Last year, at the beginning of Advent, I received a letter. The letter was inviting myself and the youth of the parish to “A Christmas feast to commemorate Christmas.” Fijian people are always ready and willing to attend a feast, and I also read the invitation letter with delight.
On a careful reading of the invitation letter I discovered this was not just going to be a simple gathering for eating and drinking purposes. There was a subtitle beneath the words of invitation announcing a “religious dialogue.” Christmas is for the Christians to celebrate the birth of the child Jesus, but I was finding it difficult to combine such a celebration with holding a religious dialogue.
“Well, seeing that we were invited to a feast, we said let’s go and see,” and so together with the parish youth we set out for the cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Suva where the feast was slated to take place. There was a large crowd assembled in the hall there when we arrived. I recognized the youth from our neighboring parishes, but there were a lot of faces I was seeing for the first time.
As the feast got under way, each parish got to the stage and performed their prepared piece. There were Biblical plays with a Christmas theme, choirs singing Christmas carols with our Fijian Columban seminarians giving their prepared presentation explaining the true meaning of Christmas. Up until this stage you could feel it to be a normal artistic celebration of Christmas.
Suddenly the master of ceremonies announced that the Hindu believers would put on their performance they had prepared to celebrate the birth of Jesus. As soon as this announcement was made I heard all the assembled people making a commotion. “Really, are the Hindus about to congratulate us on the birth of Jesus?” While we were all thinking like that and wondering the Hindus took their place on the stage. They began by singing “Silent night, holy night.” All of us gathered there were totally surprised and started to join in the singing. Next the Hindu believers performed a Hindu dance to match a Christmas carol. Even though our religions were different, it was a time when we felt we had become one.
In Korea also one can see a screen hanging over the doors of a number of Churches that says “Celebrating the birth of Buddha” on April first according to the Lunas calendar. In the same way at Christmas time one can see screens hanging in some Buddhist temples that read, “Congratulations on the birth of the child Jesus.” In Korea we congratulate each other on joyful occasions now and then but having people of different faiths sharing food and conversing with each other at Christmas in Fiji held a special meaning for me.
Among the many reasons given for wars taking place in parts of the world is the fact that people believe in different religions. I think that if we were to accept our differences and seek peace then like our feast of Christmas in the summer here we will realize that the real reason for Jesus coming was to bring peace on earth. I pray for those who through no fault of their own are dying in different parts of the world because of differences of religion.
Originally from South Korea, Fr. Jung Euikyun Carlo, lives and works in Fiji.