“To evangelize the culture – to transfigure it into Christ!”

The Feast of the Transfiguration holds a place of particular importance for our religious family. As our Directory of Spirituality says, it “reminds us of the specific purpose of our small religious family: to evangelize the culture – to transfigure it into Christ” (122).  That’s why this day is the day on which we particularly celebrate our charism – the evangelization of the culture!

Our rule further instructs us (cf. #29) that we must spread Christ’s life to others and transform souls by elevating the culture with Christ’s life.  As St. Thomas Aquinas said: By his ignorance of the worthiness of his own nature, man is misled into clinging to things less than God in nature as to an end.

We ask you to pray for our missionaries in a particular way, for their fidelity to the call to evangelize the culture!

We share with you some excerpts of a recent chronicle written by one of our missionary priests in Tanzania, Africa, where our priests and sisters are working to evangelize the culture. Fr. Diego Cano describes three popular missions that were carried out in some of the villages where our sisters and priests are located.

Popular Missions in Tanzania - “Sacrificial and Joyful Missionaries"

Ushetu, Tanzania, 20 July 2021

Our religious priests and sisters, aspirants and novices have been asking since the beginning of the year: “Where are the missions going to be this year?” There is a marked apostolic fervor in all of them, and they always remember the popular missions as a great time of grace. As you know, our parishes here in Tanzania are characterized by being rural parishes, large in size, and with many villages scattered all over the place, some very distant. One of the great challenges of our mission is to reach out more and more to villages that are far away and where the majority are non-Christian. If I am not mistaken, we started doing popular missions in 2017, and to this day we have had ten missions, without repeating the location of any of them. Ten popular missions, but we have 43 villages, and therefore we continue to have many possibilities to do popular missions to the non-Christians for many years to come!

This year we carried out three popular missions simultaneously. First of all we chose the village where the parish center of Ushetu is located, which is called Ibelansuha. We chose it because, since it is where the missionaries and the sisters have been living for so many years, as often happens, we have not missioned it as we should –  visiting all the houses, and walking to the ends of the village. It seemed to us that this mission would be a little difficult, since the people are already used to seeing us. However, we were amazed at the response and the great enthusiasm of our parishioners. It was incredible to see the parish church, which is quite big, almost full every day for the missionary acts. The rosary at dawn started at 5:30 in the morning, while it was still dark, and arrived at the church just as dawn was beginning. More than one hundred people came to participate every day… almost from the first day. The missionaries made an effort to begin to visit the most distant houses, and the afternoon processions left every day from a different neighborhood, some of them almost five kilometers away from the church. Many children participated in the afternoon, when they were out of school, and there were more than 200 children.

There were 17 missionaries at this parish center, with sisters, religious priests and brothers, and volunteers of Voces Verbi. The preacher of this mission was Fr. Victor Guaman, IVE. On the closing day, 77 children were baptized, and the church was completely full, with many people participating from other villages.

The second missionary center was in Itumbo, in the southern zone of the parish of Ushetu, in the chapel “St. Pio of Pietralcina”. This is an area in great need of missions because the people are scattered in the countryside and there is a lot of paganism. Christians are few, and at the same time their faith is very weak in the midst of an environment so forgetful of the things of God. There are many witch-doctors and sorcerers, who really subdue them through fear. On many occasions it is the witches who decide when they can cultivate crops and when they cannot; they demand contributions of animals or money for the spirit-worship, they put amulets on the children at a very high price, for example a cow. Christians are few in proportion, and pagan parties and orgies for marriages are the order of the day. Here, polygamy is the most common thing that exists. In the days of the mission, the Fathers and Sisters were visiting the most remote places, going into the bush, really in places where a missionary has never gone.

People always welcome them, because it is a tradition in Africa to welcome visitors, even if you do not share their creed. It is the oriental hospitality, a sign of good manners, and a tradition in the cultures of these places. During the home visits, the sisters met people who had never heard of Jesus Christ, and they had the opportunity to speak to them and make a first proclamation of the Gospel. It is incredible that in our own parish, where so many priests and missionaries have been for almost 60 or 70 years, we continue to reach people who are totally pagan. 

This center of Nyasa consists of nine villages, some of which reach the border with the forest reserves. In this mission of Itumbo, religious men and women and young people from Voces Verbi also participated, and in total there were 20 missionaries. The preacher of this mission was Fr. Jaime Martinez, IVE. At the closing, 23 people were baptized, there were three marriages, three first communions and eight confirmations.

