The novitiate for the Congregation of Holy Cross in East Africa is located at Lake Saaka, a crater lake hidden by the rolling hills of rural Western Uganda. It is impossibly temperate and beautiful. Here, the men in formation will work, pray, and study for a year before taking first vows.
And, for many years, their next stop in formation was Dandora, a slum of Nairobi, Kenya. In Dandora, one hundred thousand people struggle to survive on four bleak square kilometers that border Nairobi’s largest dump. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the air smells either strongly or faintly of burning garbage. Save for the sunrise and sunset, there is no natural beauty. Here, the religious who took vows at Lake Saaka, would continue their formation with pastoral work and theology studies.
Both Saaka and Dandora are places of sincere intensity. At Saaka, it is the intensity of witnessing the growth of one’s own inner life in a wildly abundant experience of God’s creation. In Dandora, it is the intensity of witnessing the visceral resilience, strength, and prayer of God’s people.
I have thought about these extremes for some time. They certainly defy clean interpretation. What remains clear to me, though, is that I have known religious of the Holy Cross who, because they have lived in both intensities, carry a profound capacity to witness to the unrelenting and merciful love of God.