Frido, the director of the JRS [Jesuit Refugee Service] project in Adjumani, joined me today at the village of Kobo for the Good Friday liturgy. Every year he comes with me on Good Friday.
The Kobo “chapel” is on a small promontory that overlooks the West Nile. Large rocks beneath a towering tree on the promontory serve as pews.
I always come to chapels in the villages mentally prepared for snafus, big and small. Sure enough, today the catechist, Simon, forgot to bring a cross—on Good Friday. And, too, the poor man was the only one present who could read, let alone read in Bari, the language of the people, so he wound up reading John's entire Passion account as well as the intercessions of the Good Friday liturgy. It was a lot of words and he was agonizingly slow, but it didn't bother the people, who listened intently. Simon is a simple man, liked by all.
Soon it was time for the veneration of the cross. What to do about the crucifix? Fortunately, I had with me an ebony cross about fifteen inches high, one with a corpus. But the corpus had broken loose from the cross during the trip to Kobo. I took a rubber band I found stashed in my backpack and used it to bind Jesus around his chest to the cross. Then we had to figure out how to prop up the crucifix during veneration. Frido suggested banding the cross and corpus to his aluminum water container, which was originally a bottle of Danish vodka. Once assembled, we placed the crucifix in all its black beauty on the little altar.
The veneration by the congregation was direct, their faith bringing new meaning to liturgical propriety. The people of Kobo—first the elders, then the younger people, and finally the children—approached the crucifix and, kneeling reverently on a papyrus mat, bowed before the cross, or kissed the feet of the corpus, or reached out just to touch. It was an unfettered and tender piety. How could it be otherwise? Sudanese refugees know better than most the cold blade of physical and emotional suffering; they know the cruelty of injustice; and they know the size and power of sacrificial love rendered for the beloved.
After we had made our own veneration, Frido and I stood off to the side and watched the people come to the crucifix, bound with a rubber band to a vodka bottle. I whispered to him, “Can we possibly forget this Good Friday?” He shook his head. “Never.”