Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Africa, Part IV

Guest blog by Sister Maxyne Schneider, President of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, who is currently visiting missioning Sisters in Africa.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

If you look closely, you can see the donkey cart that is not an uncommon sight in the Rift Valley.

There are so many things that can be said further, even by someone who has been here just over a week. It is time to touch the surface of many things, realizing that the reality is deeper, broader, and more complex than what meets a visitor's eye. This is true of the Kenyan geography, flora and fauna, political and social interactions, the  ministries of all our sisters who have served in East Africa, and Pat's gifts that she has used here. Here are a few random observations in no special order:

Pat speaks fluent Kiswahili and is an amazing bargainer in the marketplaces, which are filled with scores of stalls and tarps laden with goods, mostly secondhand materials from the West. 
Everywhere we have gone we have seen remarkably beautiful fresh produce -- fruits, vegetables and tea from the plantations close to Kisii -- being sold from roadside stalls or in special marketplaces.
Not just the young sisters in formation, but older sisters, brothers, priests and other laypersons spoke to me of how Pat has accompanied them spiritually, sometimes through hard times.

Security measures are evident everywhere, including at the Nairobi supermarket, where security guards check car trunks and the underneath part of the car and where handbags are searched upon entry. This follows upon terrorist incidents of the past few years.

Pat has spoken often of the violence that occurred after the 2008 Presidential election and how deeply people have been effected by it. She herself needed to remain for some days at the Jesuit retreat house where she had just finished directing a retreat. The Divine Word sisters at the conference and retreat center where we were this past weekend sheltered workers and others from the region amid the violence. Effects of the violence linger.

On Sunday, as we moved back towards Nairobi, we went to the Nakuru National Park, where we saw many of East Africa's beautiful animals. On Monday during our final leg of the journey home we saw herds of zebra and Thompson's gazelles just grazing in fields that bordered the highway.
The natural beauty of the portion of Kenya that I have seen this week is stunning.

The extent of poverty and the rigors of life for the poor can weigh on the soul even from a distance. Pope Francis will visit one of Nairobi's largest slums during his upcoming visit.

Today we visited Tangaza University here in Nairobi, established with the collaboration of 22 religious congregations. We met Sr. Pat Kane's former student, Jeff, who now heads the communication department that Pat established. On the wall hangs a picture of Pat as first Director, sent by Sr. Mary Quinn in 2010 after she visited here and received a request for it from Jeff. With this visit today Pat Smith and I completed our pilgrimage to at least one site where each of our sisters has served.

It has been a remarkable privilege to be with Pat as she completes this mission that has encompassed most of her adult life and has fulfilled the early sense of God's call that she felt for the African mission. It has likewise been a gift to visit most of the places where our sisters have lived and ministered in Kenya, being reminded of what richness they have brought to our Congregation as well as to the people of Kenya. I have been aware all through this time here that, much like my predecessors in such visits, my purposes are to express congregational support for those who are here, to honor the past ministries of our sisters, and to be "eyes and ears" on behalf of the congregation in relating what I have experienced.

I leave with a sense of gratitude and admiration -- for Pat, for our sisters who have been in East Africa before her, and for the many people I have met in these past several days. There is a vibrancy in their faith that, to use Pat's words, appears to be integrated with the whole of their lives. Among the missioners, lay and religious, I feel a sense of warm community and an almost palpable sense of mission. Is it the urgency of the needs that are here in Kenya as well as in neighboring countries like South Sudan?

I have been enriched by this experience and will need time to let its effects deepen in me. We in the Community of St. Joseph are all enriched through the ministry of our sisters who have been here, knowing that where they have been, there we are. Let us welcome Pat back to her U.S. home after 42 years of mission in Africa and support her in her time of transition. Let us thank her and all those who preceded or  accompanied her in ministry here. We are blessed.

Sister Maxyne Schneider

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