DR Congo church celebrates its May 25 ‘Christmas’ in style
A cow carried on a stretcher as an offering as a choir chants effervescent songs of praise in tune with blaring trumpets from a brass band.
It could only be Christmas, Congolese style, as members of the Kimbanguist Church mark their annual festival in flamboyant fashion.
Entering into the joyous spirit of things, 4,000 people including the elderly, women, teachers, rescue workers and scouts, make a pilgrimage to the holy hill of Nkamba, some 100 kilometres southwest of Kinshasa.
For followers of the church, “true Christmas” falls on May 25. This year, their chants of praise resounded for hours at Nkamba’s huge temple, where worshippers rejoiced over the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and for what they believe was the second birth of Christ on Congolese soil in the early 20th Century.
Clad in crisp green and white uniforms, members of the Kimbanguist Social and Surveillance Movement (MSSK) paraded before their god, Simon Kimbangu Kiangani.
A stocky man in his 60s, wearing a dark blue suit, he is held to be the latest incarnation of God for a church whose origins are almost a century old and which lays claim to five million members.
Nkamba is the birthplace of Simon Kimbangu, who launched his ministry in 1921 in an enormous territory, which at the time was ruled by Belgium.
According to a church leader, he brought a message of divine revelation partly hidden by Christ, whom Kimbanguists see as the saviour of humanity.
As founder of the church, Kimbangu was a self-styled healer and prophet who alarmed colonial powers to such an extent that he spent 30 years in prison until his death in 1951.
It was only in 1959 that Belgian colonial authorities granted Kimbanguists the right to practise their faith.
Today, Kimbanguists worship their faith’s founder as the original incarnation of the Holy Spirit — and his three sons as the incarnation or reincarnation of the three aspects of the Holy Trinity.
It was in 2000 that they stopped celebrating Christmas on December 25 after a “revelation” they should instead mark the 1916 birth of Papa Salomon Dialungana Kiangani, Kimbangu’s second son — who is believed to be the reincarnation of Christ.
Their current leader, Simon Kimbangu Kiangani, is Kimbangu’s grandson and believed to be the second reincarnation of the Holy Spirit.
For his followers, Nkamba is no less than the holy city, “the new Jerusalem”.
At this sacred site, everybody goes barefoot, apart from the soldiers assigned to watch over the living god and his family.
As part of the ceremony, some 30 elders — or “papas” — carried in the offering of a cow on a makeshift stretcher.
But the hobbled beast was too heavy for their weary arms and ended up on the ground, mute, as the ceremony continued.
Before the processions, there was a six-hour ceremony at which the “true date of birth of Jesus, Son of God,” was impressed on the minds of the faithful.