The Precious Blood Major Superiors meeting in Tanzania in September unanimously approved the request from the Tanzanian Vicariate to be raised to the status of a province. This was the highlight of the business portion of our gathering. But the most poignant moment for me occurred on our visit to Itigi on Saturday, September 20.
The director of the hospital at Itigi, Fr. Seraphim, is a wonderfully warm and hospitable person. His smile can light up the dreariest of days. He attended one of the retreats I gave last year and had given me a tour of the hospital when I spent a couple of days in Itigi. This year, the doctor in charge of medical care at the hospital gave us the tour. He and Fr. Seraphim expressed profound gratitude to the Kansas City Province for the CT scan machine that the members approved at last June’s Assembly. They hope to have it installed by Gaspar’s Day.
This hospital saves so many lives. More than 80,000 people a year are served by the hospital and the children especially have a better chance to survive and have a healthy life because of the prenatal care provided by the hospital. After the tour, we walked about a half mile or so to the church. As we were walking, Fr. Seraphim said there was funeral about to begin at the church. He was the main celebrant. One of the nurses at the hospital died suddenly the day before while caring for a patient. Because of the heat and lack of embalming, the funeral takes place as soon as possible.
The Church was packed when we arrived. We walked past the casket at the front door of the church—a simple wood box with a picture of the nurse, smiling, setting on top of the coffin with a few flowers and ribbons. Each of us paused briefly at the coffin to pray and bless the body. The large group of family and friends gathered at the entrance of the church were chanting a lamentation. We stayed for the opening rituals and then we had to get back on the bus and return to Dodoma.
As we walked out of the church, the mysteries of life and death and the power of relationship, of covenant in the blood of Christ, were so clear on that hot September afternoon in Itigi. Just before walking to church, we had visited the maternity unit were newborn babies slept in their mother’s arms, so tiny, so fragile, and so beautiful. And within a few hundred yards, we traveled a lifetime to the funeral of a woman who the day before may have assisted at the birth of one of these babies and was now on her way to a new birth, a new creation, as her family, friends, and parish mourned her sudden loss.
The blood of Christ beckons us to believe in the power of these relationships that bind us together in a covenant of love. A covenant forged in the forgiving love of Christ on the cross that draws all peoples near to the very heart of God.