‘Now, Master, let your servant go in peace, just as you promised’ Luke 2:22-40
Kisumu, Kenya, in 1981 was a charming, sleepy lakeshore town with two churches, four priests (two of them missionaries, including me), two hotels, and one small supermarket. I spent most of my very happy nine years in Kenya in that town, mainly engaged in youth work.
I had promised to revisit Kisumu for my Ruby Jubilee of ordination three years ago but, due to COVID-19, I only managed to make it after Christmas last year.
Unrecognisable, but familiar
What was a town is now a bustling city with obligatory shopping malls, hypermarkets, numerous hotels, and a new airport. In short, it has flourished almost beyond recognition and likewise the Catholic community.
What were two parishes and four priests have multiplied into seven parishes with twenty local priests, along with numerous other people committed to various parish ministries and activities.
I was invited to celebrate Mass in what used to be a small centre on the edge of town, where in the 1980s Mass would have been celebrated once a month for about 100 people. Now, it is large parish church with two resident priests and four Masses every Sunday!
The Mass I celebrated was packed to capacity and overbrimming with enthusiastic and exuberant celebration. Just about everything in the Mass was sung by two alternating choirs, accompanied by deeply respectful rhythmic dance.
There was a joy in that sacred place that can only be explained by the presence of something beyond ourselves, namely the Holy Spirit. Our community spirit was charged by the Spirit with the Christmas joy of knowing Jesus Christ is God-with-us, now and until the end of time.
The Mass lasted well over 2 hours, and in keeping with local custom I preached for forty minutes, something I would not dare to do in this country!
Many of the youth I worked with in the 1980s were also there, most of them now mothers and fathers, and some of them grandfathers and grandmothers.
As I looked around at that great throng of Catholic people, I quietly gave thanks to God because my eyes have seen the salvation which he has prepared for all the nations to see, a light to enlighten his people in Kisumu (Cf. Luke 2:30-32)
Candlemas and the Light of the World
Today, we celebrate Candlemas, marking the end of the extended Christmas season. Prompted by the Spirit, the parents of Jesus brought him to the Temple in fulfilment of local custom. They presented him to Simeon, and consequently to the wider world, to shine brightly into the deep, darkest recesses of our human longings to enlighten us with His saving love.
Our mission remains the same. Our task is to present our Saviour as the Light of the World, and we do this in gentle, respectful, and dignified ways, drawing upon the unfathomable mercy of God.
I give thanks for all the Mill Hill Missionaries, Priests, Brothers, Sisters, and lay missionaries who gave of themselves, and sometimes their lives, to the people of Kisumu. The fruit of their missionary work is for all to see, and their legacy is a young Church that is itself missionary.
I give thanks to you for your prayerful support in word and deed of Missio. Together we are servants of God’s Mission, Today and Tomorrow.
Now, Master you can let your servant go in peace…. but maybe not just yet!
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