Dark night of the soul

The lives of rural people have been devastated by the government's ineptitude, with people dying from lack of drugs and electricity, and school children forced home because they do not have money for school fees.
A day in the life of a priest in rural Zimbabwe

MY DAILY schedule begins at 5am as I prepare for the morning Mass at six. Today I had a rude awakening, having no bathing soap at all or tooth paste, since most basic goods are no longer available in shops but only on the black market following the price control legislation.
During Mass, I pray for God’s intervention in the current abnormal situation. I realize my own unworthiness; though I am holding the host in my hands, suddenly I become aware that it is the host that is holding me, i.e. Jesus himself in his Real Presence.
After Mass, I get a quick breakfast of porridge and black tea since milk and bread have suddenly become luxury items that only affluent people can afford. I can hardly finish this light breakfast because of hordes of villagers waiting for me outside with a plethora of problems that need my attention. One thing I have noticed in my pastoral ministry is that the faithful out here in rural areas view a priest as a beacon of hope in the midst of a myriad of problems and daily challenges.
As a priest I have suddenly become a counsellor, an advisor, a consultant, an administrator, teacher and social worker all rolled into one. It is amazing how, by merely talking to me, a minister of the Church, they go back home with solace and renewed strength.
The rural folk are a very hopeful lot. They believe that the sun will rise again tomorrow and the problems of today will be over.
8am sees me doing the daily hospital chaplaincy work, praying for the sick and giving the Sacraments. I am told that five people passed away in the early morning hours and have been taken to the mortuary. Three of the deceased were diabetic patients who could have been saved had there been enough insulin and other required drugs which are now scarce, even in pharmacies. The other deceased person, who was on a life saving machine and oxygen, passed away after the usual power cuts. The current load shedding of electricity has had its fair share of human and economic casualties. I look helplessly at the patients, many of whom will die due to drug shortages, and all I can say is, “I am very sorry, take heart and believe in the power of the Almighty”.
I leave the hospital around 10.00am and meet some of our boarding school students who have been sent home to collect school fees. This term, our school has doubled the fees to over $ 3 000 000.00 (three million Zim dollars) as inflation continues to skyrocket. Most parents are finding it difficult to make ends meet in this hyper-inflationary environment since, as civil servants, their salaries are far below the poverty datum line.
The midday bell rings and most people within and around our mission stand up to recite the “Angelus”. This is followed by lunch. On the menu today is ‘sadza’ and mopani caterpillars, ‘amacimbi’, which are a delicacy here. Beef now exists in the realm of dreamland only for many of us following a massive de-stocking of the national herd during the 2000 land reform programme.
I wish to have a siesta after lunch but I cannot, as people keep knocking at my door to share more family and social problems with me. Between 2pm and 5pm I am on my occasional pastoral visits around village communities. The mission catchment area covers a 50km radius and I have to walk or cycle, as there is no fuel at the filling stations.
As I go around the villages I am greeted with the reality on the ground, namely how the people bear the brunt of suffering which has reached monumental levels. God help us! Many of them (Christians included) have also been swept away by the tide of corruption and black market dealings, to make ends meet. I am reminded of the Latin expression, “Corruptio optimi pessima est” (Corruption of the best is the worst). Among these villagers are former urban dwellers whose humble ‘informal’ dwellings were destroyed by bulldozers in the 2005 Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order.
I notice how our once-lovely and peaceful society has turned into a ‘state of nature’ – or ‘Leviathan’, as Thomas Hobbes would put it. Our society has degenerated into a ‘man-eat-man’ society if not a ‘man-eat-nothing’ society. Identifying myself with the poorest of the poor gives me fulfilment. Like Blessed Mother Teresa, I realize that my work as a priest is only a tiny drop in the ocean. However, the ocean will be less without that drop.
I carry my weary bones back to the mission for evening and night prayers and will repeat the same process again tomorrow.
Let us unite in prayer for Zimbabwe. There is more suffering than meets the eye. I urge my fellow countrymen to accept this as part of our way of the cross (via dolorosa). If there are any lessons to be drawn from the wisdom of the saints, especially St John of the Cross – in his book entitled ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ – we may realize afterwards that it is in the darkness that the soul finds God. – Jesuit Communications
This article first appeared in In Touch (With Church and Faith) No 102, on 12 September.

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