Una vita in Africa – A life in Africa Rotating Header Image

March 27th, 2009:

Una nuova famiglia per gli indesiderati – A New Family for the Unwanted

Padre Biseko con una giovane malata mentale

Bernadette is blind. Thirty years ago, when she was a young nurse she could not rid herself of the malaria that was infesting Musoma—her home town on the Tanzanian bank of Lake Victoria—and so she began taking an ever-increasing dose of quinine which resulted in irreparable damage to the optic nerves.
Now her hair is gray, and she sits quietly with a serene smile on the doorway steps of the home that once was hers—a simple room of walls built of clay bricks, covered with a tin roof. But all around, what was once a vegetable garden, are now other rooms with an enclosed courtyard, a little chapel in one corner and on the opposite side a kitchen, not far away from the showers and toilets. Everything is tidy and clean, and there is just what is essential, in true African traditional style, Franciscan I would say.
The only sign of modernity is the grinding mill—powered by a small electric motor and situated next to the dust road that crosses the area—which attracts a constant flow of customers who come to grind their maize for their daily mealie meal.
On the doorsteps of other rooms, there are people who suffer from various types of disabilities, some most serious, and a handful of school-age children. In all, a few more than twenty people.

The soul of this small community is father Geofrey Biseko, a Tanzanian diocesan priest who has dedicated his life to giving a family life to those who have been abandoned by their own families.
‘It was January 1988’ recounts Father Biseko, ‘and at that time I was a young priest. The bishop had asked me to be his secretary and the vocation promoter of our diocese. On Sundays I used to go out to celebrate Mass, replacing a missionary or a priest who was absent because of illness or on overseas leave. One Saturday I met a leper who lived on charity, and I read in his eyes a desperate appeal. That night I could not sleep. I felt called to do something, but I did not know exactly what. The next morning at Mass I said to the faithful that we were to allow ourselves to be challenged by the words of Jesus, that the gospel had to penetrate our life. I spoke to them, but above all I spoke to myself. At the end of the Mass I invited those who felt inspired to do something for the most poor and abandoned, to meet me the following Saturday. Twelve people came. It was the first of a series of signs that slowly made me understand that my vocation was to serve the poor and the abandoned. We began to pay visits to the poor who lived in the streets, and it was then that Bernadette offered her home and the ground around it for our purpose. Some people began to donate unwanted clothing and others brought us food.
In 1994, the bishop relieved me of other duties and since then I live here, helped by four men. Slowly other rooms were added as we were receiving donations, and we have learned to live by sharing the little that is offered by others, particularly by the Christians in our neighborhood. There is nobody in* *our neighborhood that is rich, but we receive enough to live on, occasionally we benefit from a donation from overseas, such as the one that enabled us to buy the grinding mill.
Now we have a bigger home 20 km from here with about one hundred guests and fifteen women who attend to them. There too there are little rooms without lights and water, the chapel and the kitchen shared by everybody and the refectory where there is even a light operated by a solar panel. To live together does good to them but especially to us. People call us /Watumishi way Upendi/, which means the Servants of love. That is all.’
Father Biseko gives the short summary of his twenty years of service in his office, a room with two old couches covered in dust due to the cracks in the door and the gaps between the walls and the tin roof. He then takes me around the courtyard where he greets everybody. There are some who are severely handicapped, others who are deaf and dumb from birth, and another one who has lost all reasoning through family tragedy and now he looks with vacant eyes, repeating a string of incomprehendible words. Surprisingly, one does not feel overtaken by desperation but is instead impressed by the simplicity and spontaneity of their relationships. This is truly a new family.
Father Biseko shakes hands with everybody, exchanging a few words with them. He has a happy smile that is contagious. Meanwhile he tells of his sorrow seeing how people have lost their traditional values and reject persons—such as those he has welcomed in his community—who have become too big a burden and abandon them in the streets or just outside the entrance of Father’s home.
‘Fortunately, up to now we have managed not to refuse anyone, even though in these past years we have received two or three new people a month.’ Father Biseko has only one regret: to have failed with the street children. There are only a few here at Musoma, but in spite of his many attempts to assist some of them, they never stayed in his home for more than a few weeks. Today, there are six or seven street children living in the community, and they are enjoying themselves making drawings. One of them is busy drawing with colours what can be guessed is the scene of Saint Francis talking to the birds. Here, Francis is a familiar saint and much at home.
I leave the small courtyard with the satisfying feeling to have met a living cell of the genuine African church. A small church that loves, that walks with the poor, that works from the grassroots without making noise.
How many experiences are there in Africa similar to that of Father Biseko? I know a few, but even if this had to be the only one, it is a luminous sign that contrasts with other weaknesses in the Church.
Will these experiences be brought up at the next African Synod to be held in Rome in October and entitled ‘The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace’? I sincerely hope so. Speeches and documents that come from the Episcopal conferences, international meetings and peace negotiations will not be able to achieve justice and peace—though at times they may be helpful. A just and peaceful world will be built above all through the dynamic love of many more individuals following the model of Father Biseko.

NB. I asked Fr. Biseko “Could you give me a contact, like your email? I would like to put it in my blog, so that those who want to contact you could do so. Maybe some will have questions, others would like to support you”. His answer was ” I am a local chicken. I was born a few hundred meters from here, I have lived here all my life, I do not have a computer, an email address or anything like that. My contact? Diocese of Musoma, P. O. Box 93, Musoma, Tanzania”.

Due piccoli ospiti

Due piccoli ospiti

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