Almost fifty years ago, I traveled to Italy for the first time. I was finishing high school and my classmates and I visited several Italian cities: Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Naples. While we were in Naples, we visited the ancient Greek temple of Paestum. Among the ruins, I remember vividly a painting on the tomb of a young man. The mural features a man who dives into the sea from the top of a tower. At the water's edge, an olive tree, symbol of life, stability, and firmness, seems to greet the diver. This image was created between 480 and 470 years before Christ to express the concept of life after death. This ancient conception was confirmed by Jesus Christ who overcame death and transformed it into a gateway to Life at the moment of his Resurrection, which we recently celebrated during the Easter season.
I don't know why, but every year, when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, I think of that old image, which, nearly 500 years before Christ, expresses a genuine faith in the victory of life over death. To believe that life will have the last word and to observe signs of the victory of life around us is our big challenge. Indeed, it is one of the most important challenges of all the Christians.
Here, in the bush of Zambia, the first sign of the victory of life comes from nature: Holy Week always occurs some weeks after the fall of the last rains. The high and radiant green grass is already becoming yellow in preparation for eight months of total and deadly drought. However, in order to whisper that death is only temporary, dozens of thousands of yellow flowers called kanunka blossom in the bush, like innumerable stars in a dark night. These small flowers dare to defy the drought and invite us to face the long dry season with hope.
This year, Holy week was especially significant: from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday afternoon, more than 600 people from all the villages of the parish camped under the trees in front of the church. In order to celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord, they shared everything: meals, the cold of the southern winter during the nights, the songs to the beat of the drums, the prayers, and the celebrations that seemed endless. On Holy Saturday, 66 adults were baptized and on Easter Sunday about 200 men and women received the Anointing of the Sick as a sign of a deep faith in Life.
One of our newest children at the orphanage, Eduard, was one of these sick people. He is just seven years old but he looks like a little boy of five years old; he lost both of his parents a few years ago and is HIV positive. From birth until he arrived at our orphanage, he ate soil to kill his hunger and it’s still difficult for him to break this habit. Many times, Eduard looks thoughtful and sad. After receiving the Anointing of the Sick, during a festive Easter meal, he enlightened us with a marvelous smile and formed a "V" with his fingers: "V" as in “Victory”! Despite the fact that death continues to follow him, Eduard has discovered Life and has experienced the hope that, with Jesus Christ, he will have the victory over the death.
On the third Sunday of Easter, together with the Catholic community of Mulungushi Agro, we organized a 24 hour vigil in order to celebrate the life of our beloved friend Bob who tragically passed away some days before Easter. More than 200 people coming from all the neighboring Christian churches gathered at our Center. Several representatives of Bob's family made the long trip to be with us.
The celebration started with cries of pain. When he died, Bob was visiting his biological family for a few weeks; at the beginning of the celebration, his mother, a young widow, described in detail the last moments of her son’s life and broke into tears. An elderly lady took Bob’s mother in her arms to comfort her. Melancholy songs accompanied the tears, but as the night progressed, the drums became more cheerful and the people started dancing with enthusiasm: all were convinced that Bob had been accepted into the House of God the Father and that he was living in peace and joy together with all the Saints of heaven.
In the morning, before the farewell mass, the bemba tribe members led a meaningful ceremony. I was under the arbor of our orphanage with the relatives of Bob and the headman of Mulungushi Agro village. Suddenly, the Babembas arrived in procession, dancing to the beat of the drums. Several times they compassed the arbor in an increasingly frantic way and, at the end, they covered our head with maize flour as a symbol of life and fertility. Then everyone knelt in prayer in honor of the late Bob. What a beautiful sign of the victory of Life over death!
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