“Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7) I take this precious opportunity to thank God, for the beautiful Ten (10) Weeks which I have had in this amazing Parish of Saint Francis, Maidstone. I sincerely thank the Archbishop John Wilson, the Diocesan Chancellor, Rev. Deacon Michael, our Dean and Parish Priest Fr. Liam, his assistant, Fr. Simon Peter, Deacon Ian, all the staff of the parish and the parishioners for accepting and collaborating with me for this period of my stay at this noble parish.
An Existentialist Philosopher namely Albert Camus says, “No one can create experience. To have it, one must undergo it.” After my ordination to Priesthood three years ago, I thank God for this first Parish life experience that I have had. I recall when I received the call from Fr. Liam that Saturday morning of 15th July, welcoming me to Maidstone just one day after my first trip to UK. Definitely, I was very happy but having some reasonable anxiety as well. However, after the short encounter at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Goudhurst, I knew I was in the safe hands. I was given the best room in the Grove house and I received proper orientation from both priests.
I was involved in the pastoral life of the parish such as celebrating Masses, Visiting the sick, and celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was very happy as well to be given an opportunity to Baptize and on 6th August, on the day of my third Priesthood anniversary, I did my first Baptism. What a wonderful occasion this was! I have to be honest with you for the one year I have stayed in Rome, I have not had the experience of the vibrant, active parish life which I have experienced here at St. Francis Church in Maidstone.
I have had the encounter with the staff of this parish and I thank God for them. They have been of great help. They are very kind and supportive. No wonder the parish is doing well. The Christians are so lovely and welcoming. I have visited some who invited me at their homeplace, others have taken me to the famous Society Room, others have sent their appreciation cards and e mails. This is very uplifting for me. There is nothing more satisfying for a servant when those whom he serves show gratitude to the service given. I have attended the various sessions of the parish starting with the Flame Youth group, the meeting of Catechists for the first communion, the Baptism meeting with parents of the Baptized, Bible and Beverage Group, and the Clergy meeting every Monday morning. I have learnt a lot from these groups. As a Priest and a future Director of a school, I will carry with me a wealthy of experience which I have obtained in these groups. I cannot forget the fascinating experience I had when I visited the city of Brighton. It reminded me of Dar-es -Salaam one of our coastal cities in Tanzania. Fr. Liam took me to the Pier of Brighton, where there are many games and gambling machines. Himself is a good player of many games, we played Pool table and he defeated me very well. Probably because I was a novice to the game. He took me to the crazy golf court where he won again. I promised him next summer, he will not win easily for I will be prepared. As a community, we ate, laughed, watched great films including ‘Jaws’ and have time to go out together with my fellow priests. I recall the Monday night at the Society Room with the Quiz to answer. It was fun. I could only manage the last part of the Quiz. I visited some historical places like Central London, the Cathedrals of Rochester and Canterbury, the Priory and Maidstone itself.
I have to mention about Preston Hall where I went for Masses some Sundays. I thank Ms. Julie for a ride every time I have Mass at Preston Hall. It is a wonderful Chapel. They welcomed me very well. As it is done here in the Parish, after each Mass, a priest greets and have a chat with Parishioners. I met very many people and I was humbled to hear their compliments about the Sermon and how they have had encounter with God in the Mass. The quality and quantity of my experience over the last ten weeks was only made possible by the care and extreme attention to my presence by this family of St. Francis Church. For this and more, I am immensely grateful.
I will return back to Rome for my studies and I am remained with two more years to graduate. This unique summer visit to UK which turned out to be an extraordinary experience for me, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of humility and gratitude to God. I now urge you my brothers and sisters in Christ as I used to say in my Homilies, may you continue to embrace the treasure of having multicultural diversities which you have been granted by God. This is the True meaning of being Catholic. Let our diversities unite us and help us to build God’s Kingdom. I promise to come back next Summer please God in your mercy hear my prayers! I welcome you all to Rome as well. May God bless and keep you in Peace.
Yours sincerely in Christ, Fr. Noel James Salekwa C.S.Sp.
The Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers (The Spiritans)