EDITOR’S NOTE: Bishop Matthew H. Clark — accompanied by Father Joseph A. Hart, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center — recently returned from a pastoral visit to several African dioceses. This is the first installment of Bishop Clark’s reflections on the experiences of that trip.
From Oct. 15 until Nov. 5, Father Joseph Hart and I visited dioceses in Africa. The purpose of our trip was to express our thanks to the bishops of those dioceses who for the past 40 years have sent priests to our diocese to study and/or serve among us.
The first priests to come here from Africa were Kenyans. They came to study at St. John Fisher College. In the earliest days these men lived with the Basilian Fathers or at Becket Hall. In later years they often lived at St. Louis in Pittsford and then in many other parishes. Priests from Kenya continue to come for study.
In more recent years, priests from other nations in Africa have come to spend time with us as well. Some priests from Tanzania have matriculated at Elmira College and have enjoyed the hospitality of our parishes in the Southern Tier. We also have enjoyed the presence and ministry of priests from Ghana and Nigeria.
During our trip, we visited 11 dioceses in those four countries. The disadvantage of such a fast-paced trip was that we did not have a lot of time to spend in any one place. But we were able to call on most of the bishops who have sent priests to us during the past four decades.
As I always try to do when I visit dioceses in other nations, I want to give you some sense of the experience. I had thought of presenting you a day-by-day journal, but decided against that. I thought it would become repetitious, since our activities and the things we saw were similar from place to place. We saw the diocesan cathedral and the pastoral center. We visited the hospitals and schools. We were often guests at lovely receptions arranged in our honor.
So, rather than a day-by-day record, I will try to give you a sense of the trip by sharing with you some of the memories, thoughts and impressions that came to me during those days or since we left that incredible continent.
* * *
I’ll remember for a long time the collections/offertory processions we experienced at liturgy. In Africa they do not pass the basket. No. They place a container at the end of the aisle close to the altar, start the drums and the song, then dance down the aisle and place their gifts in the container.
It is a beautiful experience of sight and sound. In Nigeria, many of the women are clad in full-length, richly colored dresses. Part of the outfit is a wrap-around headpiece that matches the dress. It is not unusual to see the husbands dressed in outfits fashioned from the same material and color worn by their wives.
As they dance down the aisle, the people communicate a deep sense of reverence for the Lord and a good deal of respect for one another. I think of a very little boy who was dancing his heart out but whose pace was slower than that of the assembly at large. No problem. The people adjusted to the pace at which his little legs could carry him and delighted in this effort. Similarly, a woman whom I’d judge to be the oldest person present expressed her praise in dance. Her vision was poor and her body frail. But she, too, danced with great devotion to the delight of all present. In the moment she was the elder, the revered one, a strong witness to perseverance in faith.
Peace to all.