Christmas in Chad: How to proclaim Christ to Muslims

The birth of Jesus in a suburban parish in the Chadian capital of Ndjamena shows the sheer joy Christians unleash in song, dance, drums and balafons.

Dec 22, 2016

ROME: The Christmas wish I make to all of you, dear friends, is the one the angel made to the shepherds on the Holy Night, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a saviour has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk. 2: 10-11). Other angels appeared praising God, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests." Immediately, the shepherds travelled to Bethlehem to see and adore the Child and tell what they saw and heard to all those they knew (Lk. 2: 13-16).

The Christmas message is that God loves us and brings us his gifts: peace in our hearts, peace in and between families, peace within and between nations! Worldwide, there are still 23 wars. We men seek peace in so many ways, but peace comes first of all from God, for it is He who created us and it is to Him that the Virgin Mary gives birth at Christmas in Bethlehem. The second person of the Trinity, the Child Jesus, became man to die on the cross at the age of 33 and then rise again to save us from sin and give us eternal and happy life with God, that’s heaven! Let us ask Jesus for peace in our hearts and be "men and women of peace" so that we can show that we forgive offenses we received, not judge and never speak ill of anyone, pray when there is a conflict, be it a small or great war.

Why did the angel bring the good news to the shepherds and not to others? Because the shepherds were simple, humble people, willing to listen to God's word and pass it on to others with joy and enthusiasm. Christmas brought to them a new life. They were the first disciples of the Lord Jesus.

We too are called to be reborn to a new life.

Now in our path,

his light shines.

Jesus, sun of grace,

calls us to new life.

(Hymn of pre-Christmas Lauds)

At Christmas we have to rediscover the joy and enthusiasm of faith. How? Pope Francis is a "missionary pope" because he comes from a young Church founded by the missionaries. He has the passion to bring Christ to the endless throngs of nations that still do not know him. That is why he often says that he wants the "Church to go out" and that all the baptised "be missionaries."

This is how things happen in the missions, where the Church is born, and the breath of the Holy Spirit is felt at times in moving ways. Christmas makes neophytes enthusiastic and spontaneously missionary. They understand that they cannot keep for themselves and their families the great gift of faith in Christ; that it must be communicated to others in their own ways. This is the "new life" that Christmas 2016 asks us, believers in Christ.

In 1976 I experienced the Holy Christmas in Chad, a poor country just south of the Sahara Desert. Most Chadians are Muslim or animist; Christians are a small minority. The capital Ndjamena is a desert town, heat and sand is everywhere, even at Christmas, but climatically it is the best time of the year.

The parish church in Ndjamena’s Kabalaye district, built and run by Jesuits from the Italian region of Lombardy (whose guest I was), is an imposing building in the style of an amphitheater, with an oval dome with bold metal ribbing, walls of reinforced concrete, and a roof in plastic sheets. On Christmas Eve 1976, the vast courtyard and the church gradually filled with worshipers, some from faraway villages. Well before Midnight Mass, the church was full to capacity, and hundreds of faithful stood in the courtyard.

The joy of the celebration and coming together exploded. Christians, after a year of isolation, toil, and misery, broke out into song, dance, drums, balafons, and pipes. Inside the Kabalaye church it was like a stormy sea. People sang all together, many danced, trying to make as much noise as they could, clapping their hands and stomping their feet rhythmically to accompany the choir, whose songs are our oldest carols translated into local languages. The joy was overflowing and contagious, the dust was acrid and thick; this was the stench, the "scent" of a poor humanity, the rhythm of drums and rousing balafons.

In the sacristy we were four priests ready to go out for Mass. How could we do it in that indescribable bedlam? The huge and towering Brother Antonio Mason went to the altar platform, grabbed the microphone, and made compelling signs of silence and shouted, "Silence! That’s enough!" in the three or four African languages ??he knew, as well as in French. But his powerful voice, magnified to a deafening level by a good sound system, was overwhelmed by the noise of hundreds of Africans together. The whole thing reminded me of the roar of the falls at Iguaçu and Niagara. The church’s dome and walls shook, giving the impression that the whole amphitheater was going to collapse.

Brother Anthony came back to the sacristy defeated, sweaty, and out of voice. "Let’s let them let it out for a while,” he said. We could not do anything else. Meanwhile, the source of the mad decibels from Kabalaye parish attracted a throngs of Muslims and animists from the city, curious about what was going on. They came to see the explosion of joy that Christmas arouses in Christian people. "That is an original way to proclaim the Gospel in Africa,” said the pastor, Father Corrado Corti. “I am convinced that this authentic expression of a people’s unity and joy was worth more to Muslims and animists than all of our Christmas sermons."--Asia News

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