19 years ago, before I entered the Dominican Order, I was a successful businessman checking things off a bucket list. One of the items was a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. Back then I wasn’t in the greatest of shape. A desk job coupled with a fine restaurant lifestyle doesn’t do much for one’s health, especially the waistline. But, I was determined to make the climb a success. At one point in my training I was climbing Mt. Si, a 4,100 ft (1,250 m) mountain near Seattle three times per week. When the weather switched to rain and mud I turned to swimming to continue my cardiovascular regimen. I took precautions, acquiring a prescription of Diamox to combat altitude sickness, and a separate prescription of Malarone to combat malaria.

When the actual climb came I thought the lower slopes were easy. The guides kept things at an agonizingly slow pace which ensured that all of us would make it to the top. Going too quickly is a sure way of instigating altitude sickness. In addition, we opted for the 7-day Machame Route, which was sufficient time for us to acclimatize to approximately 13,000 ft (4,000 m). But, there was still the final push to the summit. We obviously needed to take pictures, congratulate ourselves, and then quickly make a descent before the limited oxygen could “get to us.” I remember distinctly having the worst headache of my life. And, one of the other members was a bit on the loopy side, saying incomplete and semi-coherent sentences.

Fast forward to today. I’m now a Dominican Priest. Checking things off a bucket list seems ridiculous and self-serving/-absorbing for a religious. Yet, as I mentioned in a previous post, doing so with the full presence of a Dominican Friar had it’s benefits. Being able to be a visible friar was an amazing experience. Encountering all sorts of Tanzanians from different Christian denominations was not in any way hostile. Rather, they saw it as an opportunity to be reminded of Jesus Christ and his presence here on earth.

This time I brought both Malarone and Diamox but I didn’t use the Malarone. I had heard that in the Kilimanjaro region malaria was not prevalent. And although I don’t relish the thought of getting malaria, the flu-like symptoms along with a general avoidance of medications made me choose to avoid it. The Diamox I used, but only sparingly. And, I did not take it on the summit day. Since it is a diuretic, the last thing I needed was to make a ton of pit stops.

As we made the final ascent of some 3,300 ft (1,000 m) it was clear that the altitude was having an effect on some of our members. For myself, I found solace and strength by reciting the Rosary. But the Rosary requires a bit more attention and clarity to keep all the layers straight. So, I switched to the Jesus Prayer. It’s simple and its content invokes the powerful name of Jesus. That was a comfort and it consumed the bulk of my attention even as the moon set and the sun rose to salute a new day.

The final push as we made our way on fresh snow to the crater’s rim

Once we reached the high point and congratulated ourselves by taking pictures under the Uhuru sign, our members’ constitution failed one-by-one. But I was single-minded in my efforts to celebrate Mass at 19,341 ft (5,895 m). That gave me the courage to stay behind and setup for Mass. I wasn’t congregation-less for dozens of people gathered around, wondering what indeed I might be doing. Many porters and guides stuck it out, watching the beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass unfold. One guide even asked to receive communion, though he had never been to a Mass on a mountain before. It was all surrealistic; it was all very fantastic. Deo gratias!

Elevation of the chalice on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

2 Comments

Brenda Allor · February 20, 2022 at 3:19 pm

Glory to God! So glad that you are back and sharing this wonderful experience with us!

Monika Fein · February 20, 2022 at 10:18 pm

Thank you for taking the time to share your journey with the world. It has been an amazing reminder for all of us who struggle to surrender our lives to the will of God thinking somehow that we will miss out on fun and exciting adventures. Yet He proves to us over and over again that He can give us so much more than what we can accomplish on our own.

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