It was Christmas and I did not know it


Last Saturday I continued visiting the communities of our diocese. I normally do it on Sundays but Fr Magagula (parish priest) told me about one of his communities (St Anthony) which gathers on the third Saturday of the month for the celebration of the Mass. "They will be happy to see you" he said and he was very good not letting them know I would be there. As usual, it would be a surprise.

In fact when I arrived just before midday they could not believe the bishop was there to preside the celebration of the Mass. Only that this time... I was surprised too.

On my way to St Anthony (Makhosini, not far from Nhlangano) I was wondering if the readings of the Mass would follow the fourth Sunday of Advent or if it would be already Christmas. I knew that not having the celebration of the Mass every Sunday, we sometimes celebrate "before" and sometimes "after" the day of the feast.

I could still remember my very first appointment in South Africa, 21 years' ago (!!!) to the Mission of Piet Retief - Pongola. The very first Mass was in an outstation about 100 km away. Being so far and not being able to be there frequently Christmas was celebrated one week before the feast.

The surprise was not about the readings.

Arriving at St Anthony's many people were already there. When the leader of the community explained to them who I was, I realised they were not Catholics. The Catholic community had chosen that Saturday to celebrate Christmas with the poorest in the area: the elderly, the sick, the orphans and vulnerable children.


We celebrated Mass together and after Mass we moved outside the church to start with the program. A tent had been set up. A choir of children led us in prayer. While the food parcels were being brought to the place Mr Dlamini kept reminding everyone of biblical texts that encourage us to show our faith in action.

Food parcels kept on coming. The small community had been collecting money and ... putting their own (!) to make sure those who need it most would have enough this time of the year which is not only marked by the Christmas feast but also by a serious drought. 

It was "Christmas in action". It was not a Nativity play which we always enjoy so much. It was more than the usual exchange of gifts. It was giving to those who are unable to give you anything in return. An image of that unconditional love of God who becomes one of us.

I know this is not the only place where it is happening. I regularly see on "whatsapp" photos of the different communities, sodalities, youth groups... doing exactly the same. It is done silently. It is done with great joy and certainly brings joy to those experiencing being loved in such a special way.



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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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