Desert Christmas

Joy to Shine

By Fr. Tomás King

Greetings to ALL! I hope all is well. Just a few thoughts to share as we celebrate Advent and prepare for Christmas!

Advent is a season for waiting and anticipation. Waiting: we spend much of our time waiting, just waiting! Here is a little example. Most months for the past eight years, sometimes twice a month, I cross the Thar Parkar Desert, in Sindh province, in the south east of the country, to a small rustic town called Nagar Parkar, Pakistan. This is the center of a geographically large but numerically small parish; roughly a 100 families living in 15 villages scattered over a vast area. Because it is right on the border with India, it is a sensitive area. Both countries have lived out a difficult and tense relationship since partition and independence in 1947, including three wars.

As a foreigner, I need permission from the interior ministry to visit this area which needs to be renewed every month. But even with a permission letter, three military checkpoints need to be negotiated. At each checkpoint on every visit, a copy of my passport, visa and permission letter are given. So there is always a certain level of anxiety and uncertainty, especially as I wait for the officers at the checkpoints to phone their superiors at headquarters. The waiting can range from a few minutes to more than an hour.

But waiting at a checkpoint for an hour or so is a minor inconvenience compared to the waiting that a desert people have to live through. Each year they wait in hope for the rains to come. If the first rains come in July, then they plough and plant, and again wait in hope that second rains will come after a few weeks; if the second rains come they again wait for a third rain. Three rains are needed for viable and productive crops.

Some years it does not rain so there are no crops. When this happens, in order to live, people cross the desert onto the irrigated lands of interior Sindh to seek seasonal work as farm laborers for feudal landlords. Some years one or two rains come, which is insufficient to sustain crops to harvest. Thankfully in 2017, the rains were plentiful, which turned the desert green, and produced good crops. The anxiety of waiting was replaced by gratitude and the abatement of hunger. But it is a precarious and subsistence level existence. The hoping, the longing, and the waiting that the rains will come are etched in the weather beaten faces of the people. As deep as that hoping, longing and waiting are; they point to a deeper longing that they be given the justice the dignity and the integrity that God promises in the Incarnation.

Wishing you a very happy Christmas, and hoping that whatever you are waiting for, may come in abundance and make "your joy to shine."

Peace and Blessings,
Columban Fr. Tomás King

Columban Fr. Tomas King lives and works in Pakistan.


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