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Last Sunday, before the ordination of a friend,
from monk to priest, I had to wait
for an hour, in the blazing sun,
at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph,
the new cathedral,
the temporary one,
down the street from the old one,
the one in ruin, propped up
by rusting iron girders,
shaped like a pointy
triangle, pointing up
to a makeshift cross,
stuck high
in the sky,
shaped out of
lava,
shaped
like
a copy
of the
volcano
in the
distance,
the big assed
volcano, the one
with the giant lava lake,
the biggest in the world.

Last Sunday, with nothing to do,
before the ordination of a friend,
I had to wait around, in coat and tie,
with a hat and shades, and nothing to do.

I was waiting for a friend.
I was waiting for the monks too.
They would be arriving by
Landcruiser. They would be arriving
by group. They had
invited me to be
one of their VIPs
at the event,
the ordination of one of their freres,
and I had felt honored and dressed,
and had negotiated a ride
into town, and now
with nothing to do,
I found myself alone,
in a crowd, with the Congo sun,
staring at a volcano,
erupting its gas,
waiting for Mass
to begin.

A white cloud shot straight up,
into the bluest blue,
like some promised
sign in Exodus.

No one seemed
to mind.

Here, so far away,
it is the little things,
in the background,
that appear to be
apocalyptic…

Those stuck in plain sight:
apocryphal;
chimeric
at best…

Every
thing
has
some
story.

Every
person,
an excuse.

This is not America.
This is not Europe.
Here, in Congo, we
are closer to God.


— I stared at the German Little Brother,
the ash hanging on the roll of each
phrase.

He ashed his fag, and inhaled some more.

The German continued:
Your friend here
cannot have his
daughters baptized
until he takes
a wife.


I do not care about
Dorothy Day, and
what took place
last century, in
New York.


I tell you it makes no difference here:
this is not Rome.


The German, who sat slouched in his easy chair,
in his pyjamas and red t-shirt, with a German flag
and a bunch of curios in a case behind him,
smoked his way through three or four more.

I argued my friend’s plight:
a woman who he was allowed to sleep with
but not to marry, until he gave her father
a dowry to his greed and satisfaction.

… A woman who did nothing but complain,
and who eventually left him and
his children.

… A friend, who against all odds, gave his daughters
shelter, and food, and school.

… A young man, who has now found himself in a prodigal space,
but who has been helped by a family of love and assistance.

The German, however, continued:
That may be,
but let me tell you,
here, in Congo, there are
beaucoup, beaucoup – how do you say –
children of the street. And why is this so?
Because of divorce: because of men and women
not becoming married; not being serious.


I looked at him; I looked at the ashtray.
I paused, and I said simply, that I did know very very well
of … des enfants de la rue.

That I teach, every week, des enfants de la rue.
That this man, next to me, along with his family,
has spent the past three years, building up a charity
to help teach and feed and shelter des enfants de la rue,
while at the same time,
feeding, and clothing,
and protecting,
and loving,
his own
daughters.

I stopped. The German brother stopped.
He lit another cigarette.
And I continued.
I said I was interested in only one
thing, saving my friend’s two daughters
from an eternity in limbo.
I said I was interested in only
a solution: how I can save
these children from suffering
from the sins of the father,
my young friend.

Finally, after an hour,
he gave me what he
should have
at the beginning:
a course of
catechism,
to include
First Communion,
to be begun in
July, to take
four years.

And so, two days later,
in front of the cathedral,
facing the volcano,
before the ordination
of a friend from the monastery,
while waiting for another friend,
the father of the two daughters,
I opened my breviary,
to ponder the psalms
for Sunday Lauds:
and I stumbled
into number 117 (Vulgate):

The Lord is my helper, I shall not fear:
what can man do unto me?
….
They may encircle me, yea, encompass me….
they may encircle me like a swarm of bees,
they may rage like fire among thorns…
they thrust at me that I might fall,
but the Lord upholdest me.
….
Severely hath the Lord
chastened me, but hath not
given me over to death.
….
The stone which the builders
rejected, it becomes the
cornerstone.


I found myself still waiting for my friend,
a cornerstone for a future Congo,
to arrive. He was still late,
like any good prodigal.
But I had no fear.
Like all good stories
he will get to the cathedral
by the end.

The Trappists arrived on time.

And we entered to temporary shelter,
together.

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