Departure on Thursday 26 January: “Early in the morning, before the sun came up…” With this happy tune Fr. Daniels, superior of the Society in Southern Africa, together with Fr. Gendron, the prior from Zimbabwe, left for the north of Zambia. This would be the second missionary trip. Fr. Gendron had done it one year before, all on his own! The destination was Mansa, a small town situated in the north of Zambia. Given the troubles in Congo, there was no other solution than to drive around the tip of that immense country. Oh Africa, how great thou art! We would stay with the people of Mansa for a whole week, to the great joy of the Chapewa family!
How many times foreigners would ask us: “Father, do you often come across lions?” Well, this time it ran true. A little way before the border of Zambia, lo and behold, a pride of 10 lions crossed the road! They stopped and we all looked at each other with only 5 metres or so between us! What a site to see these lions walking along such a well used road! So we drove for quite a distance before stopping for our picnic…had to be wise! One never knows where a lion might be hiding!
We had made doubly sure that the car was in order. One doesn’t find a mechanic at each corner in Africa! Well, it was somewhere close to the lions that strange noises came from the front wheel. Stop and see what was going on? A little further from the lions if you please! We couldn’t see anything wrong and of course, no garage nearby either. We had to pray all the way that this noise wouldn’t get worse! We arrived at Lusaka that night and the next day the Toyota people checked out the problem. “You were very lucky, “ they told us. “One more loose bolt and you would have lost your front wheel!” Our mission would have been over! Deo gratias!
Friday 27 January: Once the repair was done we were back on the road having lost just a couple of hours of time. But the car began to cough from time to time and once again we had to say our prayers that we would get to Mansa in one piece! Another site came in view that one would only find in Africa: Along the road, on the left hand side, we avoided a sort of sack. But, what was it? We only just missed it! Turning around to reinspect it, we noticed it was a human shape, a woman sleeping peacefully on the side of the road! No, not next to the road! On it, but to one side! What a bed! No doubt the tarmac was warmer and less damp than the bush. Dangerous… but then again, its Africa!!
Finally we arrived at Mansa. Mr. Chapewa had reserved 2 rooms in a hotel for us, because since he had moved village he no longer had space for us. Almost all his family is under one roof. This represents 12 children and 6 of their children!
Saturday 28 January: Morning Mass followed by the first part of a conference on the crisis in the Church. Of course a Bemba translation was necessary! There were, however, many people and children around giving us funny looks, or rather, staring in utter disbelief. Many had never seen a white man before let alone a priest in a black cassock?! Very soon it was noised abroad that we were Satanists. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop everybody listening to what Fr. Gendron had to say! Second conference in the afternoon was with a different group of people. That evening we were given a room in the annex of the Brother’s house. The hotel proved far too expensive for us. Anyhow, we wished to be with the people.
Sunday 29 January: After a difficult night on a bed where the springs stuck into Fr. Gendron’s ribs, and a hole into which Fr. Daniels fell every time he turned around, we had a most enchanting bush-shower. A bucket bath in the Carmelite manner (but with hot water). We offered up that day for the intention that the faithful may understand the meaning of “Tradition” and the true faith. Beware! “Tradition” among the blacks may have many meanings: Very close to the little house we were staying, we met with a sign written on cloth that said “Traditional Healer”. It seemed that we were obviously not the only “Traditionalists” in this area! The witchdoctor was sitting in front of his hut waiting for clients! Poor Africa! With the dawn of Vatican II, the priests left and the witchdoctors entered!
Monday 30 January: Remember the coughing car? Well, some good souls helped us out. The fuel tank of the car was so full of dirt that the petrol couldn’t get through! The petrol in these places is not very pure! During this time 2 Congolese men (John and Augustin) also came along. In Congo they speak French, apart from the thousand other languages. They spoke to us about the war in the Congo which made them flee to Zambia and marry Zambians. One of them told us this story of something that happened a few months ago. In his village while the tribes were fighting, (they are always fighting!) one of the opponents caught a pregnant woman, cut her open and removed her baby. They then roasted the baby which they then ate! And you thought cannibalism was dead and gone! We are in Africa, let me remind you! This Congolese man told this story with all the vivid details. Somehow we seem to remember something about the “dignity of man”!?! Now where did we hear this one again? Poor Africa!
In the evening the village chief, Mr Sumbu, visited us and assured us of his support. He told us that his spy had been observing our comportment for the last few days and that he was satisfied with our visit. This was a victory for us because it was the first time that someone in authority had taken sides with us! But, the devil would make us pay alright! That night, when we went to bed the babies kept crying one after the other, then a huge storm kept us awake most of the night. The little holes in the tin roof gave us a fine little shower, and fine indeed it was! Ah, you know, things like these give you many happy memories.
I had no idea that Fr. Gendron was no special friend of spiders. I had seen the usual spider or two in the room, big black fury ones, you know. Well, thank goodness that night Fr. Gendron’s mosquito net was in use because during the night he felt something strange touching his hand through the net. In the morning he discovered with horror that it was one of these friendly monsters. Good thing I never thought of telling him. He would have screamed and woken me … or worse still, the people would really have believed that the Satanists were in town!
