This past weekend I was with the MC Fathers again. On Saturday afternoon, Br. Juan Pablo and I walked through the Mathare slums which begin near their home and run along the river until they merge with the Huruma slums near the MC Sisters regional house. The people, and especially the children, were very friendly, and also curious to see this large mizungu (white man) in a gray robe. Once again I marveled at the ingenuity of those who live in such limited circumstances, especially the way in which they make use of things other people throw away, turning them into useful objects for daily living.
The next day, Sunday, after the early morning Holy Hour, Fr. Ray, Br. Juan Pablo and I were preparing to leave to celebrate Mass in the maximum security block of the Kamiti prison. When the car wouldn't start (and the engine began to smoke as Fr. Ray tried to turn it over) it was the first sign the day would be a bit of an adventure. We walked two blocks to Thika Road and hailed a matatu, a minibus used for public transport. Many are colorfully decorated inside and out, and some have messages (like the one above) printed on them, perhaps the Kenyan version of "bumpersticker theology." Along the way we passed the local counterpart of Home Depot.
Since our change in transport caused a little delay, we weren't sure we would get to the prison in time for Mass in maximum security, and if so whether we would be able to celebrate in medium security (like last week), and if not whether we could celebrate in another block. Our concerns were dispelled when the medium security catechist met us near the entrance and led us to his section. As we walked across the prison yard the sound of the Catholic choir grew louder and more energetic. As we enter the men were singing with extra vigor:
It was evident that something exceptional was going on, and that special grace continued through the Mass, which Fr. Ray celebrated in Kiswahili.
The men were extremely attentive as he spoke with them in their own language.
Unaware of the danger of asking a Franciscan to "say a few words," after Communion the catechist asked if I had anything to share with the men. I told them how once again I felt spiritually invigorated and revitalized by their enthusiasm, and how important and powerful it is when men direct their strength and energy to the service of God. I mentioned that in New York our friars organize men's days of prayer twice a year to encourage men to draw near to Christ, be alive in their faith and active in the Church, and that I wished the men in the US could see their example. I shared with them Pope Benedict's concern that Christians in the west have become "tired of their faith," but that they (the prisoners) were certainly not tired, but alive and wide awake!
At the end of Mass we prayed a special blessing over one of the men who would be released later that week after serving a three-year sentence.
The extraordinary grace of the day flowed through the hour of Eucharistic adoration which followed Mass, during which Fr. Ray heard confessions in Kiswahili. The men were extremely prayerful, and we all felt ourselves drawn very deeply into the Presence of Jesus.
After benediction the men broke into a spontaneous session of African worship and praise, and the percussion section (above) was really smoking! The expressions on the faces of the men below give you some idea of the joy of the Holy Spirit that was overflowing that day.