First MMM Christmas in Africa – Part Two

First MMM Christmas in Africa – Part Two

by one of the founding MMM Sisters                Ireland/Nigeria                   19.12.2023

Editor’s Note: This is an extract from a larger article, written in Nigeria in 1940.

There was to be no midnight Mass at Anua in 1937.  This privilege was reserved for the bush stations.  We were a little disappointed at first, but imagine our joy when Fr. McGettrick came to wish us a happy Christmas and announced that he would take us in the lorry to the bush station, some fifteen miles away, where he was saying his midnight Mass.

It was a happy and unique experience to be speeding along a sandy road in a lorry in the middle of the night, somewhere in Africa. There was perfect calm and stillness, befitting the night, and it was only broken now and then by the distant sound of drums and tom-toms as the local people danced in the moonlight.  Though we did not have to journey along by foot, as did the Shepherds of the first Christmas night, still we could not help feeling one with them as we too went in search of the Holy Child.

A real Bethlehem it was when we reached it.  It was a mud chapel with palm mat roof, the outcome of local labour.  No pains had been spared in decorating this little home for Our Divine Lord in which bamboo, palm branches, gloriosa and lilies played a part. Here was real poverty, but real devotion too.  We would not change places with those in the grandest cathedral in the world that night.  The little church was packed to the door and how they sang that night!  It may not have been very musical, and you would never have mistaken their “Gloria in Excelsis” for that of the Angelic Choirs, but their hearts and souls were in it.  What earnestness appeared on the young neophytes in that dimly lit church as they filed up in hundreds to receive Holy Communion!  For many it would have been their first Midnight Mass.

Soon we found ourselves packed into the lorry again and with us were Father and the altar boys, the doctor and his wife, a Mass box, a goat (this being Father’s Christmas present which had been dashed to him by a grateful people together with yams, oranges, etc.)  As we left the bush station, we could see the local people going in all directions, wending their way along narrow paths to their homes with hurricane lamp in hand and still singing their Christmas hymns.  We too were in the mood for singing, but our Nanny goat interrupted our Adeste Fidelis occasionally with a “Ma-a-a” as the lorry sped along.  We picked up another Father with his loads at a bush station on the way, so there was a great medley of people and things to be unloaded when we reached Anua.