A few months ago Chris and I started attending church in a parish that is run by the Maryknoll Fathers. It's a little further away for us, but we liked the parish. It's got a lively congregation and it's really nice to see our brothers in community, the MK Fathers, each week. Plus, it's easier to understand a westerner who speaks Swahili than a native speaker. So, if we're lucky we can understand a little more of the homily! I've posted pictures of me in the past when I was hanging out with the parish women's group making chapati.
Anyways, this Wednesday the parish was celebrating the ordination of a new priest. Now, I've never been to an ordination in the States, so I have nothing to compare this to. But I'm pretty sure that our ordinations are NOTHING like this! Here in TZ the ordinations are celebrated individually in the home parish of the new priest rather than in one large celebration at the Cathedral. And when I say celebrated, I mean CELEBRATED! There were close to 3000 people at the Mass.
They set up a bunch of tents to accommodate the number of people.
We were considered "special guests" (either because we're foreigners or because we're Maryknoll family, probably both) and got "chai" beforehand. Chai consisted of tea or coffee, chapatis, mandazis (which are friend dough), boiled egg, and meat soup. Probably about 100 other people were considered special guests as well and got the same treatment. I heard a rumor that all the other guests got mandazis and chai, but I'm not sure.
After chai we headed to the church for Mass, which was held outside in an open area that has a roof, in order for everyone under the tents to see the alter.
We sat in the section for Sisters. I hope no one noticed that we weren't wearing habits!
Mass was about 3 hours long. It was full of wonderful music sung by the choir who had matching outfits and fancy hairdos. A kids group did liturgical dances during every song.
The kids must've been so tired because they spent almost the whole day dancing!
The Bishop said Mass along with probably at least 35 other priests. At one point, all of them came up and gave the new priest a big hug one-by-one.
The Bishop blessing the new priest.
After Mass was over all 3000 people were invited to come up and shake the hand of the new priest and congratulate him. There was a guy on a microphone the whole time shouting "Welcome! Welcome! Greet the new priest! Shake his hand!" We sat there for a little while, but then made our way to the back and up into the priests' residence where we discovered lunch was already being served. Everyone who attended the Mass was invited to eat dinner either in the residence or outside. It was such a well-ordered affair and there was so much food! We had the choice of rice (2 kinds), chicken, beef (I think), fish, veggies, watermelon, beer, water, soda. I was in such awe of how organized* everything was and how smoothly things seemed to move. In a country where the systems are a complete anomaly to me, this seemed like a big deal.
After lunch they had a huge gift-giving ceremony where people from each community were invited to present the new priest with a gift. The gift was announced by loudspeaker so all could hear. At this point it was getting on into the afternoon so we snuck out**. I don't know how late everything went that day, but when we left our car was stuck in the back of the parking lot so we had to leave it until the following day.
I heard that the following day the parish had another, more intimate gathering of about 300 people from just the parish. They had another celebration where gifts were danced up the aisles to the new priest and a snake dancer was there to entertain the crowd. Then afterwards the family hosted another big reception, resembling a wedding reception, at the yacht club. We had to work that day so unfortunately we skipped out on these festivities.
I have to say, at first when I was attending the ordination on Wednesday I kind of struggled a little bit in my mind about how to reconcile such extravagance in the midst of a country that has such poverty. I couldn't help but continue to dwell on how much money must've been spent to put such an elaborate affair together and wonder if the money could've been better spent on some community outreach project. But then I realized how much joy and pride this gave the community. Most Tanzanians don't celebrate birthdays or holidays
in the way that we do in America. They don't give and receive gifts or have big elaborate meals. Therefore, they don't get much opportunity to
celebrate. And some of the people in this community don't have two coins to rub together on most days. They don't have much they can take pride in. This was something that brought the community together and gave them a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It's something major to be proud of and you could certainly see their pride shining through, whether it was in the matching outfits of the dancers and choir or in the work and preparation that went into planning the day. I feel like celebrations like these are so important in everyone's life. We should all have days where we can pull out all the stops, eat a fabulous meal, have fellowship with those we love. I live for days like this myself, so why shouldn't everyone?
*Each church in TZ has small community groups that do weekly Bible study and provide support to each other. For this ordination I think that each group was responsible for helping to raise money for the food and they had to prepare and serve the lunches to people in their community. This contributed to the orderliness of the day.
**There is no such thing as sneaking out when you're a white person in an all black country. Everyone watched us as we tried to be stealthy and sneak away. I always find it kinda funny when we try to be sneaky and it totally backfires.