The awareness of the community is certainly one of the most striking elements of the African culture. Its influence on the people is so strong that it seems like part of their genetics: it’s enough to think about the importance of belonging to a clan or tribe, with all that follows. A wedding between two people from different tribes, for example, could cause big problems for the newlywed couple, including the risk of losing all support from one of their families. On the other hand, belonging to something bigger than the individual is an assurance of security and protection during difficult moments of life.
In our parish there are small Christian communities called Jumuiyas. They are groups of families who live near each other and get together to every week to pray the Rosary, read the Gospel and meditate on it. The groups call themselves by the saint they choose as their patron. Once a month, they participate in a Mass together: it is during this moment that we are able to stay with them. The celebration of the Mass takes place in one of their houses: sometimes within an upper-class residence, other times within a simple shack. The program is always the following: while they recite the Rosary, the priest hears confessions in some angle or balcony, then there is the Mass, and at the end there is free time for asking the priest questions. The questions tend to be of this type: “Why do we use incense during the Mass?”; “Can you tell us about Italy?”; “Why do we need to forgive terrorists?”. Everything finishes up with a tea or a full dinner, depending on the condition of the family.
Amongst the Jumuiyas that I have been able to get to know during this last year, those of St. Anna have struck me especially. They are numerous, primarily made up of middle aged families, who are very faithful to the Church and involved in the life of the parish. I was able to see through two different occasions how they seek to help each other in walking towards sanctity.
The first time I participated in one of the Masses with the St. Anna’s group was during a moment of mourning. A fifteen year old girl, Whitney, had died after being neglected by the doctors. The Jumuiya, together with her relatives, gathered in her house to celebrate Mass for Whitney’s soul: there were about sixty people. I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to say things that were superfluous. I spoke about Heaven and about the Christian companionship that accompanies each person from their birth all the way to their encounter with the Father. I asked the Jumuiya to take Whitney’s family under their wing, and told them that the Lord was giving them this responsibility.
A few months later, I met the responsible of St. Anna and asked him how things were going. He told me: “Father, we have taken Whitney’s family into our care, especially Regina, her mother. She has become one of the most faithful members of the Jumuiya”. From that moment on, every time I go to meet the St. Anna community, her face is always the first that I search for amongst those saying the Rosary.
Another episode that was even more amazing. One evening as I was preparing to celebrate Mass in the house, I noticed people beginning to receive phone calls. Each person, after answering their phone became anxious and then ran out of the house. Perplexed, I asked the responsible what was happening. He told me that Glady’s house had burst into flames. He recommended that I sit down and wait as they figured out what to do. Then he left with the others. I remained alone in the house praying the Rosary. After a little while, they all returned and told me that Glady, a mother in her fifties, had lost part of her house in the fire. We prayed for her. I told the Jumuiya, similar to the previous experience, that within these painful events the Lord was telling them to take care of one other.
After less than two weeks, I met the responsible: “Father, the whole Jumuiya decided to take up a collection to pay for repairing Glady’s house. You are a part of our family”.
At the end of the year, at the annual goat grill-out, I wanted to thank the St. Anna group for what they had witnessed to me: that the African sense of community is truly fulfilled when it grows from a Christian communion.
(Mattia Zuliani, ordained priest last June, is vice pastor of St. Joseph’s in Kahawa Sukari, Nairobi—Kenya. In the photo he is with two little parishioners.)