We shall not cease from exploration.
Today I ‘sat at the feet’ of John Kwa Akain mhm as he delivered his first lecture at the Philosophy Centre Jinja, Uganda, the First Cycle study centre shared by a consortium of missionary congregations. ‘Lecture’ is perhaps too formal an appellation since the dynamics at work at this his first appearance in front of some sixty odd first year philosophy students had the hallmarks of a lively group discussion and participative workshop. I was one of three ‘guest students’ to come to this event. Two visitors from Ireland and friends of John from the time he obtained his PhD there , Ms Mary Murphy and Fr Brian Kavanaugh, introduced themselves and spoke of their visit to a project in West Nile sponsored by an organisation they set up. After I had also said a few words reminiscing of times past John took to the floor.
Testing ideas, raising questions, challenging received assumptions – the assembled student body seemed to get more and more lively as the 50 minutes passed by. The start of a long journey of exploration of the ‘Philosophy of Nature’, as this particular course was called. The famous words of American poet T.S. Eliot came to mind: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”. (T.S. Eliot). I hope the curiosity of this bunch of missionary students will be tickled enough to never stop exploring!
Perhaps this could apply to me personally too. After all I had returned to Jinja and the First Cycle Formation House of the Mill Hill Missionaries after a long absence. For five years, from 2000 – 2005, I had been intimately involved with the formation programme as member of staff and rector in my final year. ‘Know the place for the first time?’. It certainly was a brief but happy reconnection.
I had arrived the previous Saturday hitching a ride with the contingent from Jinja who had come to participate in the three-day assembly of the Mill Hill Missionaries in Kakamega, Kenya. Some pleasant surprises awaited me on the way. The border crossing at Busia, always a bothersome slow process, had received a complete overhaul since I last past there some years back. New buildings, separate passages for lorries and private cars, everything streamlined into one single processing unit.
But the iconic new bridge across the river Nile just stone’s throw from the Owen Falls Dam really took my breath away. I traversed it for the first time on Sunday to visit the Mill Hill Missionary parish at Mbikko. Japanese technology at its best.
The Sunday celebrations at St Charles Lwanga parish were lively as always. Fr Wijnand Huijs mhm, current rector of the Mill Hill Formation House and long-time parish priest of Mbikko, drove me there. It so happened that when we arrived the first Sunday Mass was just about to conclude. So he was mobbed by many friends and acquaintances. I enjoyed hearing him speak the melodious Luganda language, which I had attempted to learn with mixed results, age and failing memory taking their toll.
In the early afternoon former associate and formation staff member, Patricia Abwoli, called in. We went down memory lane and shared current personal interests over a meal on the shores of Lake Victoria.
In recent years Mbikko parish has become synonymous with warm hospitality. In the days preceding June 3rd thousands of pilgrims who each year make their way to the Shrine of the Martyrs of Uganda at Namugongo on foot find a welcoming ‘oasis’ here.
Such developments fill one’s heart with legitimate pride.
It feels as if my own exploration still has some distance to go and I am not ready yet to sing old Simeon’s song.
Fons Eppink mhm
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