Rowan's Rambles: 'I have no money, I am a priest.'

Rowan Hand


Rowan Hand

Friday 2 November 2018 8:57

THERE are more army patrols on the road between the ocean and the mountains, as many as ten and travellers must take great care.

Often, our beautiful and gentle farming people of the deep interior, a family people, fall victim and it is they we help, protect, and educate for a better future.

Suddenly the armed man jumps from the darkness of the roadside bushes.

“Stop now,” yells the man. He is in a police uniform and he has back-up. But he may not be a police officer; possibly they are out stopping traffic in the hope of getting money.

“Have you the necessary certification to pass by?” the man asks.

“I do not need certification,” says Fr. Donall.

“You will give us money.”

“I have no money, I am a Father, a priest.”

“I am a Catholic…bless me Father, I want a blessing.”

It is a demand supported by the poking of the muzzle of his rifle.

Father Donall gives the blessing.

The armed man takes the hanging Rosary Beads down from the driver’s mirror on the point of his gun.

“And I want these, give them to me.”

And with that the bandits are gone.

Night time in the mission house is always challenging and the demands of a poor people are constant.

The house is of rough block, sectioned into bedrooms, storage rooms, and a dining room that doubles as a dispensary. A cement veranda surrounds and serves as a storage area for the millet and guinea corn food of the children.

Rats see their chance and take what they need. They move in the darkness.

The entire house, at the edge of the veranda and, from veranda up to soffit, is cocooned in a pig-iron fence. The wire strands are a quarter inch thick, well-anchored top and bottom. The two gates are padlocked and they’ll be made fast, before we turn in for the night.

We are at the end of a fifteen hour day. Sipping a Gulder or Star, cooled in the paraffin fridge, completes the relaxation.

Malaria is a constant threat and will never leave the priest; he got it and lives with it in his system.

The monkey jumps from chair-to-chair around the dull room, dull from the green light of the battery bank that in the daytime is fueled by the sun. The smell of the paraffin fridge is, like the dull light, constantly with us.

The room door opens and two children stand there; one older, the younger is sick. They come to the only help there is.

Our hero greets and speaks. Conversation occurs in the language of the people. There’s a temperature; medicine is handed out by the priest-doctor and the children disappear into the darkness.

Others will come before the night is over.

This is why the priest is here. He is with the people and their dreadful need and vulnerability.

The noise of the bush surrounds. Strange lights pinprick the darkness and then, from over the horizon, the storm.

Forked lightening cracks and for the merest moment lights up the sky-line. There is a constancy of the merest moments, bolts of lightening, and immediately the thunder. The storm is overhead now.

The rain is sheeting down. The compound is turned to mud that explodes in a gavotte, a mad dance, responding to the battering rain. The Wet Season is with us.

Inside I watch and marvel how a quiet young man from Ireland is so at home in this strange and threatening place.

“It’s ok,” Donall tells me, “don’t worry, this is where God wants us to be.”

My hero, the Catholic priest, is a lone European among a hundred thousand Africans people.

Father will spend Christmas with his people.

My book, “Caritas et Amor…in the Footsteps of Love” tells his story, and the story of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles from Ireland and now from Africa. I tell the story of Sister Mary Taylor from Belfast and who first made contact with Paulina who would become a nun and the first headmistress of Saint Mary’s Primary School in our African place.

And there are others, like Sister Hillary Lyons, a surgeon Nun of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary, a lifetime in Sierra Leone.

I met Hillary when I was twenty one and trying to raise awareness of the war in Biafra. We toured Ireland together. It was Sister’s way of saying thanks to Oxfam.

These words are a celebration of the people of Ireland who have given us the money to do the work.

Our most recent donation was the forty thousand euro we received a month ago from the JP McManus Charitable Foundation to help complete the Saint Mary’s Secondary School. We are building again. This time on the land we bought seven years ago. Wisely we bought in readiness for the moment of the next outreach for the people.

That moment has come. We build again.

My responsibility is to help find the major funding necessary. If you feel you can help, Father Donall will visit you when he returns to Ireland in the early summer of 2019.

He is a great man. I have known him now for 13 years and three schools later.

Go well dear friends.

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