A DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS: THE REAL JOY OF GIVING

A DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS: THE REAL JOY OF GIVING

I became aware of the possibility of having a very different Christmas in the U.S when I spotted a blog just days after Thanksgiving that featured five individuals, wearing white aprons and broad smiles, who had just served Thanksgiving dinner to some of Chicago’s homeless through Catholic Charities Chicago.

I wrote the blog author, congratulating him and saying that was something I would love to do. He wrote back and, with a lot of exclamation marks, said they would be doing it again on Christmas Day, that I was most welcome to join the volunteers and he then told me how and where to participate!

And so my Christmas Day 2017 began.

Well, Christmas Day really began, of course with Mass at one of my favorite churches in America, Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. The presider at the 9:30 Mass – though I did not know this when I decided on that Mass – was Msgr. Michael Boland, head of Catholic Charities in Chicago and a long time friend. Here are a few photos I took before and after Mass.

The “Resurrection Cross”

I returned briefly to my hotel after Mass to pick up some special items I had brought for the occasion, including several hundred holy cards that featured a picture of Pope Francis and some of his words that I wanted to leave with the homeless.

When I arrived at the CC office on LaSalle street shortly after 11, I was surprised and delighted to note the large number of volunteers, especially because it was Christmas and also because there seemed to be quite a number of families. You somehow picture families at home, sharing breakfast, opening gifts, kids playing with new toys, etc.

The volunteers all lined up to receive a white plastic apron and pair of plastic gloves. We were ushered into the dining room where, on one side round tables of ten were set for over 100 people and, on the other side, were long tables with abundant servings of many, many kinds of foods.

 

 

Each volunteer had a specific assignment. Those with more experience were table captains and they directed each of us carrying a tray to those tables where people had yet to be served. Each volunteer who was to serve food received a tray with two plates on it, and each plate was filled to overflowing by the volunteers serving behind the food stations.

Smaller tables were set up with desserts and beverages – it was almost exclusively the turf of the younger  family members!

 

 

 

I joined what I called “the dessert brigade” where each of us was given a plate with several desserts and one soft drink. We followed those with the dinner plates to the tables, and returned to our stations to repeat the same process. Yet others were assigned to fill water glasses and coffee cups.

Msgr. Boland was present to the very end, even when the first group of homeless had finished dinner and those waiting to eat were ushered into the dining room – a festively decorated room, I might add.

We served several hundred people by the end of the lunchtime, and I have to say it was such a heartening experience for so many reasons. I especially loved the idea that we were serving people at tables, not making them stand in a long buffet line. That certainly preserves an iota of human dignity for people who may not feel very dignified for the greater part of each day.

There was not very much time, as you could imagine, to speak individually with each homeless person but everyone with whom I spoke was cordial and polite and full of smiles – especially if you asked their name! I learned that there were some who were not homeless but rather people who do not have much and who live simply, perhaps in a one-room apartment, but have trouble connecting with others. The people they know best and are most comfortable with are those they break bread with at the food kitchens for the homeless.

The homeless also have networks. They know where to get lunch and dinner every day, be it in the city or the suburbs, be it in a church or a school or the hall of some fraternal organization, and they share that info among themselves. They know where bathrooms are available and also know where the warming shelters are, such as those needed right after Christmas when temperatures plummeted so far that anyone sleeping outside would have surely died of the cold.

All of the food served through Catholic Charities five days a week is donated by Chicago restaurants! It is cooked and ready to be served when it arrives at the food kitchens. The diversity of the menu and the quantities offered were staggering – at least to me, a first time volunteer.

When the Christmas guests left the CC center, each one received a pair of gloves and one of the holy cards I had brought from Rome. Who knows…..

Individual parishes or organizations such as the Knights of Columbus or the Knights of Malta serve the meals Monday through Wednesday and volunteers come from the specific parish or organization. Holy Name Cathedral staff and parishioners volunteer on Thursdays and Fridays.

What most surprised and delighted me were the number of families who volunteered! And not just on Christmas Day – they come during the year as well. To see a family of 5 or 6 – Mom and Dad and the kids, even as young as 5! – was so very heart-warming!

To see the very young ones, and especially teenagers, have a good time, serve with joy and truly want to be volunteering was one of the biggest rewards of the day for me. My favorite was a little boy, about 5 or 6, whose name was Charlie. Charlie was the fastest member of the dessert brigade and probably had the biggest smile, I might add.

It was gratifying to think that these young people are learning at a tender age that there are people in the world who do not have what they have, a warm home, a family, an education and a much better chance in life to grow up and have their own family and home. These young people learn early about sacrifice, about helping others, about being altruistic, about the real meaning of charity.

There were no groans of “Mom, do I really have to be here!” or complaints about not being home Christmas morning. No pleading, “Are we through? Can we go home now?”

I saw – and experienced – the real joy of giving!

VATICAN INSIDER TALKS MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES – NATIONS LOOK TO HOLY SEE FOR LEADERSHIP ON MIGRATION AND REFUGEES

Weekend News update: Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, January 6, feast of the Epiphany, and will also celebrate Mass on Sunday, January 7, feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, doing so in the Sistine Chapel during which he will baptize 34 newborns, 18 girls and 16 boys.. He will also recite the Angelus on both days.

