Kicking off Holy Week, I attended the Palm Sunday Youth Mass and Procession. It began with the blessing of the palms in the stadium in Embu town. Sr. Carol and I were a little late; as soon as we joined the crowd, Bishop Kariuki sprinkled us with holy water and off we went! The crowd consisted of about 200 young people, but as we processed through the streets of Embu, more and more people joined us.
Most people had full palm branches they waved while singing songs of Hosanna. I have never felt so close to Jerusalem before! As we processed through the streets, there was a great energy and excitement among our group. I could easily imagine Jesus was just a couple steps ahead of me.
I quickly lost Sr. Carol in the crowd, but one of my friends, Louise, found me in the crowd. After our hour walk to Karangu Girls Secondary School, Louise and I found a seat under the tents for Mass. The Embu University choir that had kept the music going as we walked there, continued to be awesome. They had so much fun, singing and dancing at Mass that I wanted to go join them!
Bishop Kariuki gave a wonderful homily on Pope Francis’ theme for youth this year, “The Mighty One has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49). He described how Mary’s words echo in our own lives, when we trust in God to work miracles.
During Communion, the skies opened and rain poured down. Although the Eucharistic ministers were under umbrellas, I knew I’d be drenched going to them. However, just as I was about to exit the tent, the Bishop (of all people) appeared right in front of me! #Godmoment
After Mass, the choir danced for entertainment and then the fundraising portion. At this point, it was about 1pm (we had started in the stadium at 9am). Louise and I were joined by Brenda, another student. We went to the food vendors that were gathered around the gate of the school, enjoying smokies and biscuits.
We then walked back to Embu with Sr. Carol and about 8 more students. It was so great seeing the girls in normal clothes (instead of school uniforms). They were so happy and free! It had only been a couple days since I saw them last, but I had missed them!
The Chrism Mass for Embu Diocese was on Thursday; although I would also be going to evening Mass, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to witness a priest procession! There were probably 40 priests there–one literally danced down the aisle during the procession.
Mass only lasted 2.5 hours, which was short! Afterwards, I was pleasantly surprised to get a plate full of rice, chapati, meat stew and a slice of watermelon for lunch. Then, being escorted by the sisters, I greeted almost every priest and sister from other congregations. Holy Thursday is the institution of the priesthood and religious life. So everyone was smiling, saying, “Happy feast!”
For supper, we really did feast! We had chicken, potatoes, soda and GRAPES!!! Delicious, sweet, red grapes that cost ksh 250 per package. I didn’t know I had missed them so much. It was just another ‘oasis in the desert.’
For the Holy Thursday liturgy, we went to the nearby parish, St. Francis. I decided to sit by myself, since the church wasn’t very full. Luckily, it began to fill up as mass started. Two girls, probably around 8, sat next to me. At first, they kept their distance, but I kept catching them looking at me and my Magnificat. I handed it to them to look at as we waited for mass to start (this is Africa–nothing starts on time). They huddled close together, mouthing the words to the prayers.
Mass was not that different from home, but with extra songs added in. My friends left for a bit, but when they returned, they sat right next to me. They were a lot less shy now. After Mass, Fr. Jeremiah invited the sisters (and their visitor) to greet the parish. When it was my turn, I spoke too fast, of course. I watched the whole church lean forward in the ‘pardon?’ gesture I’ve become very accustomed to. After repeating myself at a slower pace, everyone welcomed me with a loud, ‘Karibu.’ I love Kenya.
What I’ve learned this Holy Week: I love processions!! And the Stations of the Cross procession left from right outside our gate for Good Friday. Leading our group, a full-size cross was carried by someone different each station. I found it very inspiring as the cross-bearers clung to the cross at each station. Then, they would hoist it up onto their shoulder with help from the people around. We walked at the pace of the cross-bearer, so in a way we were engaged in their journey.
I loved slowly walking and praying in the countryside. Since I didn’t understand the songs (except ‘Nothing but the Blood of Jesus’) or readings, I was able to enjoy the mystery of Good Friday at my own pace. The sun was high and hot, so every bit of shade was cause for celebration. The fragrance of the path was a mix of Grandma’s garden, Georgian pine forest and something uniquely Kenyan. Just lovely prayer time!
The procession took 2 full hours from our gate to St. Francis church. Without realizing it, I received a righteous sunburn and as a result, felt light-headed and nauseous during the service. I spent most of it sitting outside the church, but I wasn’t alone since many people with children were out there as well. Even in that momentary suffering, I saw God’s hand, since it allowed me to be with Christ in his pain.
Once again, we headed to St. Francis Church for Easter Vigil at 7pm. We began outside, gathered around the bonfire. (As we waited, I made more friends–one little girl wanted to know all 3 names of everyone in my family. After each one, she said, ‘oh, that’s nice.’)
The liturgy was rather simple: no brass section, gorgeous bouquets of flowers or ornate cloths. But, they had an energetic choir and parishioners, a keyboard with a variety of beats, and many songs! Around 20 new Christians were welcomed into the Church that night, many in darling white dresses.
Not going to lie, I fell asleep many times during this mass. It lasted about 4.5 hours! Luckily, once I got too comfortable, the keyboard would start again and we’d get up to dance and clap. Attending this liturgy was great (despite my sleepiness). It was simple and authentic, full of true human experience!
Surprisingly, this was the most unexciting liturgy this week. The sisters decided to attend mass at Don Bosco Boys Secondary School (which is just down the road from us). There were only 15 people in total; mass only lasted 45 mins! Afterwards, Fr. Minor invited me and Sr. Jane to tea. Since I have only been to DBBSS once before, I was happy to visit with our neighbors.
For Easter lunch, I helped Sr. Jane make chapati (fried tortilla thing). Which is another way to say: she corrected my mistakes on each one! We feasted at both lunch and supper, since it was also the animator of the community’s birthday. Sr. Geraldine turned 78! Like all celebrations here in Embu, we processed in with the cake, gifts and a drum, singing and dancing. It doesn’t get much better than seeing sisters singing ‘cut the cake-y’ and trying to hit each other with balloons.
May the joy of the Risen Lord be with you and your families!
-Megan Swanson, VIDES missioner
BIG GIVE 2017. May 4th.
I’ll be there. You’ll have a great time knowing that you are part of this adventure too! You don’t want to miss out!
Mark your calendars. Invite family and friends to do the same. Support #BIGGIVE2017. Take up our #VIDES10at10 challenge. Donate $10.00 at 10 o’clock May 4 to VIDES+USA.
Be a missioner with our missioners.
We currently have an amazing opportunity. Thanks to a matching grant, what you donate through the Big Give, up to $1,000, will double. That means you can make double the impact with your generous donation!
View our profile: (https://www.thebiggivesa.org/organizations/vides-usa)