Friday, December 12, 2008

Impressions of a pilgrimage

As part of the recent “Pilgrimage of Trust” to Nairobi, our arrival already set the tone for the kind of diversity we were to encounter: the first people I met at the airport were a young man and woman from Moscow, also on their way to the Taizé community’s meeting on African soil. The remarkable gathering of 6 500 pilgrims was comprised mostly of Africans who come from strife-torn regions like Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Kenya itself, which recently experienced the torment of post-election violence. A group of Masai youngsters made the colourful event even more so, adding to the rich embroidery of the scene with their tartan blankets and abundant beads.

On a hectic drive through the inner-city of Nairobi, we start inhaling the bustle of this East-African city. Our first night, as all the following ones, was spent in rather primitive living conditions, in what is home to our hosts and is befitting of the Taizé way of life with its emphasis on simplicity. We were overwhelmed by the hospitality of Kenyan families who opened up their humble homes and housed us in mostly Catholic parishes in and around Nairobi. The mass we attended was filled to capacity with people shuffling into church with subdued respect for its holiness. During the week our group of fourteen from the Western Cape embarked on journeys which took us along rural roads, through passes, through coffee bean plantations and tropical vegetation. In these remote areas the “mzungu” (white person), according to the small children’s calls, seemed still to be almost a scarce animal. The universal profession in the region, despite high levels of tertiary education, remains “digging the land”. A degree does not necessarily offer assurance of employment.

A number of the Taizé brothers spent the year in Kenya to prepare for the meeting. They worked towards transforming and transplanting their message, their style of spirituality, to fit this context. As our leader, father Edwin Arrison, put it: during these months “the faith as expressed through the Taizé community has not only been incarnated into the lives of the pilgrims - Africa incarnated itself into the life of Taizé!” This is indeed Taizé with an African flavour in its music and movement. But it is also an honest grappling with the continent’s pain and complexities, “together seeking paths of hope”, as the theme read; searching for reconciliation, healing and trust even amidst despair; celebrating amidst suffering. Many of us South Africans can also witness to the fact that joining this pilgrimage gave us an experience of homecoming; it took us on a journey back to the mother this continent is for us - a mother, we are no longer stepchildren.

Laurie Gaum

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