Hope and Life
As I was preparing to move from Sydney to Melbourne to take up the new role of Regional Director of the Australia/New Zealand Columban region I reflected on the many occasions I have had to pack up and move on in my missionary life.
My initial move was from New Zealand to start studies for the priesthood at the Sydney seminary in 1969, then after ordination on to Japan in 1976 where I lived in eight different houses over about 20 years. I came back to Sydney in 1986, on to Japan again in 1992, New Zealand again in 2003, then back again to Sydney in 2009. Moving into new surroundings, transitioning into new cultures and taking up new roles are a regular dimension of a missionary's lifestyle. Living through these times of transition are not usually very comfortable moments, and it takes courage and time to stay with the variety of feelings and to find one's feet in the new place. But on a global scale being on the move is a part of the lifestyle of millions of fellow human beings today, especially for refugees and those internally displaced by war and natural disasters. Many of these people have had to escape horrific situations and carry traumatic experiences with them into their new place. I am fortunate I have not had to make major life or death choices in my moves.
Moving into new surroundings, transitioning into new cultures and taking up new roles are a regular dimension of a missionary’s lifestyle.
As we approach Christmas, we remember the story of Joseph and Mary on the move to Bethlehem for the birth of their child and later having to flee to Egypt. The rather peaceful scene displayed in the cribs in our homes and churches reveals a variety of different travelers gathered around the child Jesus after His birth, including three travelers from the East.
Many of us will also travel this Christmas to gather with family to celebrate the birth of Jesus and the hope and life that His coming brings into our world. I hope that it will be a time of joyful celebration for you and your family. Let's consider also how we can make more "room in the inn" for the homeless and refugees.
Last Christmas I was thrilled to watch on TV the meals provided for the homeless in many of our Australian and New Zealand cities. Some of you may have been involved in similar acts of generosity. I read also of wonderful stories of hospitality with Muslim and Christian groups working together to help the homeless at Christmas. For example, in the United Kingdom, Muslim non-government ogranizations (NGOs) worked with Christian churches to hand out sleeping kits in London; Sikhs and Hindus were housing the homeless in Leicester, and the Jewish community was feeding them in St. Albans.
As one vicar said: "It was a glimpse into how the world should be." Such events do not just happen overnight but take weeks of preparation by people of different faiths (and no faith) getting to know each other, working alongside each other and sharing their common values. I pray that the spirit of Christmas will be part of our celebration this Christmas.
Columban Fr. Brian Vale lives and works in Australia.