Fr Peter Major mhm
I never knew what an American was until I left the United States. I never knew what an American accent was until I went to England. Likewise, I never knew what an American prison was until I worked in the prisons of The Sudan. Sometimes a fish has to get out of the water to know what water is.
That's why "Deep water," the unknown, the place I fear to go, always had a special appeal to me. Is it not there, in the deep water, we find "A hidden treasure?"
Fr Peter Major in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya
When I came back to the United States after many years in Africa, I thought I would be in high demand. After all, I had been told that there was a real shortage of priests in our diocese.
Well, "I'm a priest. Here I am," I said.
But nobody came, nobody called. It's true, at my age and after all these years out of the country, being a parish priest would not be a good fit. But I began to think, yes, I'm old, but I must be good for something. Then it happened – That Voice again, that Voice I heard long ago: "Go out to the deep water."
The good news about going out to the deep water is, that there is no waiting list and you don't need permission to go there. It's the place most in need, but at the same time the most neglected.
To make a long story short, I ended up going to the Cayuga County Jail. But after a year or so, BOOM! I got the boot. I was giving the authorities there a lot of good advice but they did not like it.
“This is not Africa, this is America”, they said.
You got that right!
In The Sudan, we had more freedom. How? Well, every Sunday I could invite 10 or 15 mothers to attend Mass at the women’s prison of Omdurman. The Muslim prison authorities would welcome them. (Don’t forget that The Sudan was on the State Departments’s list of terrorist countries at the time) Why? They understood these women helped create a better, more humane atmosphere and lifted up the hearts of the inmates. A number of them would come during the week as well, bringing soap, sugar, medicine and friendship. It was a different type of security system, but an effective one. At least, I think, it reduced the violence and discontent that may otherwise have occurred under a harsher mindset.
As Richard Rohr* would say:
“If you want to learn how to swim, don’t just read about swimming, go jump in the deep water”.
Information comes from books. Transformation comes from The Deep Water. Is it not there we find a hidden treasure? Is it not there we find our own soul? “Put out into deep water”. (Lk 5: 4)
Fr Peter Major mhm
*Fr Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism. He is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy – practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalised.
Celebrating Easter with Sudanese Refugees in Kenya
Fr Peter Major served as a missionary in Malaysia, and in Sudan in very trying conditions. He now lives in semi-retirement in the United States.