MUD AND MOSAICS

Chapter 21

URUNDI


USUMBURA in Urundi, down on the shores of Lake Tanganyika was as hot as an oven after the cool heights of Kivu. Everything was very clean in the big mission, which acts as a reception centre for the area. A Father had promised to take us up to Kitega next day. That meant more mountains and I had developed a certain allergy to mountain roads.

During the night at about one o'clock, two Fathers drove in from Muyaga Mission with a very sick priest who was taken straight to the hospital. I was sorry about the priest, but the visit was lucky for me. I wanted to get to Muyaga to see an old friend, Father John Delmer, and the Fathers were going back next morning. Later I could join the others at Kitega where we were going.

Muyaga is right out on the Urundi-Tanganyika border, so the drive out was more like some coach tours with a view of many places of interest without stopping.

"There's Buhonga Mission," said Father Temans, pointing to the left, "it's run by four African priests."

A little later in the distance we saw the recently finished buildings of Yenda Mission. We stopped to admire a lovely waterfall, then I had just a glimpse of the huge sanatorium for Africans run by the Canonesses of St. Augustine at Kiyrumba. We stopped to eat some bread and sardines, then we drove on through Makeboko, the biggest mission of Urundi with forty-five thousand Christians.

"There are five African priests in charge of this mission now," said my driver.
I made a mental note to call in on my way back. After five hours drive we arrived at Muyaga, which means "the wind". Father Delmer welcomed me with open arms and four fried eggs: he is the steward of the mission.

This is a lovely old mission, covered with creepers and flowers: it was founded in 1893. Some miles away, the original mission cross still stood in spite of many bush fires. It was planted over sixty years ago, but the mission itself was moved soon after to its present beautiful site on top of a small hill. It was the first mission of Urundi founded from Tanganyika. A few years ago it numbered thirty-five thousand Christians, but two big parishes have been broken off, leaving some twenty-two thousand Christians in Muyaga.

It was over twenty years since I had seen Father Delmer. He looked much the same, perhaps a bit older, and I warned him about his weight! He had his arm in a sling. I had somersaulted one hundred feet down a cliff and suffered nothing, but a few bruises, and he had slipped on three steps and broken his arm in two places. A Methodist doctor a few miles away was looking after him with great care and devotion.

I said my breviary among the oranges and lemons — the scent was intoxicating. The boys were busy making orange wine, a speciality of the mission. A Father was preaching a Retreat to the forty catechists and teachers, so the house was full, but just after I arrived, two Europeans turned up and asked for a night's lodging which they were given. A bed was put up for me in Our Lady's Oratory. I awoke to find Our Lady smiling down at me — her statue I hasten to add!

I went over to the church for meditation and Mass. The sun came up just in time for Mass, and I had noticed in many missions that the clocks were set to suit the local sunrise. It could be somewhat disconcerting for travellers who frequently have to lose an hour here and gain an hour there, but then, pf course, that was our fault, we should not have moved so fast.
The church roof of Muyaga is supported on huge columns, on a line of tree trunks in fact. They are mukambati, a wood as hard as teak, on which even the white ants would break their teeth.

After Mass, I talked with old Ferdinand Kiramwagi who was baptised in 1910, and who helped to carry these trees from the forest.

“Thirty men to a tree, Father, and it was eight hours march with them.”

They were beautifully cut, straight as dies, twenty-four feet high, and I counted thirty-four of them.

There were about five hundred people at my Mass next morning, and five couples were married during a later Nuptial Mass.

"It's a weekly event," said Father Delmer, "except during Lent and what they call the month of the black moon, when a marriage would be unlucky. A superstition that dies very hard."
After a lunch on a splendid antelope steak, I went down with Brother John to see the school he was building for the White Sisters. He had three months in which to finish the six classrooms.

"I had not even finished the job I was doing at my last mission, when the Bishop ordered me to leave it to the Fathers to complete and go to Muyaga. 'Hurry,' said the Bishop, 'they've been waiting ten years for you!' "

The Sisters have a fine vegetable garden, and we had good coffee which was grown on the mission. I met seventy-year-old Sister Henrietta, who was at the start of this convent, and had been here forty-four years.

"When we arrived," she said, "the people ran away from us. The Fathers' Mission was burnt down three times: all the chiefs except one were against us."

I read later in the mission diary that during the third burning of the mission, Father Van der Wee walked out of the burning house with his plate of food in his hand determined to finish his supper!

The present convent was built in 1922. Efforts were made to burn down the Sisters' house, but the fire did not take.

