I love being Catholic. As I really came to grow in my faith during my years at UCF, learning that it was not just something that I had to do on my own, I discovered just how much the church was like a family. That familial aspect of the church continued to grow as I encountered people from all over the country, sharing our journeys, praying with one another, sharing meals, laughs, and various competitions. No matter where I was or how many people I actually knew, I always felt at peace and at home. Now my family has expanded further than I ever imagined.
The end of October saw the four dioceses of Sierra Leone come together for a national pilgrimage in Port Loko as a way of celebrating our faith and recognizing our call to be missionaries, making it an excellent way to end what Pope Francis declared Extraordinary Missionary month (sorry, no pictures per request of the Bishops). Hundreds of people from all over the country gathered to pray, sing songs of praise, and to march through the streets of Port Loko, sharing God’s goodness. After marching through the streets, we stopped at a large field within a church compound, where representatives from each diocese led a decade of the rosary.
After the rosary, a bunch of the priests scattered throughout the field to hear confessions – all done while just standing in the field – after which we celebrated the Mass. The church was very small, especially for the amount of people that were here! Or at least, it looked that way … I never actually got to see the inside of it. Most of us were seated outside the church in various seating areas, and I ended having to settle for an area by the street at the entrance of the compound where we could only ever really hear when music was being played because that’s just how many people there were! It was amazing to see so many people come out for this and stay through the whole thing in spite of the intense heat and general lack of accommodations for a crowd of this size.
Around the middle of November, we had a surprise visit from some Italian guests. Father Libby informed us that a man named Luigi would be coming to check up on some of the schools in the country, which he normally does about twice a year from what I was told. What I didn’t realize was that Luigi was bringing other people with him until I came home to 30 or so other people doing their best to fit between the dining and main rooms of the house as they ate lunch, and I think this may have been a new thing that Luigi had arranged. To help raise awareness of the situation in Sierra Leone, especially in regard to children’s education, Luigi took a group with the Amici Della Sierra Leone organization, which he is the president of, to come check it out.
We spent a bit of that afternoon with them, then met up with them again at the Lungi Mission Office right by the beach where they treated us to an authentic Italian dinner using ingredients that they had brought with them. Most of the group was probably around an age where they were either in university or had just finished university, and it was such a joy to be able to share a meal with them and just be hanging out with people my own age, talking about life, our cultures, and the places to check out if I ever got a chance to go to Italy. I have been obsessed with Italy from the time I was in 5th or 6th grade, so the 10-year old child in me was just amazed that this was happening the whole time we were all together.
The Sisters that were hosting us brought out the drums after dinner, so we ended the night with a drum/dance circle, and everyone joined in! People were being pulled off the drums to dance while replacements slid right in, and after doing that for a little while, the Sisters led everyone in traditional African songs and dances, and we all did our best to at least look somewhat competent as we followed along. This was easily the best night I have had since my arrival.
The biggest familial celebration came at the end of the month though. On the last Sunday of November, we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. Normally, there are two Masses at the parish on Sunday, but today there was only one, after which there was a Eucharistic procession through the streets of Lungi. People from both the parish and the various outstations that the Salesians also serve at came to celebrate the Kingship of Christ through the Mass and this procession. Everyone was dancing and singing as we made our way through town (there was even a marching band!), all of us leading the way for Christ in the Eucharist.
I lost count of how many times we stopped (though it was at least 10), but at each stop, Jesus was set down on a makeshift altar, we refocused ourselves with a song, Father Agbor led us in prayer, and we exalted the King. People from around town would come and go to see what was going on before returning to the comfort of the shade. I hadn’t experienced any sort of procession like this before, and I don’t imagine I would be able to anywhere else, so it was a privilege to be able to see how Catholics elsewhere in the world celebrate this day.
I know this particular blog has been a little eclectic, but that’s pretty much how November has been. And if we’re being honest, that’s how family can be at times too, so I think it’s a fitting reflection of this past month. A lot has happened, but it’s been a joy to see and experience. I never dreamed that I would be here or that my family would get this big, but here I am, with no idea of where things are going to go from here.