Africa, December 2019, Vol. 84 No. 9

A very different Christmas…
Joseph Archibong

Celebrations in churches in Lagos, Nigeria are very colourful and vibrant events. Our own parish of St Joseph’s in Kirikiri town in Lagos is no exception. Even though life in Nigeria can be tough, people wear a hopeful smile, dance and celebrate during important feasts such as Christmas. Sometimes the optimistic joy can hide the hurts people are carrying.

 

I had met Chioma (not her name), a young woman in the parish many years ago. Chioma got married early and was blessed with one son and two daughters. I was visiting and ministering in Kirikiri for Christmas and New Year 2017/18. One evening, shortly before Christmas, Chioma ran up to me and greeted me. We had not met for a few years. I noticed she wore white and covered her hair. She then told me that she had lost her husband earlier in the year and was just about completing her mourning period. In many cultures in Nigeria, widows must mourn their husbands for a period of time and dress in a certain way. This is just one of the many traditions relating to death and bereavement. 

 

I was happy to see Chioma again. I could see that the death of her husband had taken its toll. There is a fund set up in the parish to buy food and Christmas gifts for widows. After Christmas Mass, the widows meet in a certain area and the food and gifts are distributed. As I walked around the church compound, I noticed Chioma sitting on her own whilst the other widows chatted away. There was a sadness in her countenance so I went to sit beside her. 

 

There are times in ministry when we are told not to look for wise and consoling words but rather to be quiet and present. Chioma sensed I was concerned for her, seeing her for the first time sitting with the other widows at Christmas. She told me that every year she noticed the widows but never thought that some day she would sit with them. She also told me that she was very humbled to be seen publicly waiting for her Christmas food and gift. But for her children, she would have preferred not to be seen there. Christmas is a time for family joy and so we all hurt when we experience our first Christmas without a significant family member. 

The widow of a catechist who died in 2013 came over to us and told me not to worry about Chioma, that she would be fine. The biggest worry on Chioma’s mind now is educating her children. Her son will have to pull out of school for the moment so her two bright girls can continue. Nobody knows what the future will bring for Chioma and her children. I am lucky to have parents who are in their 48th year of marriage. I cannot say I understand or even imagine what Chioma is going through as she begins a new phase of life without a spouse. I can only wish her the very best and assist her when I can. I am grateful to St Joseph’s Parish, Kirikiri for their Kirikiri Widows Support Program. I am hopeful that as the program grows, more types of life-changing help will be given to the widows and their children.

 

I dedicate this short reflection with love to our many readers who have suffered the loss of a spouse. I know you will say a prayer for Chioma tonight.

Fr Joseph Archibong, from Calabar, Nigeria, was ordained in 2007. He is the Society’s Director of Promotion in London.

©Africa, St Patrick's Missions Magazine

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