This image has many resonances for me. I first saw it in 1973 or ’74, reproduced in a Christmas calendar prepared by my first employer, Market Research Africa, who annually produced impressive calendars based on South African art works. For a long time, this image in particular, hhung on my living room wall. Years later, after the advent of democracy, I saw the original in the parish church of Regina Mundi, in Soweto.
The obvious significance is as a reminder that Jesus and his family were not the white Caucasians they are usually represented as.
The greater significance is that this has hung throughout the turbulent years of the South African transition in the parish church of Regina Mundi, Soweto -a church which was frequently a focal point in the long struggle for justice. A large church, it often functioned as an informal substitute cathedral for Soweto. (As it happens, “Regina” was one a fairly common “European” name given to African women; “mundi” sounds like it could easily be an African language surname. It was often claimed that South African policemen, unschooled in Latin or the ways of the Catholic church, would scratch their heads in frustration that they could not find this “Regina Mundi” woman who was said to cause so much trouble.) And cause trouble she did.
I love to think of this painting, so vividly representing the reality of the Incarnation, sitting quietly in the church through those long years – while the real presence of the incarnated Christ, always with us, worked alongside the people of Soweto, supported by the Catholic Church in South Africa, to end the injustice.
In just the same way, the incarnated Christ will surely work alongside us queer Christians, as we too fight injustice – this time perpetrated by the churches.
Also, I just like the image.