From the Director of Liberia Mission, Greg Caudle:
We safely arrived to the Shrine in time for the start of Mass. The Mass was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. We parked the van near the entrance to the Shrine and walked about a half mile to the area where the outdoor Mass would be held. There were faithful from all over Liberia, including religious and lay missionaries, greeting one another and preparing for Mass. We found seats on the concrete amphitheater structure near the altar. The seats in the shade under tarps were already taken.
Our group found seats in the center of the amphitheater just above the entrance tunnel where the clergy would process in. We had a great view; however, once it became clear that Mass was not starting on time, we gave up our seats to spend time under some shade trees to find relief from the heat. It was probably for the best as Eliana and I were in the front row over the tunnel and there was no railing!
The Mass did eventually start at 11:30 a.m. It appeared that we were waiting for someone to arrive before the Mass could begin. The apostolic nuncio to Liberia, a representative for Pope Francis, and many clergy concelebrated the Mass with the Archbishop of Monrovia, Lewis Ziegler. Representatives from the Muslim community were also at the Mass. After the Mass began, a security team ushered the vice president of Liberia to his seat. I believe he was the one everyone was waiting on before Mass started. I think his late arrival was planned by his security personnel to maintain an element of surprise.
After the two hour Mass, we enjoyed a picnic lunch of rice and soup. “Soup” is a spicy sauce containing chicken, fish, or other protein source, such as peanuts, with some greens to flavor the rice base. It is a common dish in Liberia. I have included a picture of Eliana eating this dish at the back of our van after Mass. You will notice that Eliana’s hair was braided. The girls are required to wear their hair in braids at school or any formal occasion. Eliana was trying out the hairstyle that day.
After an already full-day of travel and an outdoor Mass, we piled back into the van for a hot and sweaty ride back to the Mission. We were making good time until we got about 10 miles from the Mission. It is then that the van’s transmission started failing. On several hills the students and I had to get out of the van and push it. We were quite the scene as we slowly rolled through several small communities along the gravel road. The students were singing loudly and I was waving to the children along the side of the road who had come out to see the strange sight of a white man pushing a van.
The older boys and I bonded over having to push the van up each hill. We would cheer and yell to encourage one another. I did well. . .the first two times. Then the heat and humidity caught up with me! Eliana and the younger students stayed in the van each time we had to push. I was quite the scene when I jumped back in the van each time. I was getting progressively more exhausted, more sweaty, and more eager to see the last hill. We finally crested the last hill and the van was able to crawl home. We arrived just before sunset and I was happy to be home. Each homecoming here at the Mission is similarly a cause for celebration and thanksgiving for a safe return.