My cousin Natalie Barling from Newmarket, England visited
me in Nairobi, Kenya. One Sunday she came to Our Lady of Visitation Parish when
I celebrated the 11 a.m. Eucharist. She arrived early and sat in the first pew
of the large church, which seats over 1,000 people. The church filled up quickly
and soon Natalie was the only white person in the whole congregation.
The local Christians were very interested in all visitors so naturally I
introduced Natalie at the beginning of the Eucharistic Celebration. Following
the African tradition they clapped enthusiastically to welcome the guest. I
could tell that the people were especially happy that the visitor was a blood
relative of mine.
We had a spontaneous Exchange of Peace after the Our
Father. I walked down the center aisle shaking hands with people on both sides.
Natalie was suddenly surrounded by Africans old and young wanting to shake hands
with her and wish her well. Later she told me privately that she was absolutely
terrified when that sea of African faces and bodies engulfed her. She did not
know what was going to happen. Then the moment passed. Everyone returned to
their seats and the liturgy continued. But years later Natalie would smilingly
say: "I’ll never forget that moment of your unique African hospitality."