Liz Mach, a Maryknoll lay missioner in Tanzania, wrote the following reflection.
“Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God”
There is such richness in the readings for today’s celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints. Today we are in communion with all those who have gone to life eternal before us. Those who have entered into the kingdom of heaven having lived their lives fully and sometimes people who have left our lives way to soon.
In Tanzania, East Africa where I have served for 40 years as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner, the communion of our ancestors is embedded in our life, society and daily happenings. The ancestors influence all that we do and all that we are. In the same way that Africa recognizes the elders, our ancestors; our church recognizes our communion with those throughout the centuries who have lived their lives in service and love of our God.
My work in Tanzania revolves around women and girls who have suffered from multiple forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV). We are confronted with many forms of this violence including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), sex trafficking, child abductions but the one that pulls at me the most are those caught in child marriages. These are the clean of heart to me and those who are being persecuted.
Pendo is a young 8 year old girl who was sold by her family to a 55 year old man who raped and traumatized her for weeks. He called her his “wife”. One day she ran out onto the village paths and by chance met a woman who was trained to identify the issues of GBV. The activist brought the police that evening after the man had returned home to confront him. He is now living out a 30 year jail sentence for having married such a young girl as it is against the law here. Pendo was brought to our diocesan shelter called Jipe Moyo (Give Heart) where she has had medical treatment, is safe, counseled and has learned to read and write. Today she is a typical 10 year old attending grade school, laughing and playing with others. Most of all she is smiling. She has received a new chance for a balanced life.
Child Marriages are a reality in many parts of our world today and often hidden from society and the news. We do not like to hear of such a thing happening. But it is real and it is ugly and often it is the child who is clean of heart who has been put into this trauma. I am struck not only by the denigration of these young girls but more importantly by their strength when they say enough is enough and work to escape. It is in their standing up to confront the injustice that gives the rest of us the ability to work for change and work for justice to end this and all forms of Gender Based Violence.
Child marriages are often driven by poverty. The girl’s family feels the need to offer their girl child for the dowry received. Two out of five young girls are married off in Tanzania before they reach the age of 18. Some of these are much young such as Pendo.
In today’s teaching on the mountain, Jesus has clearly taught us how we are to respond to each other and to live our lives in order to be called “blessed.” We are challenged today to put ourselves into the litany that he preached on that mountain. Jesus gave us an outline of what each one of us is called to do and say and it is not always easy to be persecuted and insulted but it is the way.
At different times in our life we can be included as we mourn, we are meek, we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we show mercy, we work as peacemakers. We are asked to work for justice to bring peace to people like Pendo. Our challenge is to bring all of these teachings into our daily lives and live them in such a way that we too will rejoice and be glad and eventually join in the communion of saints and our reward in heaven.
Photo: Tanzanian boy by Jim Stipe.