The Independent Newsweekly
|December 24, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 38
Joe Komakoma is a priest from Lusaka, Zambia, where he directs the Catholic Center for Justice Development and Peace..
"The clarion call, then, at Christmas, is that we must save the community values that make the African family unique in the world."
Making Christmas relevant to a suffering people
By Joe Komakoma
How do you celebrate Christmas when you are faced with abject poverty and widespread illness, crowned by the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS?
In the past 10 years, we have faced this dilemma of preaching the Good News of Christmas to more than 8 million, out of the total population of 10 million, of our people who continue to live on $1 a day. We only have half a million people in formal jobs. There is an estimated 2 million people living with HIV; a quarter of a million, among all those, have full-blown AIDS. When you bury close to 100 people each day, death, not so strangely, becomes as natural as going to the supermarket. Government hospitals still lack basic drugs to give to poor people who cannot afford the readily available but expensive drugs in private hospitals, clinics and drug stores.
To make it worse, while there are all these human tragic stories, a privileged few still flaunt their wealth in the faces of the suffering majority. These are the ones who, when Christmastime comes, want to shop until they drop! They couldn't care less about how much they spend. But while they do that, the majority cannot even afford to buy a Christmas card. It would mean missing a meal if they did.
What, then, should we hold up as the meaning of Christmas when there is so much pain and suffering? Where does that leave a priest? What message does you preach in this context? The natural thing to do is to go back to the event that gave us Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ.
You then touch base with the true Christian message of Christmas, an invitation to celebrate God's goodness and kindness by giving us the gift of his only son -- Jesus Christ. God wanted his son to come and lift up our sinful human nature so that we could have a chance to share in his own glory.
This becomes an entry point for those of us who are trying to make Christmas relevant to a suffering people. It becomes easier to explain that much of the suffering they face is human- made. God did not intend it to be that way. It means that a good number of us human beings have drifted away from God's invitation to care for others, to share goodness and kindness.
Sadly, the family where we are supposed to live out this harmonious goodness and kindness is under siege. Poverty and disease are stretching to the limits the natural tendency we have to care for others. When there is very little to go around, survival becomes paramount.
The clarion call, then, at Christmas, is that we must save the community values that make the African family unique in the world. It is time to identify with the struggling families as they try to make ends meet, so that they do not feel abandoned.
It was not by accident that the African Synod chose the "Church-as-family" as the model of the African church. This was meant to capture what Pope John Paul II called "an acute sense of solidarity and community life" that we Africans have. The pope prayed that "Africa will always preserve this priceless cultural heritage and never succumb to the temptation to individualism, which is alien to its best traditions" [Ecclesia in Africa, #43].
Christmastime is therefore an opportune time for us to rediscover these deeply rooted values that are being tested severely by the counter values that globalization is helping to peddle around the world. These are the market-based values that tell people to maximize their individual satisfaction, often to the detriment of others. We have to counter the logic of the market, which has been given too much leeway to shape social norms, even for impoverished countries like Zambia.
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