Here is a link to the story and video about the Holy Father’s monthly prayer intention for January 2018: http://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-01/pope–let-us-pray-for-religious-liberty-in-asia.html#play

If you want to understand how the U.S. diplomatic service functions, pay a visit to the website of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See: https://va.usembassy.gov/

VATICAN INSIDER TALKS MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES

Just days ago, on January 1, 2018, we celebrated the 51st World Day of Peace with Pope Francis’ annual Message for this day entitled, “Migrants and Refugees – Men and Women in Search of Peace.” Thus, the interview segment for this week’s Vatican Insider is more than appropriate as my special guest is Msgr. Robert Vitillo, secretary general of the Geneva-based ICMI – the International Catholic Migration Commission.

An American, Msgr. Vitillo is a trained social worker with a broad expertise in migration and refugee services, child protection, social services, human rights, HIV/AIDS, and global health. From 2005 to 2016 he served as Head of Delegation of Caritas Internationalis in Geneva and as Special Advisor on HIV/AIDS. ICMC is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that works in the area of migration and refugee assistance. ICMC was founded in 1951 in the wake of the massive human displacement caused by World War II.

I learned so much in Part I of our conversation, and I am sure you will as well! I learned, for example, how ICMC vets migrants and refugees who want to enter the U.S., doing so for the U.S. State Department and for the Department of Homeland Security.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at http://www.ewtn.com) or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: http://www.ewtn.com/se/pg/DatService.svc/feed/~LE.xml For VI archives: http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/file_index.asp?SeriesId=7096&pgnu=

NATIONS LOOK TO HOLY SEE FOR LEADERSHIP ON MIGRATION AND REFUGEES

(Vatican News – Philippa Hitchens) – Fr. Michael Czerny highlights the importance of Pope Francis’ Peace Day Message in preparation for the U.N. compacts on refugees and migrants.

The rights of refugees and migrants will be under the spotlight throughout 2018 as the United Nations works towards the adoption of two global agreements or ‘compacts’, responding to the largest number of displaced people since the Second World War.

In this year’s message for the January 1st World Day of Peace, Pope Francis also focused on migrants and refugees, highlighting the reasons why so many people are on the move and what our response should be.

As governments and communities seek to cope with large numbers of people fleeing from conflict or poverty, the Pope says, it’s vital to find creative, bold and compassionate solutions, rather than fomenting fear of migrants, thus “sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia”

Fr. Michael Czerny is undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees office at the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development. He talks about the importance of the 2018 Peace Day message – the first one to focus on this key area of international concern.

Fr. Michael says the message highlights how migrants and refugees are “not just people in difficulty, who need help, but are “artisans of peace, contributors to peace, builders of peace”.

Dialogue with Governments

Though the message was published in November, he says “the dialogue with governments is just beginning” as politicians receive a personal copy of the text at the start of the new year and as the Pope comments on it during his high profile meeting with members of the diplomatic corps.

Fr. Michael notes how much the Holy See’s concerns are appreciated at international level by all those preparing for both UN compacts on migrants and refugees.

Looking for Leadership

The Vatican missions in New York and Geneva will be actively involved in negotiations, he notes, adding: “What is very satisfying and hopeful and challenging is that many fellow states, nation states, look to the Holy See for leadership in this area”.

Fr. Michael’s office has worked with major Catholic refugee organisations and with bishops’ conferences to develop 20 action points, which are both “a pastoral plan” and “a negotiating platform”. He says they have been submitted to UN for both the migrants and refugee processes and have been “warmly welcomed” as “quite outstanding contributions to the processes”.

Highlighting Postive Contributions

Commenting on the strong opposition to migrants and refugees by some governments, Fr. Michael says “our role is not to get into arguments” but to quietly and repeatedly bring forward the positive experiences”, making governments “see that with less investment and more goodwill they’ll get much further than by imagining they can pay their way or bully their way out of this”.

He cites “heartwarming stories” of abandoned villages where migrants have helped to rebuild a thriving agriculture, giving rise to commerce, a return of tourism, and regeneration of family life with schools reopened and parishes booming. “New life is possible”, he concludes, “if you’re willing to share what there is and be open to new possibilities”.

POPE VISITS PEDIATRIC HOSPITAL ON “MERCY FRIDAY”

POPE VISITS PEDIATRIC HOSPITAL ON “MERCY FRIDAY”

At 3 pm this afternoon, Friday, January 5, 2018 Pope Francis went to the
Palidoro campus of Rome’s Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital. This site is located about 30 kilometers north of Rome. The visit continues the Mercy Friday experiences that the Pope initiated during the Jubilee of Mercy that began December 8, 2015 and ended in November 2016.

According to a note from the Vatican press office, the Holy Father visited various wards, greeted the children who are patients there and had words of comfort for the parents who are with their children in these tiring and painful trials. (photos from Vatican News)