Late one afternoon Maro sat in front of his house in
Kenyamonta village in Mara Region in western Tanzania. As he puffed on his pipe
he felt very content for a 79-year-old man. He had enjoyed a long, full life and
except for occasional arthritis his health was still pretty good. As an elder in
his clan and village he was highly respected and looked up to. He fondly
remembered his three wives (the youngest Theresa was still living), his 16
children and too many grandchildren to count. He still had many cows, good
fields and even a strong house with a tin roof (permanent dwelling those "smart"
young government officials liked to call it).
But something was bothering Maro. His mind and heart were
restless. Oh yes, it was that provocative question the Catholic priest at Iramba
Parish three kilometers away had asked him. Just how did he put it: "Maro, you
may be 79 years old, but why don’t you be baptized a Catholic?" Maro had laughed
at the question and put the priest off with a local Kingoreme proverb about not
starting anything new late in life.
But now the priest’s question was bothering Maro. After all, why didn’t Maro get
baptized? Why didn’t he become a Christian in his old age? For years his third
wife Theresa had been pestering Maro about getting married in the Catholic
Church so she could receive communion again. But Maro always managed to wave his
hand and make a joke about "not teaching an old dog new tricks." So Maro puffed
on his pipe and thought; he thought and piped on his pipe. Finally he said, "So
be it. I ‘ll get baptized and please everyone in my extended family. This will
make the priest and my Catholic friends happy too. So be it."
Maro thought he could make it a quick affair, but the
priest and catechists said it would be a two-year period of instruction — a
two-year spiritual journey they called it. "I won’t be alive in two years," Maro
laughingly told them. But anyway he started. It was during the month of May and
they called it the "Service to Receive the Inquirers." About 80 people started
the two-year period along with Maro. He appreciated that there was a special
class just for the older men and women who wanted to use the local language
Actually Maro found the priest and the parish council
leaders very helpful. Due to his arthritis he didn’t have to walk to Iramba
Church for all the instructions. He participated in the weekly Sunday Eucharist,
of course, but sometimes the catechists Pius and Nicolas came to Maro’s home for
the instructions. He never missed the weekly meeting of the Small Christian
Community of Kenyamonta town. He chose Petro Mosi, an old Catholic friend in the
SCC, to be his companion and helper during the two-year adult catechumenate. The
way the Christians shared together in the SCC Maro agreed that the Catholic
faith was "caught more than taught."
As the different stages of the two-year adult
catechumenate went on Maro tried to be as faithful as everyone else. Having the
classes in Kingoreme was a big help. He was pleased that the catechists affirmed
the importance of certain Ngoreme religious customs and used Kingoreme names for
God such as "Nyamhanga." He learned a lot about the Ten Commandments and the
seven sacraments — things he had heard his wives and children talk about for
many years. Maro was also interested in the explanation of the church as a
"community of believers."
As the other older people, Maro wanted to choose a
Christian name early. He said, "As old as I am, I will have only a short time to
use my new Christian name." He chose "Paul" because he admired how the great
saint had taken a decisive new direction in his life. Maro’s good friend Makore
chose the name Elias because he wanted to be taken up to heaven as soon as he
died. With Theresa as his only living wife Maro (now Paul) realized he could be
received into the Catholic Church rather easily. But some of the other men in
his class had several wives and complicated marriage cases to sort out. Other
people dropped out of the classes after several months.
The official "Rite of Initiation into the Catechumenate"
took place the following March. At this time Maro formally chose his new name
Paul. He told everyone how proud he was to be preparing to become a Christian.
His old Catholic friends kidded him that his five-year-old great grandchildren
had been using their Christian names since birth and Paul was only starting when
he was 80 years old.
Paul started the second year of the adult catechumenate along with 44 other
people in the parish. The twice-weekly catechism classes continued and he
learned a lot about the New Testament and the mass. He particularly liked the
stories of Jesus Christ’s miracles and parables. Paul’s eyes were too bad for
regular reading but he enjoyed the weekly Bible sharing in his Kenyamonta town
SCC. In December Paul participated in a three-day religious education seminar at
the Iramba Parish center. "Only four months before your baptism at Easter," the
priest told everyone. Paul said, "I’ve waited for 80 years. Now I can certainly
wait for four more months."
Finally April came and the final preparations during Holy
Week. All together 38 catechumens prepared to be baptized during the Easter
Vigil on Holy Saturday night ranging from 81-year-old Paul Maro to 15-year-old
Pamela Owino. Everyone praised Paul for persevering during his two-year
As the water was poured over his head Paul smiled and said to himself, "Yes, now
I am a Christian too." After the adult baptisms Theresa came up for the blessing
of their marriage. As the two of them received communion together for the first
time the beaming faces of all of Paul’s children and grandchildren were wet with
At the end of the Holy Saturday liturgy many Christians
danced in the church and sang the joyful Easter song "Jesus Christ Has Risen.
Let Us Praise Him." Paul clapped with everyone else and thought to himself, "I
feel young. After all, I’m starting a new life."