‘My Name is Samueli’


africa_photo1Father Bassano writes from Tanzania

By Father Mike Bassano, MM
Sun contributing writer

God comes to visit us in so many unexpected moments and disguised ways. All we need to do is be aware and open to the divine surprise in the ordinary events of every day.

Samueli came to our home of compassion nine years ago. He was a pushcart worker loading bags of sugar, rice or wood to be carried to local stores or homes in the town of Musoma. At the end of a hard working day Samueli would sit down for a drink with his fellow pushcart friends. He began to drink heavily every day consuming 1.5 litre bottles called “Bombonya” which  was filled with a village distilled homemade liquor called “gongo.” Because he drank that whole bottle of liquor daily his friends gave him the nickname “Bombonya.”

Samueli’s family abandoned him and told him to leave the house because they were ashamed of his alcoholic behavior. As a result, he would sleep in the streets after his nights of heavy drinking. One night his friends found him lying in the street unconscious and brought him to the local hospital. Samueli lay unconscious on the hospital ward floor for three days because of the lack of beds. Afterward our servants of love (watumishi wa upendo in Kiswahili) who care for our poor people at our home, came to visit one of our sick people and happened to notice Samueli lying on the floor completely naked. He must have soiled his clothes and there was nothing to replace them as the hospital does not provide clothing, only families do. They immediately told Father Godfried Biseko, the founder of our home, and he received permission from the hospital for Samueli to come and live with us.

As Samueli felt welcomed in his new home, he was becoming more conscious and aware of where he was. When someone called him by the name of “Bombonya,” he responded, “My name is not Bombonya, my name is Samueli.”

Each day, I have the responsibility of getting Samueli out of bed to give him his daily bath. I then help him to exercise and walk because, at age 69, his legs and body are getting more weak and feeble. Recently, he became too weak to walk and is now confined to a wheelchair. But after his bath he loves to go outside in his wheelchair to greet the sun (or “jua” as he tells me in Kiswahili). I also help in bringing him his food and drink. At the end of the day I get him ready for bed, covering him with a sheet, blanket and mosquito net, telling Samueli that I’ll see him tomorrow.

On the breastplate prayer of St. Patrick of Ireland it is written: “Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ all around me, Christ within me.” I cannot help but rejoice in the presence of Jesus shining through a man called Samueli.

(Samueli died recently and I had the honor of presiding at his funeral liturgy and burial. I got a bit emotional at the liturgy by this man who touched my life. I know he is at home in the Beloved God and with us in spirit! — Father Mike)

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