Sure enough, it was 5:40am and the drumming and singing began. I rolled out of bed, put on my jeans, a tee shirt and my fleece and found my way to the small chapel. The antiphonal singing was almost angelic. Coupled with the drums and body movement, I recognized that I was amongst African angels. Mount Carmel is a Catholic Retreat center in Kananga. It also serves as a seminary for those studying and preparing for the priesthood. From time to time I go there for a couple of days of silence, solitude and prayer.
There are many things I appreciate about Mount Carmel. First is the natural beauty. Mount Carmel is set on the side of a sloping hill and the views are expansive. I love walking in the peace of its downward slope into the valley, along a wide grass path with palm trees on either side. This time I was thrilled to see a miniature Kingfisher with its bright orange and purple uniform flit in front of me, taking a seat on a branch only 10 feet away. What a joy! God of wonders.
The seminary students are another blessing at Mount Carmel. They are so attentive and conscientious of all of my needs. When I visited last spring these students kept coming to my door with various things I would need (candles, water for drinking, water for bathing, fixing my light). On this recent visit I forgot a towel; when I expressed my need it was met in short order. One of the beauties of these students is that they come from all corners of Congo. I have met students from Lubumbashi, Bukavu, Goma, Kinshasa, Tshikapa, and beyond. These students will spend ten years together learning theology and philosophy. Every year they travel to a new region where they will live and study together. They are trained and formed by older priests and “priors” who teach them, eat with them, and do life with them. What an experience these young men are receiving!
There is the wonderful air of hard work and sustainability at Mount Carmel. They have their own beautiful gardens where they grow their own food. They raise pigs. They also produce jam and wine which are sold in town. The seminary students are busy each day keeping the place groomed and clean. There is the aura of an industrious spirit coupled with peace and beauty and hospitality.
When I go to Mount Carmel I am a visitor by definition, but I feel at home. I am welcomed during the daily hours of worship. I am always included in the morning and evening meals. I am welcomed into “their world” for a brief period. Even paying for my room and board is a very casual affair. At the center of all this hospitality and love is Pere (Father) Matthieu. Recently ordained to the priesthood, he has become a peer and friend. He is always happy when I come and makes sure that I am cared for in every way. He calls me “muan’etu” (one of us) and has even been willing to break theological and ecclesiastical tradition by serving me the bread and wine of our Lord (the Holy Eucharist). While I deferred from accepting this generous gesture, I appreciate his ecumenical spirit and willingness to break down the walls that separate us even in our Christian traditions.
It is places like Mount Carmel that provide the salve of healing and space which our bodies and spirits need as we serve in Congo. I ask God’s manifold blessings upon Mount Carmel, a place where I witness the goodness and bounty of God.