Greetings from Africa! Christmas is a joyous time for me. It is the time of year not only to celebrate that Jesus was born historically but that now He lives within us inviting each of us to share His dream of living in peace and in compassion with everyone in the world as the one family of God. This awareness has entered deeply into my heart through the following two stories:
Some months ago, Father Michael Snyder, a Maryknoll priest and myself, were visiting a local hospital called Muhimbili in Dar is Salaam in southeastern Tanzania. We visited an elderly woman in her 80’s whose name is Melina. I told her I was learning the Kiswahili language and she smiled at me as I tried to communicate with her in her own native tongue. Mylina then asked us both to sit beside her and desired that we sing the Our Father prayer together with her. So she grabbed our hands and we held them up as she sang the prayer with us. As we were singing I realized that the external spoken language was not an obstacle between us because a deeper language of the heart was cresting an awareness that we indeed are one.
There was a wonderful celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday in one of our parish churches with a large group of people that included children and students. It was a joyful celebration of singing, dancing an rhythmic movement that goes from one and a half to two hours. African liturgies are truly celebrations that involve the totality of our being in the worship of God. During the celebration, I was invited to say a few words which I tried to do both in Kiswahili and English. When I looked out from the altar and saw the friendly, welcoming, beautiful faces, eyes and smiles of the people, I began to say the following words: I told them this was my first Sunday liturgical celebration and that I was happy to be with them. I mentioned to them that the gospel reading of today about Jesus choosing his disciples was important for all of us to hear. As Jesus chose his disciples so Jesus now chooses us to follow him and live in him. I went on to say that we are all the one family of God called to help one another as sisters and brothers. Looking at each of them I said: “You are my sisters and brothers. I am your brother.” They immediately erupted into applause and singing followed.
Christmas is a challenging time for us. It is a challenge to look beyond the lights and material gifts into a deeper awareness that we are all sisters and brothers in this world because Jesus is born and lives within our hearts.
Father Mike Bassano, MM