Back to the Future

This morning, the liturgy proposed to us, in the book of Exodus (Ex. 3:1-6.9-12), the story of Moses, the adopted Egyptian prince who became an outlaw in exile in the desert not far from the Horeb mountain – Mount Sinai – the mountain of God. That took me back 25 years…

I was in Mbezi (Tanzania) with Brother John Abobo. We ran a centre for street children. On Friday evening, at nightfall, the boys were watching a video projected on a bed sheet stretched between two trees outside my office. They preferred action films, which they commented on as much as they wanted, because they did not understand the dialogues. But that evening, short of a film that would make them unanimous, I played them a cartoon, a VHS cassette – probably illegal – bought in the streets of Dar es Salaam. I feared their boredom, even their recriminations… In fact, there was even more noise than usual. I had trouble concentrating on my work in the office. Then, at some point, total silence, just the sound of the film that I hadn’t perceived from the beginning. Intrigued, I went out to see what was happening… They were all glued to the screen, as if hypnotized by what they saw and heard.

The “Lion King” is Simba’s story, from his birth to his ultimate vocation as “King of the Jungle”, in the noblest sense of the role – a protective king, a provider, a servant, a king respected and loved by his subjects….

Initiated by his father, King Mufasa, the young Simba took advantage of his leisurely years. But one day, he leads his childhood friend, the young lioness Nala, to explore a taboo place, forbidden for a good reason, it was an elephant cemetery, haunted by death. His father had warned him, however. His uncle Scar, unworthy brother of King Mufasa, took advantage of his young nephew’s innocent mischief and devised a diabolical plan to get rid of both the King and his heir to take over royal power. He puts Simba in mortal danger, forcing Mufasa to take great risks to save his son. With a little help from Scar, Mufasa will die there. Scar will deceive Simba by declaring him guilty of his father’s death and advise him to leave… far away… never to return again. Simba ran away… far into the desert where he was taken in, dying, by Pumba, a warthog whom no one wanted to approach anymore and by Timon the meerkat, a species of small mongoose that lived in the Namibian desert. Both were living carefree in the desert, singing and dancing, feeding on all kinds of insects and plants. They will introduce Simba to the same lifestyle, teaching him the song that reflected their philosophy so well: “Hakuna matata”, all you have to do is let yourself live and enjoy…

Meanwhile, Scar took power over the people of the Jungle, but instead of being a protective and providing king, he abused the environment and the people until he completely exhausted the common resources, forcing all the inhabitants of the jungle into true slavery, just to survive. Simba’s childhood friend Nala decided to go looking for him. But when she found him, he only complained about his own guilt. An important character then appears: Rafiki, the monkey who symbolizes the priest in the story of the Lion King – he was the one who introduced the newborn Simba to the people of the Jungle and anointed him as the King’s heir… Rafiki finds Simba lost in the idleness of a sad and wasteful life; he puts him to the test. And when Simba lamented that he had caused his father’s death, Rafiki revealed to him that his Father was alive and well. Perplexed, Simba followed Rafiki through brambles and bushes to a piece of water. “Shh, shh, quiet… You want to see your father? Look in the water!” Simba’s excitement quickly turned to disappointment when he only saw the reflection of his own face, but Rafiki insisted: “Look… deeper… He lives in you, he lives in me. He watches over everything we see. Into the waters, into the truth. In your reflection, he lives in you.” This little Oasis in the heart of the desert, became the holy ground of the Encounter, where Simba hears anew his Father’s call that he is to be the protective and providing King. He set out to challenge and defeat the traitor Scar and restore a kingdom of balance, prosperity, justice and peace.

It was on Mount Horeb that Moses met the Lord in the burning bush, the holy ground from which he drew the necessary strength to return to Egypt and deliver his people from slavery. Street kids are not just poor abandoned children. Many were educated and shaped by Pumbas and Timons. But some of them that evening set out again on the path of Life. I know, I crossed their path years later.

I invite each of us to ask ourselves: What is my Mission today? Where do I go from here? And every time I stop in silence in holy ground, it is the Father who calls me to take the path of Life again.

Twenty-five years after the release of the cartoon “The Lion King”, the same movie but completely remastered, more real than ever, is now being released on the big screen around the world. I can only invite you to go and watch it as a pilgrimage… or a little retreat.

Philippe Docq, M.Afr.

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