I have been in the DR Congo for a week now and am excited to share some of my experiences with you all. Everything has been new since I got off the plane out on the tarmac at FIH airport in Kinshasa. Fr. Emmanuel was there to greet me and we began our adventure. Meeting family and friends of his in Kinshasa, taking the Historic City tour of Kinshasa, the Capital City, and experiencing the first evening without our 'modern conveniences' of electricity and running water. In spite of, or maybe because of, these hardships I have been having the time of my life!
On Saturday we flew via CAA airlines from FIH Airport to Lodja. 'Getting checked in and through security' (if you can call it all of that) took a few hours and then we were 'off'.' After two stops in other villages (one on a dirt runway) we were finally in Lodja where Fr. Medta, the President/Rector of John Paul II Major Seminary, greeted us and was ready to take us to our new home. Upon arrival at the seminarians came to greet me with song and prayer outside of my room. To say that it was nothing like I expected would be an understatement. This entire trip I have been trying to remove my own expectations and although comparison is natural, I've been trying to see the glory of this place rather than compare to America. We enjoyed a meal and took some time to rest before greeting the Bishop of that Diocese who was to arrive that afternoon.
The following day we ventured into Lodja (the city) to attend Mass with the Bishop and the 1st Year Seminarians who were becoming Acolytes. Mass was beautiful and long (almost 4 hours) with much singing, dancing, and praying! During the Mass it began to rain - my first (but not my only) African Rain Storm. Later in the evening Fr. Blaise, the vocations director for the Diocese of Kole (Fr. Emmanuel's Diocese) arrived and we went by motorcycle to take a tour of the city - seeing the Market, the Hospital, the Church (again), the Prison, the houses, the River, and everything possible.
On Monday we began the final leg of the journey to Mukumary (the village where St. Clare of Assisi Church is located and Father Emmanuel lives). By 'land cruiser' it took us 5 hours to go 145km. From the Seminary we took the side roads, but were soon on the 'highway' - a very wide dirt road that has been carved out by the people of each village. We made a stop at one village to buy some fruit and vegetables before we finally entered the village. About a kilometer away from the Church we stopped and were greeted by the children of the schools. They were singing and dancing, so very happy to finally have me with them. We walked and sang and danced to the Church where we did more of the same. I introduced myself (with Father Emmanuel translating of course) and after a bit we came down to his house.
Again I had no idea what to expect - a hut, open air - but I am so impressed with the Church, this rectory, and the accommodations. I thought I would be without light (and computer/internet) but many people have made it possible to have Solar Panels and the ability to communicate with the world to help further the work of this parish. So we are able to have light from batteries connected to the Solar Panels, internet through satellites, and more beautiful accommodations that I can imagine. The village is so peaceful and quiet.
As we got to the house we were able to sit and be greeted once again by the people who continued to follow us here. They did not want to leave so their teachers struck a deal with them - they could come back at 7pm to sing and dance (and they did!). After lunch we were sitting out back resting and some boys came over to see me. Again Father struck them a deal, "They could see Katie if they went in search of fruit and eggs." And a few hours later, they came back with a bucket of fruit - this is the beginning of people giving me gifts. Oranges, Bananas, Papaya, Plantains, Rice, Peanuts, Eggs, Tomatoes, Cassava Root and Leaves, and even a few Chickens! They are so generous and so happy to have me with them!
|The Church from the Outside|
On Wednesday, after finally adjusting to the time difference, we began with Mass at 6am, before the light comes up, and in the morning we had a meeting with the Parish Council. They are so grateful to St. Thomas Aquinas and the generosity of our parishioners to help them to build their Church and grow St. Clare of Assisi Parish. With the funds we raised in August they have been able to paint, put up more of the walls, create doors, prepare the floor by pouring concrete, and many more! Next week I will see the other Mission Stations (31, one in each village) and Pastoral Centers (4 in total) - one being 20km away. The farthest being 80km away.
|School with Mud Walls and a Banana Leaf Roof|
|Gathering of People to Welcome Me|
|Lodja City Streets|
In their Church they have catechists at each mission station, a Lay Pastoral Associate at each Pastoral Center, someone for youth, a Legion of Mary, and a few more ministries.
|Father Blaise and I on the Motorcycle for a City Tour|
Today we visited with two different schools. First the High School (7th to 12th grade) and then the Elementary School (1st to 6th grade). Each school had a different program to present to me and again more gifts! The children sang, danced, and presented short speeches and plays. Then they all went to their classrooms and waited for me to come and greet them individually and for them to ask questions of me. It was quite fun - they asked all kinds of questions like my name, where I'm from, about my family, what I like to each, if I have a husband or children. Some things are the same across all cultures! One class even sang Happy Birthday to me!
We were also able to meet with Chief of this Village, his name is the same as the name of the village - Mukumary. He brought gifts and greetings for me. For lunch the Fathers (we have three with us right now - Fr. Blaise is only visiting for a few days, Fr. Charles - Parochial Vicar here, and of course Fr. Emmanuel, pastor) and the Sisters (Christine, Astrid, and Julie) who cook and serve at the house, prepared a beautiful spread of flowers to decorate the table and each wrote a card to celebrate my birthday - singing all day in English and in French. It might be strange to celebrate your birthday in the Jungle (as Fr. Emmanuel said), but now that I have had this beautiful celebration, everything else will pale in comparison.
Having 'things' does not make one happy and joyful - having family and friends does!!! I couldn't have asked for a more supreme welcome here in the Village of Mukumary. Although they don't have many things, they seem to have each other and do what they can with what they have to Glorify the Lord! I am honored to call them my family!
|The Church from the Inside|
I've included a few pictures (of the 1,400 that exist) for you to see some of what has been going on here - I think only a few will be able to be added, but you can see the Church outside, the inside of the Church, one of the classrooms they are made of a bamboo wall framing with mud walls and a Banana Leaf Roof - which leaks when it rains - but look like the next rain storm will blow them all down, Fr. Blaise and I on our tour around Lodja via Motorcycle, one of the city streets in Lodja, another of the gathering in front of the house.
I will post more in the next few days!