On Friday, June 3, 1994, Father Ernie Brunelle and I drove
out to Mwadui Mine from Shinyanga Town in western Tanzania. We were going to see
Father Charlie Callahan who was the pastor of the parish at the diamond mine and
dying of cancer. I had been coming out with others since Charlie’s return to
bring clean water and foodstuffs.
When we arrived at the rectory, we found Father Louis Bayless had come to visit
also. In the house there were two Tanzanians: Mr. John Pupa, an employee of the
diamond mine and long time helper of Father Callahan at the parish and Monica
Minza, a primary school teacher, both of whom were caring for Charlie.
This day was different then most of the times we had been
there. Charlie was in good spirits and had a good appetite. At the end of the
meal he asked to receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Father Bayless
administered it. I stopped to see if he needed anything and Charlie’s reply was
no. He added “Don’t worry, I’m ready now.” He did another first and walked us
out to the cars. A bee came directly towards him. The only one of us who was
allergic to them was Charlie and he went back inside.
On Sunday night, June 5 I received a telephone call from
John Pupa that Charlie had some bad times after we had left and was going to
Nairobi, Kenya on Tuesday. I called Father Richard Hochwalt and we agreed to go
out early Tuesday morning to help with all the little things necessary for his
departure. 5:30 a.m. Dick was at my door and eager to go. We were out at
Mwadui by 6:15. Charlie was helped to prepare and by 7 was ready to go to the
airfield. The plane was due by 7:30 a.m. but, in Africa, time is relative. Dick
started to worry as only Dick can and began pacing and getting more intense. He
was beginning to get edgy and I could see that Charlie was not much better. I
walked outside of the waiting room, an open sided building where Charlie lay,
and took Dick along. As we walked along the side of the landing strip I looked
around me. The field about a mile from the mines was surrounded by tall grass.
There was a feeling of isolation.
As we walked I could see the grass moving and felt no wind. I watched even
more carefully and from the grass emerged a young child carrying a baby. She
walked passed Charlie lying on the ground and gave a little genuflection. No
words passed between either. I heard the grass rustle and watched as more
people came through the grass. Again, no words were spoken. Women passed in
front with a genuflection ranging from a short dip to a full touch of the ground
that was gravel covered. Men passed and nodded. Soon people who had come to
say goodbye surrounded the shed. The thing I found so amazing was the silence.
People talked, but for the size of the crowd there were only murmurs. Concern
for the lateness of the plane faded as I saw the love that was shared between
Suddenly the spell was broken. The plane came down and
circled the runway. It landed and Charlie was prepared for his last trip. We
lifted the stretcher and carried him to the Flying Doctors’ plane. As I looked
at him he raised his hand again. No words but his eyes were full of tears as
were mine. The plane taxied and was off. No one left and the silence was still
there. As the plane faded the voices rose a little higher but still not equal to
the crowd. They faded into the grass and soon it was just Monica, John, Richard