"When we went out all the women and girls hid away: they accused us of putting a spell on them. Only very gradually did the women come to us. For years we never had more than fifteen who came to see us. Even by 1914 it was only in the immediate vicinity that we could visit the women and the girls. The Fathers used to walk through the villages and drop a few beads now and then, the children ran to pick them up, and very gradually the missionaries made friends."

I looked around me. There was the convent with seven White Sisters; a clinic; a domestic science school with ninety pupils; a primary school with five hundred children, a secondary school for ninety, and a special school for catechumens who sleep at the mission three nights a month when they come from a distance for instructions.

I turned to Sister Henrietta who was standing with me on the steps of the verandah:
"I think your forty-four years at Muyaga have been well spent." Sisters just smiled and said nothing.

A local trader, Mohamadi, took us in his old, old lorry to the Methodist mission to see Dr. Stewart and get an X-ray of Father's broken arm. We received a great welcome even though we turned up unexpectedly and in the dark. The Doctor's three young sons were allowed to stay up. Their mother educates them herself with a special correspondence course of school lessons. I noticed a lovely lion skin on the wall – “My first lion”, said Dr. Stewart proudly. This is lion country. Two years ago a man-eater killed two hundred people over a period of fifteen months. Nobody could catch him. A professional hunter was called in from Tanganyika and after two months he managed to shoot the beast. It measured 11 ft. 6 ins.; the skin was at the mission. A few weeks before my visit a lion got an old woman in her hut.

“We had fifty or more lions round here last year,” said Father Delmer.

I thought of them and of the snakes, as we wandered through the bush with a flash lamp looking for Mohamadi to drive us home. I heard he was coming for me next day between his morning and evening work to take me to Kitega. I was very glad, for otherwise it was planned for me to go on the pillion of one of the Father's motorbikes, and having ridden behind these young men before, I did not relish the idea.

The old Fathers here use the "push-push"; a chair mounted on one wheel with six "pusher boys". With wages so high it now costs more to run than a motorbike. Another interesting change in mission life has come through the growing difficulty in finding porters when a Father goes off on his rounds of the bush stations. Even when found the wages and daily food often make it less expensive to run a small pick-up or lorry.

This mission was almost covered with "golden rain", a creeper with a beautiful golden flower: it looked a picture. Mohamadi was late of course, but nobody cares out here in the bush. I walked up and down talking with Father Delmer while we waited for the lorry. Here at Muyaga, out of a population of twenty-nine thousand there were already twenty- two thousand Catholics and four thousand catechumens. Father Delmer is a much over-worked man, but when the lorry came he said:

"Goodbye until we meet in heaven." He does not want to leave his mission except when he dies.

We rattled and bumped down the road: the noise, the heat, the smell of oil were all overpowering, but Mohamadi was a cautious driver and I do not think his lorry was capable of much more than twenty miles an hour, except downhill, so I did not worry.

We stopped at Rusengo, where the Fathers welcomed me to lunch. Mohamadi seemed to have no objection to waiting an hour for me. I noticed huge drums up in the belfry of the church instead of bells. This mission was separated from Muyaga in 1923 and now had twenty thousand Christians of its own.

I was so sorry I could not stay longer, but how often had I made that apology on this trip?
A couple of hours later we arrived at Makeboko, where I heard that my own party was expected before nightfall. This was luck indeed. I could wait for them and visit the biggest mission I had come across so far.

"Goodbye, Mohamadi," I said, "thank you for the lift." There were handshakes and salaams all round, and the lorry drove off in a cloud of dust and I started trying to grasp this huge mission, which is run by five African priests.

A few months before there were 51,000 Christians here with 40,000 catechumens preparing for baptism, but lately the Bishop took off 10,000 Christians to form the new Mission of Ndava. The church at Makeboko must hold five or six thousand people easily.

I asked the priest who was taking me round what happened on Sundays.

"Half the people who assist at Mass do so from outside the church on Sundays. When we're all at home, which is rare, we all distribute Holy Communion at each Mass: five of us, and it takes three quarters of an hour at each Mass! Normally there are only three of us at home, the others are on safari at different out-stations. We have thirty-five Praesidia of the Legion of Mary here, too."

Father de Decker (left) arrived. It was a Stanley-Livingstone greeting, for he obviously never expected to see me again once I got to Muyaga. We drove to Kitega, the Bishop's residence, and got there late, tired out, but very happy.

