As I write this on the Memorial of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, a wonderful saint who I have been reading about the last couple of days in her auto-biography, there is another saint that has made a big impact on me this past week. The saint is Vincent de Paul, which was celebrated in a big way at our local parish this past Thursday, as he is our patron.
Since we got here almost a month ago, preparations were being made for the big feast day on the 27th of September. For hours every day, the choir was practicing songs, children and various goups were practicing different dances, and money was collected to help cover expenses. I was getting excited as the antipication and mystery continued to build as I could tell right away that this would be very different than a typical celeberation in America. I was quite right.
The festivities started Wednesday when a live bull was brought to our compound. While we did not get to witness it, our friend would be slaughtered that night as the official kickoff. We could hear lots of singing and dancing from the joyous celebrants. Thursday morning we had mass at 10:00, which was led by the Vicor General of the Diocese. The church was busting at the seams, and there were large tents and chairs set up outside. The almost 3 hour long mass was filled with constant song, dance, and the Holy Spirit! It was such a joy to watch and be a part of! After mass, we had a huge lunch (with the bull being the main course), and it was shortly followed by the afternoon program, which was four hours of songs, dances, skits, and speeches. It ended with a traditional Bari (the local tribe) dance, which everyone participated in. It was amazing to so many people and so many communities come together to celebrate and enjoy each other's presence and wonderful talents.
On Saturday, we had a mini-retreat in the morning and our Rector spoke a lot more about St. Vincent de Paul. When he initially wanted to become a priest, his primary reasoning was that he wanted to have his own office in the church and to be able to retire early. However, he later had a change of heart and realized the reasons that God wanted him to become a priest and lived a saintly life. He soon discovered though, that his initial motivations about becoming a priest were very common in the Church at that time, and his mission became to change the hearts and vocations of priests to serve to people, not just to have the coveted corner office. The priest concluded with, "in order for him to change the people, he first had to himself change."
This has led to lots of prayer and contemplation the past couple of days. How have I changed since I've been here? What do I need to change about me in order to bette serve the people of South Sudan? How have I changed the people I am serving? I have discovered that I have changed quite a bit over the last month- in my thoughts about people and the world, my words- both what I say and how (slowly) I say them, my actions and habits, and even my appearance (still rockin' the missionary beard!)
As a last thought and official movie quote of this blog entry, we watched the Hunger Games a couple of weeks back. This was my first exposure to the famous series, and there was a quote from the movie that really struck me- "The only thing greater than fear is hope." As I continue to change, I hope to instill hope in the people of South Sudan, and that both they and I can overcome our fears as we both hope for change to create a better world.
I thank you for the continued prayers and support. God bless you all!