Tuesday 31 January: Feast of St John Bosco. Zambia is very beautiful and so we decided to change from missionaries to tourists. Only a little if you please. We visited a beautiful waterfall and then on to Lake Bangwelu one hour away. This was our last day before going back to Lusaka. The waterfall was very beautiful and made us feel like swimming. Some children also showed us their courage in jumping from the top. But when we arrived about 200 metres from the lake, the car wouldn’t move any further. Remember that car? That was the end of our outing! Even though a mechanic came to help us out, we were still stuck. We did, however, take a few minutes to go and have a look at the lake. It is huge! After waiting for an hour, a minibus accepted to tow us back to Mansa, some 78kms away. It was late and night had fallen. Our car battery was flat so we had no light. The bus also had a light problem. We got back to Mansa at 9pm, without lights, with only the bus’s hazard lights to stop us from having an accident. My goodness, did we give our guardian angels some work to do! Africa, O Africa!! Of course it was impossible for us to get going early the next morning.
But, added to this problem, Fr Daniels also had a very important meeting scheduled. The District Commissioner (the highest authority in the whole Mansa district) had wished to see him. Here we were being dragged into Mansa late at night while the Commissioner was waiting. He could not waste time. Luckily, she pardoned me when she learnt why I was late. “Please explain yourself, what are you doing in Mansa? “she wanted to know. Well, there is nothing better than simplicity, and so, I explained to her everything. She turned out to be a Catholic, and had asked one of the local priests a few days before to come and bless her house. He had said that he could do it on the condition that she gave him an “envelope”. Put off by this reply, she turned to me: “Will you bless my house?” “But of course, dear lady!” I replied, without asking anything in return.
This lady had been scandalised by the Mansa priest’s behaviour. She gave us her assurance of our presence in Zambia telling us that she was very happy at our presence and that we should come again soon. She even told me that she would help us establish a school!
From a reliable source we were told that only 2 or 3 priests of the Mansa diocese, out of about 40, do not have women and children. It is a common thing to see the priests drunk on a Saturday night and with a hangover on the Sunday morning.
Wednesday 1 February: Feast of St Ignatius of Antioch. After Holy Mass we baptized 3 of Mr. Chapewa’s grandchildren. One of them, Jacinta cried, or rather screamed throughout the whole ceremony! Truly the devil leaves with a lot of noise! The 2 marriages that had been prepared were cancelled in the end because of customary difficulties.
After the baptisms Fr Daniels went to see a 90 year old lady who was very ill. She was lying on the bare ground whilst I administered the sacrament of Extreme Unction. I couldn’t help thinking: Here we have a good and simple soul, delighted to be able to receive the last sacraments with not a word of complaint, not even against the local priests who refused to come to her aid because she couldn’t pay. Yet back home, people wallow in their luxuries but with every complaint conceivable!
Poor Fr. Gendron then spent the whole day at the garage while the reason for the breakdown was being resolved. The electrician made the wrong diagnosis. He searched all day for a part that was not available in the shops. Finally at the end of the day he managed to replace the part on the car that was supposedly broken and still the car wouldn’t start! It was late. We changed our plans the next day. We had our last meal with Mr. Chapewa. The menu didn’t change from the day we arrived: breakfast, lunch and supper, we were offered rice, bread, chicken, mealie meal (and some jam for breakfast). On the last day, instead of the usual menu we had fish with a thousand bones! Nevertheless, it was for us like the best restaurant in town!
Thursday 2 February: Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady wanted to be honoured in Zambia. We would have already left if it was not for the breakdown. After the Mass we imposed the scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on about 20 people and then we had a big Gregorian chant practice for the whole family. Fr Daniels was Choir Master. Mr. Chapewa, touched by the grace of David before the Arc of the Covenant, sang Kyrie 8 for whoever wished to hear it! Whether it was in the taxi or at the garage, everybody could hear it if they wished! Then the big news came that the vehicle was ready! The goodbyes said, we eventually left. It was 4.30pm! What a trip! The roads are narrow and the trucks enormous! Passing each other is an art in itself! Not being able to get to Lusaka in time we decided to stop at Kapiri Mposhi. Finally, the next day, we crossed the border where we were issued our desired visas. Thank you, Dear Lord!
Now I have to celebrate a Mass for the souls of customs officers still in Purgatory!
Conclusion: We can say that apart from the problems we had with the vehicle, our Mission was a success especially from one point of view in particular: the presence of 10 men who are now convinced about Tradition. This new fort of the Faith needs these people for the revival of the faith. A number of them have decided to come to Zimbabwe in April in order to follow the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. Peter, an important assistant in our first mission, being ill, received communion in hospital. It was a joy to hear him talking about the faith he had kept since his retreat last year. He offered up his illness for the apostolate in Mansa. May Our Lady protect him and bless this apostolate in Zambia!