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 third installment of Bishop Clark’s reflections on the experiences of that trip (the second installment appeared in the December monthly edition).
There was a notable sense of community in the liturgies we experienced during our visit to Africa. They are unhurried; the offertory procession I described in the first installment of these reflections lasted 45 minutes! People burst forth in song and dance with a wonderful and infectious enthusiasm.
Archbishop Raphael Ndingi of Nairobi invited me to preside at the cathedral at the 7:15 a.m. liturgy on a weekday morning. I was delighted to be invited and honored to do it. Little did I realize when I accepted that there would be 2,500 people in attendance.
All through our travels, the liturgies in which we shared indicated to me that the faithful participate in great numbers and in warm spirit. They seem to have a deep sense of reverence for the mystery they are celebrating.
They also communicate an awareness that they are present at worship not as an accidental collection of private individuals but as a community of people who praise the Lord and embrace one another in and through prayer.
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The joy of liturgy is not the fruit of a carefree existence or prosperity. The great majority of people are materially poor and struggle with severe problems.
Each country we visited is different from the others, and yet they all deal with similar sets of problems. HIV/AIDS, food insecurity, drought, corruption in government and lack of infrastructure are among the problems that challenge the people we visited.
Archbishop Joseph Ukpo of Calabar, who hosted us, convened a meeting of experts from Nigeria and other nations to search for ways that would allow the ordinary people of Nigeria to benefit more from that country’s vast oil reserves. Two days after the conference, his home was broken into and ransacked. Coincidence? Who knows for sure? But one wonders.
When Joe and I were taken from place to place by car in Nigeria, a uniformed and armed security guard sat in the front seat next to the driver. Conditions are such that our hosts felt Joe and I would be at risk without such protection.
It is not at all unusual for electric power to fail several times a day, for gas stations to run out of fuel, for cars to get stuck on impassable roads. We spent a great deal of time on some very tough roads, but we never needed help to make it through. Yet we came very close to that one evening. We were on a back road that was extremely rough and came upon an over-loaded banana truck that nearly tipped over. Had that happened, we might still be sitting there.
Peace to all.