Hello everyone

I hope this note finds you all well. I am sitting down to write this after a hectic few days over the month of December and Christmas.  With the New Year already begun I thought I should take some time to send Christmas greetings and wish everyone the best for the year ahead.

Fr James Shekelton

From the beginning of December until the 8th there are 9 days of preparation for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. As you know, she is the patroness of the parish, so much work and preparation goes in to these days.  Every day there was evening Mass and then what you could compare to a market with different stalls, selling foods.  There was a stage and always some performance every night, ranging from the local dances or some sort of theatre and even bingo.  A great number of people pass through the town during these days, especially people who live in the interior.  From the beginning of December the official summer holidays begin here in the southern hemisphere, so there are generally more people travelling and coming and going.  The days ended with some 50 baptisms, a solemn procession through the town and open air mass.

After the days of the feast we organised a retreat for young people here in the town and a Christmas celebration for the old and sick who normally can’t get out of their homes. It’s strange to experience Christmas here as it’s not really a part of the culture.  There are no Christmas trees or decorations, no Christmas carols, no holly ivy and mistletoe, no turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  The social aspect of Christmas, which we all enjoy and appreciate with family and friends just doesn’t really exist for most people.  And when you see the conditions that these people live in and understand that most of them have no means of celebrating the way we know and are used to, you can understand why Christmas means very little to them.  On the other hand it becomes a more spiritual celebration.  This year we had a Christmas Eve Mass with a very good participation and we made a point of putting the crib outside the church so as to make it more visible.

Amidst the social and external aspects of the Christmas season we can often become distracted from what it’s really all about. It’s about our God and creator who wanted to become a part of our lives. “The word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (Jn 1:14).

In Christmas, when we pull away the external elements, we can find the key to understanding our human existence, we can find the answers to all these questions that trouble us – why are we born and what is life all about? Why do we have to suffer?  Why do we have to die?  In Christmas God speaks to us but he doesn’t do it with words, he does it by becoming one of us.  He doesn’t give us great explanations but he is born to share our adventure of life.  He doesn’t explain why we sometimes suffer but he suffered for us and suffers with us.  Death will always be an unknown mystery to us but he died as one day we too must die.  And therefore hope is possible and something real!

Over this Christmas period, we ended up being the emergency services, (as we do most of the time) for a number of situations, and now the New Year is well underway. At the moment it is pouring with rain and much colder than usual for this time of the year, a mere 26 degrees.  Quite chilly, especially for these people!

I end by wishing you all a Happy New year, with good health, and the peace and joy of knowing that we are all loved dearly by this God who came to live as one of us. God bless and take care.