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The Deacon's Bench

A missionary priest offers this beautiful glimpse at one part of the priestly life — and bearing witness to a precious sacrament, in two very different settings:  


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.”


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