Bishop Grauls was away but due back the following evening, so next morning, we drove to Kibambu which has 40,000 Christians for five priests to look after. Three hundred children were waiting for room in the schools, where there was already 5,000 boys and girls. We spent an afternoon looking round the immense mission of the Canonesses of St. Augustine, which I had seen a few days previously from the road. They have one of the finest maternity hospitals in the country with ninety beds. Here, also, is the only sanatorium with two hundred and eighty patients in residence.

"We get about ninety-five per cent cures, but there is still much to be done," said the Matron.

The Sisters have three schools with 2,000 girls in them. I pointed a camera at a group and they fled, shrieking.

"They're pagans, Father, they think it is an 'evil eye'; you can take the Christians without any trouble," said the Sister, smiling.

There are thirteen nuns there, and besides their schools and hospital, they run a social centre five days a week and help with the Legion of Mary, of which there are twenty-five Praesidia with about two thousand Auxiliaries.

Father Frenay, who makes a hobby of curing animal skins, told me about the priests' side of the mass conversion problem.

"Three times a year we baptise some five to six hundred adults. To that add 1,500 children of Christians every year! At the moment we have 34,000 Christians and we just cannot keep up with the increases."

Another White Father, on a visit here from Kiganda, twenty-five miles away, said: "We grow by 3,000 every year. We are four priests now for forty thousand people: five years ago there were only half that number of Christians."

I asked a few questions and totalled up: five of these priests hear 100,000 confessions per year between them. I mentioned the fact.

"That's nothing," one answered, "old Father Van Sichem, who is seventy, hears 50,000 a year."

"Go to any bush station round here," said the Father from Kiganda, "and you'll have twelve or fifteen hundred confessions before the Sunday. At Kiteba bush station recently, I had to send for help one Sunday. I started to distribute Communions at 6.00 a.m., but there were six thousand to be given out. A Father joined me later but it took us till midday, with a Mass each time we ran out of consecrated hosts. Of course, that was exceptional; there are usually only a couple of thousand. If you cannot believe these figures you can go and see for yourself."

There are twenty-nine bush stations in this mission of Kibambu. Back at Kitega I talked with Bishop Grauls. I wanted to check on old Father Sichem's 50,000 a year, of which I had been told.

"He's too old now to go out on safari," said the Bishop, "so he makes the confessional his apostolate. His nearest rival is a Father Dubois with an average of 47,000 confessions a year. We choose the things we can do from among all that ought to be done. There are too few Brothers and as a result, too many Fathers have to attend to material work. A Brother can never go to build an out-station, I cannot spare him. I must keep him for the big churches. That means that the priests must build the out-stations themselves; and very often the priests must teach as well. If only I had laymen to take charge of the schools, I'd save thirty to forty priests. If they could come only for a three-year tour, it would be of immense help. We could do with priests, too, under those same conditions — just for three years each."

"What about the difficulty of language?" I asked. The Bishop nodded: "I cannot put the visiting priest in a mission, but he could teach and thus release a missionary for the ministry. We need engineers, accountants, builders, everything."

The Bishop gave concrete examples of his needs. There were twenty-five positions vacant which, if filled, would free twenty to thirty priests for pastoral work.

"I've six mission stations entirely staffed by Africans. They work well, I wish I had many more ! "

The Reverend Mother of the Ladies of Mary came all the way from Busiga to take us the one hundred miles or so up to Ngozi, the territory of Bishop Martin.

The African driver was good, but my heart still beat a little faster when we swept round corners in the mountains, especially when I felt the car slide sideways a little on the tiny round stones of the road. I remembered the five somersaults of August 22nd!

We all had lunch at the senior seminary of Burasira, where there were eighty young men studying for the priesthood. Do I need to add that the Fathers had an extensive building programme in hand?

After a good cup of Urundi coffee, we went on to Mureke for a short visit to the junior seminary and a call at the convent of Dominican Contemplative nuns. The convent building was still going up and, in spite of warning notices I wandered in. A nun appeared, I spoke to her but she passed me by as though I did not exist. I should not have been there, of course. This was the enclosure, even if the grill was only wide-mesh wire netting.

Perhaps I did not exist as far as she was concerned. I found my way out and banged an empty petrol drum with a lump of wood, as instructed. Mother Prioress appeared at the grill, and soon we were having a regular interview in the "parlour". There were already two African novices, and judging by the size of the chapel under construction the good Sisters were full of faith. I am sure the prayers of Contemplatives are doubly needed in this diocese to "balance" all the work that must be done.

Just before sunset I had my first view of Ngozi. It was a magnificently planned agglomeration of buildings: the cathedral; the mission; schools; convent; workshops.

Bishop Martin was waiting on the steps of the mission to welcome us.

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