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Palm Sunday: Reflection Welcoming as Christ

As I was listening to the first Gospel at Mass this evening (yes, this the one time during the year we hear two Gospel readings), all I could think about what my experience as I entered Mukumary on Monday, March 10th.

The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, 
while others cut branches from the trees 
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
Matthew 21:1-11

We had to drive there from Lodja (small city in the middle of the DRC we flew into) which is 145km south of Mukumary.

Lodja is on the bottom right, Mukumary is the top of the map
The car stopped in sort of the middle of nowhere (but seriously, it was the middle of nowhere)!  Father Emmanuel said, "It's time to get out, they want to welcome you."

Some of the people gathered to walk me to the Church.

They even had palms!
So we got out, and there were two schools of children (the entire elementary school and high school) plus tons of villagers and parishioners were singing and dancing.  They walked me, leading with palms to the Church.  This was the first time I was the center of a parade!

What does 'google' say a parade is?

Here in the states we have parades sometimes; however, I think there are only a few really great, epic, talk about for the ages parades.  I'm not intentionally excluding anyone, but I think of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, Superbowl parades for the Winning Team, and (although we used to be better at these) parades for Soldiers when they return from War and Service overseas.  These are epic, talk about for decades to come, known to people who weren't even there, parades!

This is the kind of parade, a public procession celebrating a special day - that was the experience Christ had when walking into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his death.  It was an epic parade - one we still remember each year in the Liturgy.  We even are sure that each person in the Church (old and young alike) has a palm to wave in procession.  At some Masses people even gather outside all together to process around the grounds waving their palms.  In Rome, the Holy Father processed around St. Peter's Square in His vestments (the same ones Blessed John Paul II wore on Palm Sunday each year) with a palm branch remembering the person of Christ.

A procession to be remembered for the ages!

I had this experience as I entered the village of Mukumary, the village of Mpete, and the village of Mpama.  A parade to be remembered for the ages in my mind and the mind of the villagers of these places.  It was an epic day.  I brought only me, my smile, and my love.  And it was more than enough for them.  It was more than they were seeking.  They were honored because I was there - not because of what I could do for them or what I was going to do or how I was going to do it.  They had nothing to gain and most of them didn't even know my name!  When I got to the church they had be stand on a table so that everyone could see me.

They have nothing and yet they have everything.  They know what is important in life and focus on the things that matter: God, family, faith, friends, joy!  They know how to celebrate - and while I was there we had our fair share of partying, dancing, singing, and celebrating!  Mass was never under 3 hours - the opening processional hymn at the Church in the village was almost 20 minutes long!  But no one was bored or looking at their watch.  They were humbled and grateful to be able to worship their God.

Everywhere I went they greeted me waving palms, singing, and dancing.  Everywhere I went they greeted me as they would greet Christ himself.  Looking on me with the most profound love.  I'm not sure I can love like they do - unreservedly, unconditional, untainted by all the junk we cloud it up with here.  We love based on conditions - what you can do for me, how you have treated me in the past, how you might treat me in the future, how I feel today, what I want to do, and thousands of other reasons. 

We think you can run out of love - we look at bigger families and think "How can that one mother love all of those children?  They must be deprived of love!"  But they know that it's not possible to run out of love (and so do the mothers of large families).  Love multiplies as you give it away.  It gets bigger!  It also has a universal language.  Most of the people in the village spoke a few languages - their mother tongue is Tetela, the Mass is in Lingala, the official language of the country is French, and honestly - they probably understand more than those three since there are 4 national languages and at least 400 'mother tongues' for tribes in the DRC.  But I really only speak English - understand a good amount of Spanish and Italian, know much of the Mass in Latin, know the letters in Greek, can say a few words in Portuguese, and have tried with all (honestly, some) of my might to learn French (not very good, yet).  Still I can only speak and communicate in English.

But still we understood each other.  I understood when they woman was hugging me how much she loved me.

We are not all as different as we think.  Our situations are different - I fall into thinking that 'poverty' is not having enough money to go out to eat a lot or shopping at Aldi instead of Harris Teeter.  However, poverty in America looks much different - what we have in material wealth we lack in spiritual wealth.  When we have visitors come we don't welcome them with song and dance.

If Jesus Christ was coming to our parish this week would we prepare a program of singing and dancing like this?  Spending our day welcoming Him and pushing away all of the other cares we have to spend this time just being near him and seeing him?  Or would we say "Hey, great that you're here - I'll see you later, I've got some stuff to finish up."?  We're all guilty of it - I'm guilty of it. But I think that we could change the world, change the hearts of the people in the world, if we really saw each person as Christ.  Welcomed each person with our whole being as we would Christ.  Loved each person because of who they are, not what they have or what they can do for us.

What if there was a parade in our city each time a visitor came?  What difference could that make in our hearts?  How would it change our perspective?


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