NewsAfricaChristmas with African liturgy in a Madrid neighborhood

Christmas with African liturgy in a Madrid neighborhood

A tapestry in which the silhouette of the African continent is drawn extends over the altar of the parish of San Agustin, in the Madrid district of Chamartin. Next to him, rests a Christmas tree. This Saturday night, a few days before December 24, nearly 200 people —many of them migrants from different African countries— gather to celebrate Christmas with an African mass. “The Eucharist is Catholic and we merge it with the rites of our identity. The music and dance typical of this celebration, the joy and the interaction with the attendees, are fundamental elements within our religious ceremonies”, summarizes the Congolese Nicole Ndongala, director of the Karibu Foundation, an organization that provides humanitarian aid to immigrants. and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa in Madrid.

Ndongala refers to the Zairian rite – for Zaire, as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was called until 1997 – promoted by Congolese Cardinal Joseph Malula. This theologian, considered one of the pioneers of the Africanization of the Catholic Church in the DRC, managed to incorporate, within the diocese of the country, the traditional practices of the different peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa in the Catholic religious mass of colonial style . “We can pray in our own language and with our own symbols,” he says.

And although Ndongala clarifies that there are many other religions on the continent, he confesses that this event is also a call for the union between users, volunteers and sympathizers of humanitarian aid work to whom, due to internal conflicts in their countries, are forced to to go out This is well known by Judith Sankagui, from the Central African Republic. “I love my country, we have great wealth, but the war for diamonds and political control limit our well-being and development. They killed my father in front of my eyes and then they were after me, so I had to run away. Now, my one-year-old and seven-month-old son and I are trying to start a new life in which we can integrate without having to deny our identity, but by strengthening it”, Sankagui settles.

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In Spain, the total number of resident foreigners with a valid registration certificate or residence card is 5,800,468 people, of whom the African group represents 44%, followed by 28% of nationals from Central American countries. and the South, according to data from the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migrations.

The event becomes festive. The association’s choir invades the parish with songs in languages ​​such as Lingala, Kikoto, Shiluba, Fang and Sango, and also in French and Spanish. The drum, the tambourine, the maracas and the voices of the 16 members of the choir announce the start of the liturgy. “This mass is something special,” says the parish priest, referring to the reading of the Eucharist in English, French and Spanish. Each of these has the presence of a leader who explains it in his language.

“Although our countries have already become independent, several features of colonialism still remain, such as language. The idea of ​​having these three is to minimize communication gaps with newcomers to Spain”, Ndongala clarifies. According to World Bank data, more than 940 minority languages ​​are spoken in West and Central Africa alone, while in Sub-Saharan Africa there are more than 1,500 languages ​​and dialects.

We love learning what they teach us about this country that receives us, but we also have a culture and knowledge to share

Fatouma Coulidaly, user of the Karibu Association

The service proceeds and two of the choir members approach the audience and take an offering filled with peanuts, sweet potatoes, oranges, cassava and cassava (a common root vegetable in Africa). As the couple walks towards the altar, a man, with a cane and a shoulder cloth, symbolizes his ancestors. “In African culture, food, represented through fruits, represents gratitude for the food that the earth gives us,” reflects Ndongala.

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Ejid Yetene, one of the members of the Karibu choir for ten years, says that the representation of the ancestors within the mass is a key element. “It is they who intercede so that our prayers are transmitted to God. It is our grandparents, great grandparents and all the generations that precede us who guide us ”, he specifies. As the ceremony progresses, more and more people join the celebration.

Suddenly, a song, the last of the 20, announces the end of the ceremony, and at the same time the beginning of the festivity that is celebrated with afrobeat and food for all. It is the most relaxed moment, which seeks to strengthen support networks among attendees. “Melodies are part of our life. They accompany funerals, births, baptisms, they are at all the important moments in our society, regardless of the beliefs you have”, comments Yetene while going through the tables that, in less than 10 minutes, have been prepared to place the traditional food African and the typical foods of Madrid.

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Food evokes togetherness. The assistants know it well, who snack on some African dishes, such as chicken wings, fritters and fried plantains; but also empanadas, potato omelette and croquettes. “This is a moment of complicity among all, without distinction of origin and religion. Thus, those who are Muslim, Orthodox or of any other belief can come and help themselves to whatever they want, even if they have not been to the mass”, comments Nicole Ndongala with joy.

For Fatouma Coulidaly, one of the users of the association, these events are a meeting point with more people from the Ivory Coast —where she was born—, but also to learn about the cultures of neighboring countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso or Ghana. “We make our traditions known. We love to learn what they teach us about this country that receives us, but we also have a culture and knowledge to share”, she says, as she adjusts to the traditional costume of her country. And she continues. “We hardly ever wear our traditional clothes because the climate here is different. Moments like these revive our days with our families, with our identity, for this reason, today I am very happy to share who I am: an African woman ”, she concludes.

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