Happy Christmas from the Columbans in Ireland!

Dec 20, 2023

As the Christmas season envelops us in warmth and reflection, the Columbans in Ireland extend heartfelt gratitude to all of you – our dedicated Columban benefactors, supporters, and partners in mission. Your unwavering generosity has been the driving force behind the numerous achievements of our Columban projects throughout the year. We look forward to working with your support to bring the Good News to the poor in 2024.

The Great Gift

As a child, I enjoyed Christmas for the presents. When I went on mission to Chile, I came to celebrate Christmas in a different way. In Chile, Christmas was not about receiving presents but celebrating with family and community. Certainly, we hold family important at Christmas, but in Chile it is extended beyond family to the wider community.

My first year in Chile, I noticed the lack of build-up to Christmas. There were no colourful decorations in the streets or on houses (or they were very minimal). Christmas music was not played continually in shopping centres or on radio stations. It was very subdued.

Initially in my early days of mission I missed the hype. However, in time, I began to appreciate the quietness of Christmas in Chile, much like the humble couple from Nazareth travelling to Bethlehem unnoticed. There was a simplicity in it all.

When Christmas eve came, the Christmas Vigil Mass was packed with a great crowd, many of whom didn’t attend church very much during the year, like the shepherds who were considered outsiders by the community but who gathered to share one joyous moment.

Christmas illustration from the indigenous Subanen crafters in the Philippines.

After Mass, people departed for their homes for their Christmas meal. It was here that family, neighbours and others would pass from house to house greeting each other. Eventually, at midnight, the slow quiet coming of Christmas erupted with fireworks in the streets, people laughing, hugging and greeting one another. It was as if the choir of angels had broken open the heavens and began singing, announcing the Good News.

At that moment, all the troubles and worries of daily life disappeared. Only joy and contentment were shared.

As the priest in the community, I was invited to several houses, and I spent the evening visiting and greeting the parishioners. It was a joy being received and a joy to give a blessing to those with whom I shared the celebration.

During my many years in Chile, I don’t recall presents being exchanged at Christmas. It they were, it was not central to the celebration. In time, I never missed the idea of presents because it became something more profound. The present I came to appreciate was not an object but a relationship – my relationship as a priest to the community. That is what Christmas signifies, God’s willingness to enter a relationship with his people by the birth of His Son.

In this Christmas season, I wish all our readers this great gift of a relationship with Jesus Christ, our brother and Saviour. Happy Christmas to all!

Fr Chris Saenz is regional director of the Columbans in the US.

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