the summit up there and they are asking themselves how they are going to make it up there. In my mind I am circulating with lots of motives. I have done this twice before and I know how difficult it is, and I am wondering why do I want to do this again?
So I am going from one motive to the other. I run several motives. Maybe my motive is that this year I am in graduate school, so this is going to be my gift of the graduate school. So we begin the hike and that does not become a strong enough motive for me to go up there. So I crush that out and I begin to come up with another motive. And I am coming up with one motive after the other and every hour that goes by I lose my motives. And I run out of motives.
The guide keeps telling me, “Don't look up, just look down. And count one, two, three. And now we are at 18,000 feet and we are still going up. We are losing oxygen, and they tell us to drink water. And you to keep drinking water to get oxygen. And we are close to 19,000 feet and it becomes very, very difficult.
By the time I have run out of all the motives, I find myself up there, 19,000 feet. And you look around and you don't see anything higher than where you are. And all you see below is just clouds. It is just a blanket of clouds surrounding you everywhere. It is 6:30 in the morning and the sun begins to rise. And you see a beautiful sunrise. Not on top of the mountain, it is coming out of the clouds. And it becomes a beautiful morning - very, very beautiful.
You don't have so much of oxygen. You don't want to spend a long time there.
But it is very peaceful up there.
Now I try to reflect that in what Christ is telling us today here. And I think in our lives we go through the same thing. There are many times that we have to acclimatize ourselves with the reason as to why we follow Christ. And we make one step farther and we come down a little bit. And we make another step farther, and we come down a little bit. Because we tend to give up sometimes in our faith, but again we get a good motive of living Christ, of loving our neighbor even if the neighbor is annoying.
We get to another challenge in our lives, maybe we have kids to take to school. We have a big challenge this year because the weather hasn't been very good, and maybe we are wondering how the economic situation is going to be. There is a challenge ahead of us. We bring all that in front of Christ - here - and we ask Christ to take care of the situation.
How is Christ going to take care of the situation? Sometimes we don't know. But you know, when we know Christ is going to take care of our situation no matter what it is - we are very peaceful. We are at peace because we know God is going to take care of us.
And when we hear about that, when we experience that, when we have managed to experience such peace in our lives - then we also have the responsibility of making others experiencing the same peace, the same tranquility in their lives.
So let us ask for God's grace today. That we may be able to have the motive of faith in our lives, especially the motive to love, and especially the motive to know Christ is the true word. That is what Peter is saying today - that you are the holy one of God. And we have come to believe that you have the words of eternal life. If we believe in Christ in that way, then we will be able to be at peace.
In this way, I also continue to argue to help those who do not yet know Christ, so that they may also be able to have this opportunity to know Christ, to love him, and to serve him.
We are going to have a second collection after communion and I have put some envelopes at the end of the pews for you to make a donation for our missions. And may God bless you abundantly.
Father David is a native of Tanzania from the region of Kilimanjaro. He was ordained to the Order of Holy Cross in the year of 2008, and is currently a graduate student at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.