The Christmas season is upon us once again!
We once again open our hearts and minds to the Light, the Wisdom and the Humility of Our Savior.
Here in the Philippines the Christmas season begins anytime after September. First one and then another store will begin to display Christmas decorations. I saw one house already displaying their Christmas lights in late September. In the prison where I work with those suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, the prisoners are busy making lanterns and stars. They will sell these to earn a meager income for themselves and their families during the Christmas Season. The radio stations begin to play a few Christmas songs every day. The yearning for the Christmas celebration builds day by day.
You might ask, “Why start so early?” Here, Christmas is more than just the celebration of the birth of Christ on December 25. It is a celebration of family, of life, even new life after death. The celebration begins in earnest on the Feast of All Saints on November 1. Families travel from afar to visit the graves of their loved ones. They travel by air and by land and by sea to join as family and remember those who went before them. The families probably will not be able to join together again for Christmas Day and so they celebrate Christmas together as they remember their loved ones.
We, Columban Missionaries, have the added joy of celebrating the Feast of our Patron, St. Columban on November 23. Actually, according to historians, Columban died on November 21, which is also my birthday. The feast was moved a couple of days because November 21 is also a feast of Mary, Our Blessed Mother.
In the USA people celebrate Thanksgiving Day, a day on which all people of that nation are asked to take time to thank their God, however they might understand God, for the many great gifts that have been given to the country and its people. Often the three celebrations follow one another, my birthday, Thanksgiving Day and St Columban’s Feast Day.
We do have so much to be thankful for here. All of the young men and women that we are helping are doing pretty well. The health of the ones who suffer from hemophilia has been relatively good with no major bleeds even though some have had painful bleeds in joints, painful enough to make an 18 year old cry in front of his peers. I have been in pretty good health also, suffering only colds and flu once in a while. But most of all we are thankful for all of you who make my life and my work possible through your generosity. Without you I can do nothing. We are thankful also for those who can’t actually serve on the foreign mission field and have no means available to help us financially, but are here with us through prayer. Our world is starving for your prayers. And the Devil is terrified of them. Please keep your prayers coming.
We await the real heart of the Christmas Season that begins on December 16 with the early dawn Novena of Masses. Each morning we get up at about 3:30 AM to prepare for the Mass and walk over to the chapel which is about a half a mile away. It is our custom in our village that I awaken the faithful with appropriate Christmas music from 3:30 until 3:45. This allows those who do not join in the celebration of the Mass to go back to sleep before getting up to go to work.
Each morning the Church is overflowing with the faithful, many of whom must go to work at 7:30 or 8:00 AM. On Saturdays and Sundays there are at least twice as many worshipers in attendance as our Chapel can hold. Each morning I invite the little children to come up and sit around the altar not only to make more room for adults to sit in the pews and chairs, but also so that they will feel that they are an important part of the Spiritual Celebration of Christmas.
Christmas Eve finds us in the Chapel. Each year a group presents a Christmas pageant. It is not a long, drawn out presentation but something to clearly remind everyone why we are together and why we celebrate. Also before the Mass, Christmas Carols are sung usually led by the kids from my house. They have had plenty of practice going around the village and the city caroling to collect funds to help with expenses.
After the Pageant, the Mass, and Carols all go home to celebrate “Noche Buena” or “Blessed Night” dinner. For most folks here this is a rather simple meal. For others, their homes and tables are open to all who come to share in the joy and bounty of the Blessed Night. Many of the families of the students who lived with me before come to join us for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It is always a wonder that we find enough room for everyone to sleep.
Christmas morning we celebrate again the birth of Our Savior with Mass. After the Mass I distribute small gifts to the children who have faithfully attended the novena of Masses before Christmas. The smiles on the faces of the young children are worth more to me than any Christmas present.
Our Christmas Season does not end on Christmas Day. The Sunday after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family. Most parishes also celebrate with an invitation to the “parish family” to gather at the Church to celebrate being one family in Jesus.
The arrival of the New Year is celebrated, once again, with a Mass that is usually held right after the dinner hour. This allows for the Mass to be completed before the fireworks begin to explode all around. Even after living here for 42 years, I am not yet sure what the fireworks are all about. I don’t know whether they are to chase away the devils of the past years difficulties and problems, or whether they are meant to celebrate the blessing of another year of life that is filled with promise and hope. One thing I know for sure, God has sustained us through the old year; it will carry us through the new.
The Christmas Season closes with the Celebration of the Feast of the Holy Child, “Santo Nino”. This feast is a major feast down here in the southern Philippines and celebrated with great devotion. It first was celebrated in Cebu during time of the Spanish reign over the people. There was a plague that was killing people and spreading all over. While digging in the rubble of an older section of the town, workers discovered an image of the Child Jesus. It was carried around the town and people were cured of their illness. We could use some of that healing in our troubled world today.
Let us join in praying that Our Savior’s Peace will come to all parts of our world. I and the children here pray especially that your lives will be filled with Peace and Love and that God may answer your prayers in a way that will help you most. Have a blessed Christmas and a Joyous New Year.
