Christ is born black in ‘Zaire’

By Fr. Melanio Viuya Jr., CICM

Zaire, now called the Republic of Congo, is as big as Europe. We have all seen on Television the terrible internal civil war and the horrible plight of the Rwandan Refugees. But in the meantime life goes on. In a humble corner of the former Zaire, Fr. Viuya recalls his second Christmas away from the Philippines.

First Journey

It was my first journey to the village alone. My confreres were rather apprehensive. They gave me 15 liters of potable water, six hundred grams of rice, one hundred grams of sugar, some salt, a folding bed, a mosquito net, a loaf of bread, some medicines, and a petrol lamp. I was pretty ashamed to go to the village carrying all these. To be biblical or to be practical, that’s the question. However, I discovered later that I was necessary to bring most, if not all, of these things for in the village “there’s nothing”.

Wash with a towel

Daily I washed myself with a half-filled pail of water fetched from a relatively far river. In the beginning I didn’t know how to manage with such a small amount of water. Later I learned to wash with a face towel. Yet I must admit that taking a real shower is far better than this.


The first day, I visited the Christians in the village. Everyone was curious to know me, to chat with me, to ask me some questions, it was their first time to see in a non-black who is neither a Belgian nor a Portuguese. “Where have you come from? How far is the Philippines from Zaire? How’s the climate there? What do you plant and eat? Your parents, are they still alive? Do you not miss them? People are edified to know that I have crossed oceans and continents form a far country in order to share the good news. Awed, they with sincerity, “Nzambe apambola yo!” May God bless you!

They Love Gathering

The Zaireans love gatherings where they can exchange ideas. I’ve got the impressions that they cannot stand solitude – being alone and reflecting. I was told that the whole morning a villager is all ‘alone’ in his field planting cassava and other vegetables or cutting the forest. Thus in the afternoon he seeks company to converse with over a calabash of palm wine. Such conversation may last quite late, I remember that in my second day in village, we started the conversation at three o’clock in the afternoon and ended at almost nine o’clock in the evening. Honestly I was already starving to death when they left me.

That day, we talked about the project of God for his people. We all agreed that God does not want his people to suffer, that he wants his people to have wellbeing, happiness, freedom, justice and peace. The people themselves are very much aware of their sad plight. This is evident in one of their greetings: Good day, do you exist? Yes, I do. What’s the news? As always, the suffering in this in this world. There are spots where is so dark that the sun can hardly get through the thick trees. An old path has already grown bushes and wild shrubs, a sign that no vehicles have passed through her for many years now. In the middle of the forest is a swamp where I dike was constructed during the time of the colonization. That dike too is hardly visible now, for much thick grass covers it. Through the years, the rain has been swelling the swamp and at times has been eroding the dike. There is now a bridge of wood. There are spots where water was trapped and has formed some puddles. This can be dangerous even with our Land Cruiser for one can get stuck in the mud. The dike is so narrow that one has to be an expert driver, and, and at the same time a funambulist in order to stay on the dike, while avoiding the innumerable obstacles.

“Father, be careful at the right side. There is a trunk of a tree lying hidden in the grass!” We almost tore our rear tire, “Father, at the left side is a pothole and in front of us is a dune covered with shrubs!” We almost turned turtle. These and many more warnings broke once in a while our otherwise silent penetration of the forest more deeply. I had to close the car window to avoid thorns, branches and leaves that continually brushed the car.

Sleeping sickness

“Pak! Pak! Pak! Kill! Catch it! Pak! Pak! Pak!” The Zaireans among us were chasing some tsetse flies which entered the car. This sort of fly is a carrier of sickness, fatal if not defected and treated at once. The awareness, that this forest is infected with tsetse flies frightened me.

Out of the Forest

Along the way, we met some village folks who came from their fields. “Mbote sango! Good afternoon, Father. Where are you going? The road is not passable!” After two hours inside the forest at last, we saw some huts, children playing, women pounding cassava leaves, men drinking palmwine. We were out of the forest!

We were welcomed by the six catechists of the six neighboring villages. They were all there for the Christmas celebration. All of them, together with the faithful. Our two-days-two-nights stay was filled with activities. Slide showing, baptism, weddings, confessions, blessing of new chapel, investiture of the members of the Legion of Mary, and most of all the Eucharistic celebration. The parish priest had a meeting with the adults and I with the youth. People have a lot of questions about faith.

Dancing at Christmas

On Christmas eve, the whole village danced! They took turns in beating the tamtam. They dances and danced around while some cups of black and bitter coffee were being passed around. There was no bonfire but the moon was generous enough to bathe us all with its silver light. I realized that it’s my second Christmas away from the Philippines, my first with the Zaireans. I’ve got mixed feelings. I missed the colorful, joyful, and familiar celebration with its food back home. On the other hand, there I was with God’s ‘becoming-human with their songs, dances and with their black and bitter coffee.

During the Christmas morning Eucharistic celebration, people offered some cassava, some sugar cane, a mat, some eggs, a chicken and one hundred twenty six Zaire (50 pesos). Out o their poverty they have given the widow’s mite. These offerings will be divided and distributed to the poorest of the poor.

Jesus was born poor in Bethlehem. He was again born poor and this time black – in Ngomvo and elsewhere in Zaire – taking on himself all what is human and Zairean including hunger and nakedness.