Chronicle: Christmas in the Jungles of Figeri and Fas
Today in the afternoon we prayed the rosary as usual. I told them to pick up and take some flowers with them . They were very happy when I told them what they were for. When we finished the rosary I told them that as we sing they could give those flowers to the Virgin together with a thought or intention. The oldest ones that hadn’t brought any flower were asking the little ones so that they could also offer their intention to the Virgin Mary together with theirs.
I intended to speak about some topic every day after the rosary. Yesterday I spoke on Rosary, today on prayer. I’ve never had a so attentive audience. At the end I asked them if they have some questions; and the men with the simplicity of a child started to ask. “But if I’m walking in the jungle and I cannot make the sign of the cross because of the load I’m carrying; can I prayer anyway? Will God hear me?” Another also asked me: “If I don’t pray every day, will God hear me anyway?”
I didn’t know then how to prepare the homilies. But later on it became very easy when I planned to do it in a simple way; I realized that there’s nothing more precise and simple than the Gospel. Today I’ve spoken about the prayer, and I was wondering: “How did Jesus teach it?” And I remembered the parable of the unjust judge and the widow, the parable of the Pharisee and the task collector… It’s very simple!
Then I recalled about that passage that says: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike”. So I realized that for preaching I have to work hard on the gospel’s text. Everything fits them excellent and it seems that is the first time for them to hear about the divine mysteries and the evangelical moral. The Pauline letters also fits them very well. I imagine that maybe the gospel and its exigencies were listened by them as the pagans did hearing them from the Apostles.
Is just like that. They are very simple, like children. But as they are simple they are also rough and deteriorated, because of the miseries of a nature not yet evangelized. For example, I met a man in the jungle around thirty years old, who happily told me how he got a new wife. It turned out that he has given his sister to marry other one, and so, he received as payment the latter’s sister, and she’s 17 years old! Even though this is not totally right for them, it is completely allowed by their customs. Nobody can complain. And the poor girl cannot do anything! It really upsets my stomach wherever I remember it!
Another example about this cruelty or absence of the gospel in their lives is the polygamy practiced by some of them, or the vice of alcohol. It is also very frequent to marry small or very young girls who are taken away “legally”. When a woman marries, her brother, cousin or any relative of hers will receive another woman from the family of the groom to whom he has given his sister, cousin, etc., as a payment for the marriage. Now there are many ladies in theirs 30s or 40s who are already widow because they have married at very young. Another example is the fears and beliefs they have and that make them to do or not to do this or that thing. These fears rule their life more than the same Gospel.
During the night I stayed talking with the teacher and his family next to a bonfire, and they told me about some of theirs beliefs and pagan customs. While we are talking, suddenly, the teacher’s daughter put out the fire. I asked her why she did so, and she answered that if the fire is on, “sanguma” would appear in the flames. So I explained to them that if we pay too much attention to the devil, he would be very happy. But also I told them that to a baptized person he cannot do anything and that the demon has a great terror of the Virgin Mary.
I was really sock when a minute later the same girl was setting the fire again.
After the Mass in the morning we had a meeting with the altar servers and we practiced the Mass responses and the songs.
Yesterday in the Mass I gave a sign to the singer so that he may begin the “Holy”, but after thinking for a while, he started enthusiastically with the “Glory”. We sang it completely, and later I went ahead with the Eucharistic prayer… patience!
In the evening I went to pray the Rosary as it was scheduled. I prepared myself well because I was going to preach on Confession.
While I was going towards the village and after crossing the river, I saw some boys coming and going, and later on, more youths running with bows and arrows. Later they told me that they’d wounded a deer and that they were chasing it. The deer was very near, next to the surrounding area…
Obviously the rosary couldn’t begin. All of them were just thinking on the hunted deer… and also me. Suddenly we heard some shouts far away; it was the third arrow was shot. With this the deer went deeper into the jungle and it got dark. So, everyone returned and calmed down. Then, we started with the Rosary and the Confessions.
In the Holy Mass I spoke about the Eucharist. The collection was quite generous, k 120 (50 dollars), I never thought they would do so.
During the mass they killed the deer… Two men brought it hanging on a stick. It was quite huge! I saw it passing by my side while I was celebrating. An altar server bowed down reverently and went away to see it. After the Mass everyone went to see it. They were waiting for me so that I might see it before it would be slaughtered. We took very nice pictures and everybody happily went to the river to clean it and to divide it. In order to keep the hygiene they cut it within the river and on top of some palm leaves, using some machetes. They divided it at random and, in that same moment, each of them took some piece for his own. Everybody took part of the benefits; they are like a big family (literally).
While the mothers were cooking the deer I gathered the men to organize the Christmas and the blessing of the church. I stayed only a little with them and then I went to visit some houses.
I brought the volleyball net to the village. They fixed the field and we played. They play quite rough and so it’s only for men. The youngest one (from 15 years old to 18) didn’t play, they were only watching.
I visited Kwila Kampas well, a very isolated hamlet, where a priest had never been before.
During the night and after the rosary I spoke about the sanctifying grace which is God’s life in us. I explained to them how the spiritual life can grow the same as the corporal one and how the sin kills the life of the soul by taking away that same life of God that we’ve received in our Baptism. Later, two of them, first a man and then an old lady, asked me what they could do to recover the grace in case they have lost it and there isn’t any priest for a long time in the villages… I was astonished… Poor people!
When I returned home, I sat down with Jorge, the teacher, and others next to the fire. While they were smoking some homemade cigarettes (made with tobacco grown in their orchards and folded with newspaper) they asked me a lot of questions about their customs and beliefs; how they can be explained and what the faith says about them.
This was for me very useful in order to know more about them and to be able to preach more accurately.
We went to the jungle to hunt something. We walked around for four hours crossing rivers and hills. We only saw some traces, but, when we returned they told us that they had seen three deer only 100 meters from the houses. A little further they had also shot arrows to a pig… I should have remained! (They say that they would find in any moment the wounded pig. Tomorrow they will go to look for it with the dogs so that they can finish killing it).
Returning through the jungle, we followed a river not so big, of two or three meters wide. There they made something very interested; they cut some branches from a kind of bush and they grinded them with two stones. Then they threw these ground branches into the river. Suddenly a big amount of white foam appeared in the water, and wherever the foam was, the fishes started to die or be dizzy, so they just took them with their hand. They were catfish or little trout of 20cm… More than enough!
At night I spoke about the family and matrimony. It was really great. The talk was long, but, anyway, they were paying great attention and then they asked many questions. I was truly prepared. First I read to them the Genesis and after that, what Christ has said… I preached especially against the polygamy and that the women cannot be treated as money; how the parents have the children to look after them, but they are of God and they cannot give a daughter just like nothing, or to an unknown… Also I spoke about the inconveniences of the matrimony between cousins and how their forefathers use to practice those things because they didn’t know Christ and the Gospel. But now, they do know the Truth…
In the morning after the Mass they surprised me because they organized by themselves into different groups in order to prepare and practice the chants and dances for the 24th. Others started to decorated the church which we would use here in the school later for that same night. This church is made with bamboos and decorated with every kind of flower. Others prepared a play, very similar to our comedies sketch prepared by the group “Saint Phillip Neri”