Easter on African soil

by Father Stephen O'Werema

Throughout the world Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus with great joy, marking the end of forty days of Lenten prayer and fasting.

Easter is the climax of our human destiny, when our last enemy, death, is conquered by the resurrection of Jesus; life has triumphed over death.

In Africa, like any other place in the world, Easter becomes the centre of attraction for all Christian Churches, as well as non-believers.

At the Easter Vigil, the Christian Community assembles in the church building, sometimes even four hours before the scheduled start, just to make sure of being able to hear the words of the service.

A shortage of benches in the parish churches, lack of lights and the size of the building makes life hard for the late-comer, that is those who are only a couple of hours early!

In most parish churches the Easter Vigil is anticipated, because there are no lights, usually beginning at 3pm and finishing at dark, around 6pm.

Because only a few people get inside the church, the children tend to be the victims of the situation.

Normally, even on ordinary Sundays, the children are not allowed to occupy seats ahead of grown-ups.

Children sit on the floor surrounding the altar - making movement difficult for priest and altar servers alike!

Controlling the congregation can be difficult and the priest often loses his voice because of the need to shout.

The church is decorated by Vitenge and Kanga, clothes made up in the form of butterflies, flowers, banana trees etc.

Christian hymns are accompanied by the beating of drums and Kigelegele, the high-pitched sounds made by women.

After Mass there are traditional dances outside of the church and then people return home to continue their celebrations with local food and drinks.

In some parishes the people remain around the church after Mass and sit in their small Christian communities to continue the celebration of eating and drinking, as ceremonial dances and entertainments continue around them.

In Africa, Easter has a social dimension as well as a spiritual one.

At Easter families come together.

They share special food with Christians and non-Christians indulging in boiled or roasted rice with meat or chicken.

Meat is very scarce and expensive, making any laws of abstinence (not eating meat) very unimportant - any Lenten penance that may be chosen by people in the West must be endured by people in Africa all year round.

This means that Easter and other special occasions really can be true celebrations, and we are very much blessed by these celebrations.