Year for Priests: A hospital bedside marriage

By Maryknoll Father Michael J. Snyder
One in a series

DAR ES SALAAM, Tananzia — I had been away from Tanzania for one month enjoying a vacation with family at home.  The highlight of the vacation was presiding at the marriage ceremony for my niece.  Joined by over 200 guests, it was a great occasion for family and friends at a beautiful church and reception hall in New Jersey.  It was a day filled with celebration and joy.

Upon returning to Dar es Salaam I continued with ministry at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences where I serve as the Catholic chaplain.  On my first Sunday back, after celebrating Mass at our university hospital chapel, there were some people who wished to see me.  They had a sick person who they feared was in danger of death.

The patient was a woman in her mid-30s.  Her husband and two relatives came with a request.  The woman, Anna, has suffered with stomach cancer for several years.  She has received treatments and has been in and out of hospitals throughout the ordeal.  Although they have one child, Anna and her husband, Valentine, have not yet had their marriage blessed in the church, a condition so common in Tanzania today.  Valentine, fearing that Anna may soon die, came to request that I come to the ward and bless the marriage.

After gathering some details I went with Valentine to see Anna.  She was indeed very ill, nothing but bare bones.  But, she was conscious and alert.  I asked Valentine to sit on the bed next to his wife.  I explained to Anna that I had come to bless her marriage.  She was grateful.  Some nurses gathered around the bed and, together with the two family members, I conducted a marriage service.  While beginning the prayers in Swahili I had an immediate flashback to my niece’s wedding of just one week ago!  As Valentine and Anna exchanged their vows I could feel a lump in my throat.  When it came to rings, of course there weren’t any.  So I did some quick thinking and improvised, asking that each simply repeat these words: “Anna (Valentine), accept my word of promise as a sign of my love and fidelity to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The two weddings were so different.  Instead of a beautiful church in New Jersey, our service was conducted in a hospital ward in Dar es Salaam on a bed with sheets stained with Anna’s pain and suffering.  From the richest to among one of the poorest countries in the world I was struck by the contrast!  Throughout the service I sensed the tears coming to my eyes and had to work to hold them back.  After the wedding ceremony, Anna and Valentine received holy Communion for the first time since their marriage eight years ago.  As the service ended, despite the contrasting scenes, I realized there was something so much in common with my niece’s wedding: it was that moment of great joy and celebration when Anna and Valentine were announced husband and wife.  As they held hands on the bed, those present shrilled the sound of ululation, the traditional African expression of joy. Anna’s constant physical pain was suddenly eased by the joy of love shared between them.  In taking care of his wife, Valentine was a living witness to the promises they shared: “I promise to be faithful to you in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.  I will love and cherish you all the days of my life.”

Two days later, Anna passed away.  How grateful I am for this brief encounter with Anna and Valentine.  May she rest in peace!

Fr. Michael J. Snyder is a member of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, commonly known as Maryknoll. A native of New Jersey, he was ordained in 1979 and assigned to work in Tanzania, East Africa. In addition to various parish assignments, Fr. Mike served as the regional superior for the Maryknoll priests, brothers, and lay missioners working in Tanzania (1989-1995). In 1996 he returned to the U.S. to serve on the General Council for Maryknoll until 2002. Fr. Mike also served as vocation director for Maryknoll for seven years. In 2007 he returned for missionary service in Tanzania where he resides today.

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An ‘A’ for accuracy?

During a Sept. 30 symposium in Washington on how self-described progressive Catholics can reframe media coverage of church issues, speakers talked about one thorny media problem for Catholics of all stripes: the shrinking number of reporters with religion as their beat.

Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, of Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, sends a weekly e-mail to religion reporters. He commented that every week “I get more and more bouncebacks” as reporters’ work-based e-mail accounts have been deactivated now that they no longer work for the publication.

Father Reese noted that some reporters newly assigned to cover religion are unfamiliar with knowledge of basic church matters that with other writers would have been taken for granted. When being interviewed by one scribe — the name of the news outlet will be withheld here since we are confident the writer continues to learn on the job — Father Reese said he was asked “what the difference is between a Jesuit priest and a diocesan priest.” Later in the interview, when Father Reese made a reference to “St. Peter, the first pope,” the writer asked him, “And what was his last name?”

Archbishop Gregory’s address at synod for Africa

SYNOD

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta takes his seat at the opening session of the Synod of Bishops for Africa in the synod hall at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta spoke before the Synod of Bishops for Africa Oct. 5. The Vatican released the full text of his remarks today:

“I welcome this opportunity to summarize the importance that this Second Synod for Africa holds for the church in the United States of America. We Americans find ourselves increasingly drawn in by issues and events that occur on the African continent. We, like people everywhere, feel ever more acutely the impact of the intensifying global character of our world.

First and foremost, we praise Almighty God for the gift of the One Faith that binds the church in the United States to all of the other churches throughout the world.

Our Catholic community has benefited directly during the past generation from a growing number of clergy and religious from the great African continent who now serve Catholics throughout our nation and who serve them generously and zealously. We know though their presence of the deep faith and generosity of the church in Africa.

The church in the USA is also deeply grateful for the opportunity to assist the local churches in Africa, through the support of Catholic Relief Services, by the many ad varied missionary cooperative ventures that spring from the generous heart of our people and frequently bind diocese to diocese and parish to parish in mutual prayer, financial assistance, and by personal contacts.

I am happy and proud to report that agencies within the United States Conference of catholic Bishops have a long history of working with the Episcopal Conferences and associations of Episcopal Conferences on the American continent in the pursuit of peace and justice. These are very positive signs in which the church in my country and the church in the countries of Africa have engaged each other in the work of evangelization and social outreach and thus have rendered the theme for this Synod “In Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace” an important reminder of how the church in the USA and the church in African are conjoined in faith and in charity.

Yet we know that we can merely say in the words of St. Luke’s Gospel, “We have done only what we ought to have done” [Lk 17:10b]. We recognize that the greatest resource that the church in Africa has are its people. The church in the USA continues to benefit from those people from Africa who recently have come as visitors and new residents to our shores. These new arrivals come, not like those of an earlier moment in time, wearing chains and as human chattel, but as skilled workers, professionally trained businessmen, and students eager to make a new life in a land that they view as promising. Many of these new peoples bring with them a profound and dynamic Catholic faith with its rich spiritual heritage. These wonderful people challenge us to rediscover our own spiritual traditions that so often are set aside because of the influence of our secular pursuits.

While my own nation has made outstanding and blessed progress in our own struggle for racial reconciliation and justice, we have not yet achieved that perfection to which the Gospel summons all humanity. We also need to achieve reconciliation, justice, and peace in our own land until as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. writing from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama paraphrased the Prophet Amos and we see the ultimate fulfillment of our great potential and [5:24] “Let justice roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

 This great land of Africa has many other resources that the world today lusts for and at times pursues with ravishing greed and frequent violence. Your resources are a blessing for this planet that can be used to bring not only prosperity to the peoples of Africa but properly viewed bring a sense of the oneness of the earth and the interconnectedness that people everywhere have when we wisely use the natural resources that God has placed in our hands as a common patrimony.

I am deeply grateful to our Holy Father for inviting me to engage my brother bishops from the African continent and to learn from them some of their hopes, struggles, and dreams and to share with them the deep affection and respect of the church in the United States of America.”

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