Christmas in Myanmar

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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.

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Christmas in Angola

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.

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Madagascar – Learning About Community

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 and Pope Francis

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Bp. Angelo Roncalli – eventually
elected as Pope John XXIII in
1958 – visited the Holy
Mountain and addresses the
pilgrims from the entrance of
the Basilica

As Catholics, we are part of the Church Universal and we have connections.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can call up the Pope any time we want. Although recently Pope Francis has shown himself to be quite approachable, even to the point of his making personal phone calls to some people who wrote to him about certain personal matters. Just imagine – receiving a telephone call and the person calling us says he is Pope Francis! This certainly shows that the Pope is sincerely interested in his people.

It is not a commonly known fact that within the Catholic Church, the veracity of special events such as apparitions are not decided upon by the Roman Pontiff but rather by the local bishop of the area in which the apparition happened. That is the way the La Salette Apparition was accepted by the Catholic Church – through the final approbation of Bp. Philippe de Bruillard on Sept. 19, 1851.

The next significant connection of the La Salette Apparition with “official Rome” was on April 18, 1879, when the La Salette Congregation was given Pontifical status “ad experimentum”, thus listing it in the officially accepted Catholic Congregations.

In that same year, on August 20, our Church on the Holy Mountain in France was consecrated and raised to the dignity of a Minor Basilica. The following day, Hippolyte Guibert, OMI, Archbishop of parish and Papal Legate, solemnly crowned the statue of the Virgin Reconciler in the newly consecrated Basilica.

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What’s in a Name?

Something that has always intrigued me as I traveled in various countries is the meaning of the name of towns, cities, rivers and areas. Often we don’t bother to understand their meaning. For example, over several years I have lived in Connecticut – which is a word in the Algonquin language for “place of the long river.”

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Piroque on the Tsiribihina River.
Apparently is river is actually crossable!
In the same language, Massachusetts means “at the great blue hill,” referring to a place southwest of present day Boston. In the Sioux language, Mississippi means “big river” and Missouri means “river where one needs a canoe.”

Bishop Donald Pelletier sent me some reflections on the names of various places in Madagascar:

“To give a word a negative meaning in the Malagasy language, the word “tsi” is used. A number of towns, villages, rivers and locations are given a negative name using this “tsi.”

“At times it is easy to understand why a negative connotation would be given, while at other times the exact reason for doing so isn’t really clear. The largest river in this area is the Tsiribihina – meaning “not crossable” – probably because of the large number of crocodiles inhabiting its river and banks.

Read more: What’s in a Name?



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