Everyone is so busy preparing for the coming of Jesus. In the Philippines, the “Belen” (a creche or tableau depicting the Birth of Christ) is fashioned differently and uniquely and are displayed in many parts around the city. Like in many cities around the world, Christmas trees are standing tall and colourful on street corners or city squares. Houses are filled with flashing Christmas lights of different hues, and there are flowers and decorations. The ambiance is fully animated. In the convent, we have prepared and decorated from the chapel to the parlour and in the refectory etc. Above all, we prepare ourselves for Jesus to dwell among us. The many activities such as song practice, carolling and the novena prayer usher in the great joy of Christmas. In additiona to this, we share a little of what we have to the children in Silang and the poor in Bataan.
Last year I was lucky to have joined the group of sisters who gave gifts to the poor in Bataan in December. Oh! What a meaningful Christmas that was for me! I felt the joy and happiness of the group of native people (the Aetas) in Bataan. I could also feel the poor state of Bethlehem where Jesus was born. There was joy, great happiness and the place to make holy. For the people (Aetas) in Bataan, joy and happiness are their greatest treasure and the gift from the Divine.
We started our journey early in the morning. We arrived at the location at 11:00am. There were 12 small huts signifying 12 families – that comprised the entire community of Aetas in that area. There, the small “Chapel of Rogate” had a very simple Belen inside. The houses were made of bamboo and tree branches. Everything around was simple, poor and there was serenity. We started to approach the house nearest to the chapel. An old woman (the oldest in the community), another woman and some children welcomed us. How happy they were when they saw us! They had been waiting a number of hours. The people were friendly and approachable. They wanted to share about their life.
An old woman soon caught my attention. She was in her 80s and wearing a dress with its colour so faded, I could hardly recognize what it was previously. On her face appeared many wrinkles and the calluses on her hands expressed how much difficulty and hard work she had endured and still has to endure in her life. She was full of life as she shared with the sisters her activities, her works and her family. She talked a lot in Tagalog, which I could not understand. But I was so happy listening to her. I could feel the inner happiness as her eyes glowed while talking to me. She looked at me and continued to share her life’s journey so much so that I could only say yes. Sr Josefina De Vera took notice of us and she tried to explain to her that we are not Filipinas and we cannot understand Tagalog. But this did not bother her at all – she kept talking. After a short while she disappeared and returned, having put on another dress on top of the old one she had on. At lunch time, after taking her portion of food, she sat and ate with her soiled hands for she did not know how to use a spoon and fork. She enjoyed watching the little children playing games facilitated by the sisters. And who could ever think that in her 80s she could still dance?! She danced well, not for any prize but simply to enjoy the gift of life for she was contented with what she had.
Another heartbreaking sight was the incident about the sharing of five apples. We had not intended to give them apples so we had brought only five to be used in a game. They were so simple and generous, so much so that they gave us bananas, sweet potatoes and vegetables which were entirely the produce of the land they cultivated. I had thought that we had brought them a little but the “big gift” was the visit itself: the time we spent to play with them, dance with them and understand how to be brothers and sisters. That day brought home a lesson – a very special lesson to me – I must enjoy life and be content with what I have. Living simply, to love, to share and enjoy the gifts of God every moment. Yet, this is a challenge to do.
The moment had arrived when we had to say goodbye. Painful as ever, but we had to. It was my first Christmas in the Philippines and the experience rendered it meaningful.
In the solemn commemoration of His Presence among us on Christmas Day, we rejoice for we have the privilege to reflect on and experience the friendship that God has extended to us. The joy, peace and light are blessings we have received and are henceforth to be shared. Moreover, the greatest gift we ever have is Christ HIMSELF.
We receive various gifts on Christmas day. Some gifts don’t last as they are consumables and perishables. But the values that accompany the gifts remain in the hearts of the recipients. Thus they become the “lasting gifts”. This is what I also felt at the Christmas Sharing with the children in Bloro, Indonesia. They shared the gifts of joy and happiness through the presentation of their talents such as songs, dances, drama, poetry. They were also so energetic and enthusiastic in joining in all the games.
Through these experiences I have learned that even in the simplicity of life one can share – share one’s time, love, presence and simple food as a sign of friendship and unity as members of that Great Family of God.
Sr M Katharina Koban, fdz