Afraid to ask

On a cold winter’s night in July 1973, guerrilla freedom fighters visited St Albert’s Mission on the edge of the escarpment in the north of Zimbabwe, rounded up about 280 students and staff and led them down into the valley planning to enlist them in the struggle.

When the Rhodesians learnt what had happened, they sent planes which dropped flares in the area where the guerrillas and students were walking. They then sent soldiers but were unable to attack as they were afraid of killing the students along with the guerrillas. Later the students became tired and the guerrillas allowed them to rest hidden in an eroded depression (donga). The guerrillas were now on their own and the army attacked. The guerrillas withdrew and the soldiers captured the students and stayed with them until trucks arrived to take them back to the mission.

While waiting, one soldier’s rifle accidentally went off and killed one of the students, Hedrick Mandebvu (14) from Highfield, a suburb of Harare. She was the only casualty among the students and Fr Isidore Chikore, who knew the girl, later said she was exceptional and used to gather her friends and lead them in games and dances. And she would take them to the church and explain the Stations of the Cross and other pictures to them. Going down the escarpment, she took out her rosary and told her companions, ‘We must pray now’. Fr Lorenz von Walter, one of the priests at the mission, believes her sacrifice saved the mission.

As we enter Lent, we are invited to be aware that anything can happen in our lives at any time. I write this on 21 February, a day when we especially remember the young people of our country. Young people, like Hedrick, have a freshness, an awareness, that can become dull as the years pass. But the Church keeps interrupting our ‘dullness’ with moments of awareness – especially Advent and Lent. We yearn for security and comfort. But, if we get them, they can be dangerous for our spirit. We can be lulled into complacency and put signs on our doors saying, ‘Do Not Disturb’. But it is precisely in order to be disturbed that we enter Lent. You can’t cook without stirring! In today’s gospel, Mark tells us the disciples were shocked by Jesus’ talk of his suffering, death and rising.  They did not understand and ‘were afraid to ask him’ (9:32).

How many times have we been ‘afraid to ask’? We can be paralysed by the imagined reactions of others. And we can be afraid of the answer we might get. Basically, we don’t want to be disturbed. How often Jesus said, ‘Do not be afraid!’ But his message does not get through to us. Can we listen to Jesus, to other people, especially children, and to our own heart during this time of Lent?

David Harold Barry    

Post published in: Faith

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