By Maryknoll Father Michael J. Snyder
One in a series
DAR ES SALAAM, Tananzia — Many people come to my office door here at the Catholic Chaplaincy of the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences. The university shares its campus with the national hospital with 1,200 beds and over 1,000 day patients. There is also a large slum called Jangwani situated not far from the hospital. The news has spread that Fr. Michael will help people in need. That’s nice, but it has resulted in a steady stream of people coming to the door.
Many of the cases are genuine, some are con artists, and others, while poor, pretty much will say anything it takes just to get some assistance. For so many, giving them money is just not the answer to the problems facing them. Poverty is such a horrible disease! Sometimes I feel I need a social worker who can listen and direct people to places where they can find the proper assistance. My own background as a social worker years ago comes in handy.
I think the news is spreading that Fr. Michael asks many questions and often does not give money, so the numbers at my door are reducing. Nevertheless, yesterday a lady came to the office. She was ill, stricken with AIDS. Her children and husband have died. She has been told to vacate the room her husband was renting. She has no money and feels it is time to return to her parents’ home in Mwanza, which is situated on the other side of Tanzania. Her name is Rehema, which translated to English means “compassion.” I tried to console her and direct her to the local parish. Already she receives medicine from the archdiocesan AIDS outreach program named PASADA. She seemed lost, her spirit broken.
I decided to give her 35,000 shillings (US$30) for the bus trip to Mwanza. She thanked me and began to shed tears. As she stood to leave she said she would board a bus that very day. Rehema extended her hand to me and then went down on one knee thanking me so much for helping her. I took her hand into both of mine and prayed for a safe journey. As Rehema left the office, it occurred to me that this had been a precious moment. I had just been in the presence of God. Jesus had come to me as Rehema asking me to never harden my heart to those who come to my office in need.
Rehema felt blessed for my assistance, but in reality I was the one being assisted and indeed blessed! Later that day, I was the one on bended knee, grateful for such a precious moment.
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.