The third mission center was in Salawe, in the western part of Kangeme Parish. The male missionaries stayed in the “mission station” of Mazirayo, Our Lady of Lujan. The sisters, novice and aspirants slept in the house that the novice’s family, who is from that village of Salawe, lent them. It was a very humble little house, like all the houses in this area, with mud walls, and in a very small space where they slept with much sacrifice. This village, in the old days, when we started our mission in Ushetu, we would go to celebrate mass maybe once or twice a year. There was a small mud chapel with a thatched roof. And today we have a beautiful church, dedicated to St. Louis King of France. For the people it was incredible that the missionaries were with them for so many days. Many people participated in the dawn rosary, and for the missionary acts, the church was full. It was also a sacrifice for the priests and the male missionaries, who had to travel back and forth every day from Mazirayo to Salawe. The road was in very bad condition, so much so that the missionaries went the day before to work and fill some places on the road to facilitate the passage of the vehicle, which is a four-wheel drive. On the day of the closing of the mission, 33 baptisms, five marriages, four confirmations, and four first communions were celebrated. The missionaries in this mission were about 20, including religious priests and brothers, sisters and young people. The preacher was Fr. Pablo Folz, IVE.

It is worth mentioning that the parents of the novice got married in this mission, and her father was baptized that day… a great fruit of conversion, thanks to the surrender of a daughter to God. The words of St. Luigi Orione continue to be true: “The family of a consecrated person is saved up to the third and fourth generation.”

Tanzania - Misiones Populares

To conclude, summing up the spirit of these days of mission, I wanted to emphasize the joy that was in all the missionaries. There was a great harmony of work among all, and one can see how the vocations and the young people are participating in the spirit of the religious family. I could perceive a great spirit of sacrifice in everyone, since the missions this year lasted ten days, we made them longer than in previous years. And there was sacrifice because the fatigue was noticeable as the days went by. There was a lot of sacrifice in the schedules, getting up early to start the rosary at 5:30 in the morning, a lot of sacrifice in the meals, in the resting places, in the hard climate of this dry season, with the cold and wind in the morning, a lot of dust, and a lot of heat at noon and in the afternoon. In all the missions we had to walk a lot, go into the bush, and arrive back at noon, with a lot of heat.The efforts have been crowned with many fruits, and above all with the great joy of having taken the message of Christ to the places where it is absent. The people look with admiration at the Catholic Church and at the missionaries, so hard-working and, above all, full of joy. It is noteworthy that many missionaries became ill during the course of the mission, and there they offered their sacrifices for the fruits of the mission. Without wasting time, they went to the dispensary, and once they began to get better, they were back to work. The sisters nurses also had a lot of work these days, since it is very common, when there is a lot of work, and in this time of so much dust and wind, that diseases such as malaria and stomach diseases occur, as the defenses are lowered. But everything has turned out successfully, without major complications, thank God.

I was amazed to consider that we had almost 60 missionaries for ten days, visiting the most extreme places, making processions, visiting the sick, giving catechism classes, playing with the children, etc. Perhaps it would seem to go unnoticed, because the two parishes are so large, but seen through the eyes of the mission… it is great! 60 missionaries in the heart of Tanzania!

When the missions are over, we all get together for a Mass of thanksgiving to Our Lady of Lujan, for the fruits of the missions. But also to ask her to protect with her mantle all the souls who have approached her Son during these days. After the Mass we had the well-deserved celebrations, and the joy was indescribable. We missionaries can perceive how changes are taking place in the villages, and we have also been able to see how many times the devil tries to ruin the work of the missions… but it is another sign of his impotence. The small seed of the gospel is planted in the missions and grows into a great tree. The light of Christ shines more powerfully in the midst of the darkness of paganism, and many people come to Christ attracted by his kindly light.

When the missions are over, we all get together for a Mass of thanksgiving to Our Lady of Lujan, for the fruits of the missions. But also to ask her to protect with her mantle all the souls who have approached her Son during these days. After the Mass we had the well-deserved celebrations, and the joy was indescribable. We missionaries can perceive how changes are taking place in the villages, and we have also been able to see how many times the devil tries to ruin the work of the missions… but it is another sign of his impotence. The small seed of the gospel is planted in the missions and grows into a great tree. The light of Christ shines more powerfully in the midst of the darkness of paganism, and many people come to Christ attracted by his kindly light.

I heartily thank all the priests, the sisters, the religious, the aspirants, the young people for their great spirit of sacrifice in these days… truly heroic in their missionary spirit, being willing to be tired, exhausted, sleep badly, eat badly, walk in the sun, not have the comforts of a house or a bathroom, and always be available for any work.

Stand firm in the breach!

Long live the mission and long live the Congregation!

Fr. Diego Cano, IVE