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Some parishioners praying in the Holy Family Minor Basilica of Nairobi, Kenya Some parishioners praying in the Holy Family Minor Basilica of Nairobi, Kenya  (AFP or licensors)

An African Christmas in a time of COVID-19

How can an African continent plagued with so much suffering celebrate a joyous moment such as Christmas?

Fr. Enobong Paulinus Udoidiong - Rome, Italy.

My view is that the full impact of COVID-19 on the African continent will take time before it is fully understood. Yet, some things are already apparent: Shortages of PPEs in hospitals, inadequate COVID-19 testing kits and supplies, teachers without jobs, collapsed small businesses, vendors who have lost everything, farmers whose crops went to waste during lockdown – the list could go on.

God did not promise that we would not experience hardships

How then do we celebrate when so many are burdened with hardships caused by COVID-19 and the resulting economic recession, literally on the entire continent of Africa? If big economies like Europe and America are suffering, how much more the developing countries of Africa? Need we mention elusive vaccines?

In the face of all these circumstances, St. Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonians chapter 5 that we should give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus. This may seem to some as resigning to one’s fate or defeatism. It is not. We give thanks because, despite all the situations of pain that we face, God has remained faithful to His promise. He did not promise that we will not experience hardships, trials, sicknesses, calamities, pestilence, drought, hunger, and the like. He promised instead that He would not abandon us, and that He would be with us till the end of time. He promised to send the Messiah. And when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appears, we will be saved. Salvation comes not because of the deeds done by us in righteousness, St. Paul says, but in virtue of the mercy and love of God. Christmas becomes then, a unique moment to receive that promise, the love of God. This year, the birth of Christ the Saviour comes when we need divine intervention the most. A time when we really need to share love and peace, because as we know -love conquers all.

Why celebrate Christmas? 

Jesus is the reason we are who we are, and so in this season, we celebrate the newborn King. In the Gospel narrative, according to Matthew chapter 2, we are told that when Christ was born in Bethlehem, there came three wise men from the East to pay him homage. We celebrate Christ, the incarnate God who left his Heavenly throne and accepted our human nature. Thus, He made human nature divine and restored it to the glory it had before the fall.

Create room for the newborn child in your heart

I recall as a child that during the Christmas holidays, we often had annual family reunions. Christmas was a time to meet with uncles, aunties and cousins from different parts of the country. These large family gatherings are probably not advisable this year given the circumstances. Still, we should continue to cherish that spirit and our readiness to create room for family members who come to visit. This time, Christ asks us to make room for him in our hearts, for that love which this season depicts.

When we have families that cherish love and peace and strive to live these values, there is the possibility that children seeing how adults live will grow up cherishing these same values too. We have heard it said, strong families are the building blocks of strong communities, and strong communities are the building blocks of strong nations. This is not empty rhetoric.

Spare a thought for Africa’ struggling mothers

Yes, there is so much suffering around us today, but I imagine what Mother Mary felt for her newborn baby under that intense winter cold, without proper clothing for the child. She probably only had some torn rags found in the stable. 

This Christmas, my heart goes out to the millions of African mothers and their children struggling in abject poverty and difficult life situations. Surely, this is a moment of the year that our political leaders should take for reflection. African countries may have economic challenges but, with priorities in place, Africa’s leaders can make a difference and alleviate the sufferings of the very people who elected them. My appeal to our elected leaders would be: Do everything within your constitutional powers to improve the lot of the same people who elected you into office. Leave a legacy and whatever you do, spare a thought for many of Africa’s struggling mothers sacrificing everything to provide for their children

So that the world may see Christ in us

But it is not just about our political leaders. All of us who can make a difference to other people’s lives need to love as Christ did. Sometimes even the little we can do goes a long way.

The birth of Christ brought glad tidings to all people of goodwill. As we thank God for the gift of Christ, let us remember to let our lights shine so that our world may see Christ, incarnate in us. Let us join in the song of the angels exalting the Glory of God and invoking His peace on our troubled world.

(Fr. Enobong Paulinus Udoidiong is currently a doctoral student of Canon Law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. He is also a contributor and collaborator of Vatican Radio’s English Africa Service. Fr. Enobong is incardinated in the Diocese of Uyo, Nigeria.)

24 December 2020, 23:16