Into Africa: Ten Life Lessons in East Africa

Fr Pat Neary, CSC in East Africa

Approaching the end of his first year in East Africa, Fr. Pat Neary, C.S.C., reflects in his blog post this month on ten simple lessons he has learned from his life and ministry there – ten simple lessons he says are “not so much lessons as reminders.”

1. Black is Beautiful. Why isn’t black considered a beautiful color? Scientists have shown how the color black contains within itself the whole spectrum of colors. Even here, the lighter the skin, the more beautiful you seem to advertisers. If human beings originated here, black was our original color. Someone said that making us different colors was God’s joke but that we never got the joke!

2. Holy Cross is a Family. I don’t know how many other religious communities speak so often of themselves as a family. It’s how Blessed Basil Moreau wanted us to relate to each other. Now I have met my African Holy Cross family. My life is now inextricably linked to theirs.

3. God is in Small Things. At the first Sunday Mass I attended in Nairobi, I was feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Three times during Mass a very small child approached me and briefly held my hand. Children here are too shy to approach a stranger. To such as these belong the Kingdom of God.

4. The Cross, Our Only Hope. I took the night bus from Kampala, Uganda, Saturday night back to Nairobi. Through the entire journey I could see the Southern Cross out my window. It hovered there as a luminescent symbol of the core mystery of the universe. It is also the core of Holy Cross spirituality. How easy to forget that there can be no transformation without the daily crosses we carry.

5. The Consolata, My Heroes. When our seminary was condemned for demolition in October, we felt like the Holy Family on the Flight to Egypt. We had nowhere to go. The Consolata community, an Italian missionary order, rented us a wonderful facility. I understood then what true solidarity means.

6. God has a Sense of Humor. One night during our novena for Bro. Andre, the seminarian leader of prayer managed to trip over the drums on his way to the ambo. Hearing the cacophony, I have rarely laughed so hard. When he read a reading from Blessed Basil Moreau and said, “The Word of the Lord,” one of the men responded, “I’m not so sure.” I almost had to leave the chapel. God reminds us through humor to take life and our selves lightly.

7. Trust in Divine Providence. When we were searching for a new formation house, I knew that we would find a place. It was perfect, with a chapel, space for a library, a kitchen and dining room, and plenty of bedrooms. God has worked out every detail of our lives. All we have to do is trust his plan. We seem to have to learn this lesson over and over.

8. The Virtue of Patience. Americans are notoriously impatient and so am I. Here I cannot avoid impossibly long traffic jams, government inefficiency, and interminably slow internet. People often aren’t in their offices when they are supposed to be. When folks come to visit unannounced, work is set aside and tea is served. I’ve been forced to slow down, and I’m learning how to pray in traffic jams.

9. Manchester United is the Notre Dame of Soccer. Knowing how important football (soccer) is here, I had to find a good team to follow. I settled on Manchester United. Most of the men at McCauley House follow Arsenal or Chelsea, and a few loyal souls follow Liverpool. For April Fool’s Day, I had holy cards made of Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United, declaring him, “Servant of God.” I placed them on all the chairs in the chapel before 6:30 a.m. Mass. I had a blast watching the reactions.

10. Be Always Thankful. I cannot explain why, but I find my heart full of gratitude as I write this little blog. Probably the best spiritual practice out there is to count our blessings. How easy to focus on what is wrong and forget all that is right! Curiously, the great mystics all agree that fundamentally there is nothing really wrong with the world. When we look back on the entirety of our lives with Christ in heaven, won’t we marvel at how perfect it all was?

Fr Pat Neary, CSC with some of the Holy Cross family in East Africa

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