Martha wanted to receive the Sacrament of
Reconciliation. It was the Monday of Holy Week at Ndoleleji Parish in Shinyanga
Diocese, Tanzania. After the morning celebration of the Eucharist the catechist
told me that a woman who couldn’t speak (a mute person) wanted to go to
Martha came into the sacristy, knelt down in front of me
and sighed profoundly. She crossed her arms on her chest and bowed deeply. She
pointed to the sky, then clutched her heart. She raised her fists in anger, then
again crossed her arms on her chest and bowed deeply. She repeated this several
times with different gestures.
I was deeply moved. Tears came to my eyes. As Martha
communicated her sorrow and desire to return to God through signs and gestures I
profoundly felt the action of God’s love and mercy powerfully alive in that
small rural church sacristy. I felt moved to be the Lord’s humble instrument of
forgiveness and absolution. Even today I get goose pimples thinking about that
"holy" moment when God our Loving Creator was so deeply present to one of His or
When Martha confessed her sins and failings through signs
and gestures she truly evangelized me. I experienced the meaning of the words of
Joel — "rend your hearts and return to the Lord" — like I never had before.
Here was this materially poor Tanzanian woman, but God our Loving Father and
Mother was so rich in love and mercy. I thought of the Maasai Ethnic Group’s
beautiful name for God — "Nursing Mother."