News of the Children
Rene Boy is now “30 something”. He still lives with us. He really has no other place to go because of his disabilities. He has a severe learning disability and is physically disabled also. He cleans the back are of fallen leaves and cooks lunch for the students coming home at noon time.
Edward continues to grow in age and in wisdom. He is now in grade 7. He was once again chosen as the president of his class. In spite of his physical difficulties, Edward participates fully in school life. His grades are very good ranging from the 90’s to the middle 80’s. Through the miracle of the internet, Edward was contacted by a childhood friend from the time he lived in Manila. The young lady saw his name and picture on “FACEBOOK”. She contacted Edward to make sure that he was the same person whom she knew when they were 8 years old. Eventually she revealed to Edward that she knew where his mother was living. She got a contact number of Edward’s mother. At the end of September, after several months of text messaging, I took Edward to Manila where his mother promised to meet him. It was a tearful but joyous reunion after 13 years. The mother has remarried and is no longer drinking. Edward went off with his mother and her husband and two small children. During their two day visit, the mother answered all of Edward’s questions about why she abandoned him. He at least now understands why, but the hurt of that abandonment will always be with him. Recently, Edward revealed to his sister and younger brothers and told them all that he had learned.
John Philip is about to turn 22. He is now in the fourth year of his five year course in Architecture. He is doing well in his studies. He and his classmates often must work through the night to meet deadlines for projects or project designs. John is very skilled and is often able to earn money personal needs and transportation working as a carpenter. He also works on all projects have here at our house.
Odel is now 19 years old and in grade 3. He is a deaf mute. Odel lost his father last February due to alcohol abuse. The father got so drunk that he fell and hit his head and died from the injury. Odel began drinking whenever anyone would throw a party and invite him. During summer vacation, things got worse for Odel. He was drinking daily and did not return here at the agreed. We had a family meeting of all living in my house and decided that he should not be allowed to live here unless he stopped drinking completely. Inspired by Odel’s needs and the needs of other deaf mutes, I worked with the Vice Principal of the School for the Deaf and we started an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting in the school. There are about 11 members of that group and I work with them every Wednesday afternoon. The Vice Principal acts as the interpreter. Now, instead of barely passing his courses, Odel is getting grades in the high 80’s and is attending class all the time.
Ariel is one of the hemophiliac boys that I had living in my house in Dumaguete. He was struggling in school but was always a good young man. After I moved him here, I found that he was being influenced by other young men and was not to attending class regularly. He attended summer classes to wipe out a couple of failing grades. Since I brought him here, he has been doing much better in his school work. Ariel is 18 years old now and is in third year of high school.
Ruben is now 16 years old and is in Grade 7. Like Edward, Ruben was chosen as president of his class. Each section of a class has their own president. Ruben is doing well in class and is developing into a fine young man. The bad influence of his alcoholic father is now gone as the father went to Manila to find work.
Kim is the younger brother of Ariel. He is also a hemophiliac. Kim was invited to be part of a special study of hemophiliacs and a specific type of medicine. Kim does not have any health problems and was admitted to the study. Kim’s only problem was that his family does not own a refrigerator and the electrical supply is very poor in their area of the Island of Siquijor. The hematologist asked me to facilitate Kim by moving him here to live with me in Ozamiz. Kim transferred here in time for the second semester.
Joshua is another of our hemophiliac students. He lives in the house in Dumaguete. Joshua is not a good student. He skips class a lot of the time saying that he is hurting because of a bleed. I will meet with Joshua and his brother right after Christmas to decide on the future of Joshua.
Christian is another of our hemophiliac students. Christian also lives in the house in Dumaguete. He would have died last year if I had not rushed him up to Manila via airplane. Christian was suffering from a tumor in his nose extending up into his brain. We finally got him released from the hospital in Dumaguete and flew him to a government hospital in Manila where many of our hemophilia patients in the northern area go for treatment. After a very delicate operation and thousands of dollars worth of the special medicine to stop the bleeding, Christian recovered. He is now in Fourth Year High School and hopes to enter college next year.
Peter John, better known as PJ, is in his second year of nurses training in a college near Manila. PJ is another hemophilic. He and his sister were abandoned by their father when he learned that PJ was a hemophiliac. PJ’s mom has struggled to keep her children in school in spite of the burden that hemophilia puts on the finances of an already poor family. There was no way for PJ to go to college without our help. PJ is doing very well in College. His grades have all been in the 80’s. He is working very hard to make a career for himself and so that he can help other hemophiliac when they are in need.
Jesseryl is the older sister of John. She turned 25 in October. She is in her last year of studies in Office Management. At present she is engaged in her “On the Job Training” with one of the local banks. She should graduate in March of 2015 and should be ready for employment shortly thereafter. Jesseryl stays with her Aunt and comes here on Saturdays to take care of my laundry and the cleaning of my room and office.