La Salette Worldwide
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(left) Fr. Joe Silva with his younger
parishioners; (right) Fr. Wladyslaw
Czosnek, M.S., on a visit to a village

Mission work can be slow and difficult but usually in time progress can be measured in very tangible ways, for example, in the Ambatolahy, Madagascar district. Throughout the years its history was very much “stop and go”. At times it would have a resident priest, at other times there would be only an occasional visit from the priest and then because of shortages, no priest at all.

But times have changed. Ambatolahy now has two permanent priests. And practically every year now we have been able to bless a new chapel in the surrounding villages. First there was the village of Antjoa, then there was Janjina and now there is Ambiky. Ambikky is an important village because it is the hub for six other villages. It has no Christians yet but it does have a catechist. And as the church will serve as a school, we hope to have a Christian community there very soon.

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A man resting in his pirogue on a
river near Berevo, Madagascar.

In a few days (Dec.18, 2013) I will leave Antananarivo for my Christmas ministry. This is a nine-hour road trip in a "taxi brousse" (very crowded mini-van) to Miandrivazo. There I will jump into a river barge or simple pirogue for another ten hours cruising down the Tsiribihina River, enjoying the lush vegetation and noisy animal life along the river banks – not to mention hot sun and pesky mosquitoes. I will make sure to admire and not feed the crocodiles sunning themselves on the river banks.

My ministry will allow Father Henry Kaszuba, M.S., to serve the isolated communities in the bush. Being in Berevo not only brings back memories of 1972-1976 but also gives me a rare chance to enjoy the grace of being a bush missionary once more at age 82.

Berevo is accessible only through exciting river travel so people do appreciate the visit of an old missionary who still has the folly, energy and zeal to preach the Good News to the poor. Except for my portable phone, Berevo remains a very isolated area along the Tsiribihina River. It will be a peaceful quiet Christmas with a very fervent community of poor simple peasants. It also enables me to feel very close and identify with the simplicity and poverty of Bethlehem.

2013 – A Year of Joy and Loss

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Two Kachin children in native
dress from Northern Myanmar

The Christmas celebration is always a communal one for our parish which is located in the northern part of Myanmar (Burma) near our border with China. It is a time of celebration as a family, as a local community and as a parish community at large. Christmas is always associated with colder weather (though not extreme). Christmas caroling begins on the first day of December. Lots of prayer gatherings are held in different households and gift-giving especially to the children.

Theses are times to reach out to people living in more remote areas of our parish who cannot go to the parish church due to their isolation. There was one memorable Christmas celebration held in a far remote area of the parish in conjunction with the silver jubilee celebration of a catechist. He was the leaders of a community of about ten Catholic families in his village and nearby areas as well.

To reach the site of the celebrations, we had to travel a half day by boat down the river and an entire day crossing many fields and marching through the jungle. About 50 youth volunteers from different parts of our parish which covers several towns and villages, went to the site of the celebration months ahead to set up everything for the occasion since there were few Catholic families living there. The site was located right beside a small creek. They chose this site for practical reasons because the small creek would provide water for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Angola is a country where the diversity in natural resources competes with the diversity in its cultural phenomena. The symbiosis between the various social and cultural customs gives unity and identity to a people living within the geographical delimitations of a state called Angola. The unity never nullifies the peculiarities of each ethnic or tribal group.

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Native Angolan women travelling with
their children and their head-balanced cargo

Christmas is a Christian feast. Angolans only began celebrating Christmas after the arrival of Christian Missionaries in the 15th century. Presently, after more than 500 years of Christianity and colonization followed by over 30 years of independence, the celebration of Christmas has undergone various influences – from traditional African culture, popular Catholic traditions and from other Christian sects as well as secularism.

Though still Christian, the celebration of Christmas has assumed some other facets as it is now commemorated by both Christians and non-Christians. What unites both groups is the “family feast”. But because Angola is mainly a Christian country, the celebration still retains its special Christian qualities. It’s not only the feast of the family, but essentially the celebration of the “birth of the baby, Jesus”. It’s the birth of the infant who brings the family together.

Christmas in rural villages and towns

Christmas for most of the people in the countryside is the most-awaited feast; the preparation is done both materially and spiritually. It’s always preceded by spiritual exercises and pilgrimages to the Mission Churches. Materially, families usually save some money during the whole year to buy special foods for this feast – rice, pasta and other industrialized foods. In agricultural communities, some animals are reared to be slaughtered at Christmas – such as cows, goats, and chickens.

The La Salette Formation Residence of Fenomanana opened in October 1983. On April 25, 1984 it was inaugurated. In an article for Les Annales de La Salette, Fr. Dominique Rakotondrazaka, M.S., the first director of this scholasticate, wrote:

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Fr. Dominique
Rakotondrazaka, M.S.
(1938-1999)

"Now we face the task of building our religious and community life. Little by little we are learning to recognize our hunger for prayer, silence and community sharing. Fortunately our resources contain more than mere human qualities. Our unity stems from our La Salette vocation, which is to follow Christ in the spirit of Our Lady. The real differences that exist among us become the source of mutual enrichment. Our charism as reconcilers is lived in the nitty-gritty of everyday life."

These prophetic words continue to direct and inspire our young men in formation. We see our community life as a growing process tirelessly pursued. Ours is a community life in which each professed is co-responsible for specific areas of service wherein he ministers to the community: the liturgical committee, organizing and animating our prayer life, especially in our simple, modern and tastefully decorated chapel; the library (we are always in need of books!) and health services; the house stewardship ministry whereby everyone becomes acutely aware of the price of our daily subsistence; the maintenance crew for upkeep and decorating of common rooms; the recreation committee for sports and fun times; and the welcoming committee (we are pleased to have our fathers and brothers from active ministries visit and share with us).

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La Salette Missionaries, Province of Mary, Mother of the Americas

Our Community: The Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette are deeply rooted in the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette which occurred near the hamlet of La Salette in southeastern France on Sept. 19, 1846. The Missionaries were founded in 1852 by Bp. Philbert de Bruillard, Bishop of Grenoble, France, and presently serve in some 25 countries.

Our Province: The Province of Mary, Mother of the Americas, was founded in 2000AD and is one of several provinces in the congregation. The members of this Province serve mainly in the countries of Canada, the United States and the Region of Argentina/Bolivia.

Our Mission: Our La Salette ministry of reconciliation responds to the broad vision given by Mary at La Salette as well as in response to the needs of the Church. As reconcilers, we together with the laity take seriously Mary’s mandate: “You will make (Mary’s) message known to all (her) people.”