The Asia Pacific Tertianship programme includes a two-week Christmas exposure programme during which the tertians spend two weeks with various communities. They offer this joint reflection on the experience.
Misa de Aguinaldo, comes from a Spanish phrase which literally means “Mass of the gift”. It is a series of novena Masses that are meant to prepare the faithful in celebrating Christmas. The “gift” refers to the Mystery of the Incarnation, when God, moved by compassion, willed to be present among men by becoming one with us (Jn. 3:16). St Francis of Assisi beautifully prayed, “in giving that we (shall) receive”. He teaches us that by extending a giving hand, we are receiving the grace of consolation leading us to a deeper understanding of how the Incarnate Lord was moved by his love for us.
As part of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific Tertianship programme, five of us tertians were sent for our Christmas ministries to the Cordillera Administrative Region in the Philippines from December 10 to 26, 2016 to celebrate nine days of Misa de Aguinaldo and Christmas Masses. Our Jesuit tertian brother, Br Nobuchika Muraoka from Japan, visited Ang Arko ng Pilipinas (L’Arche), a community for people with intellectual disabilities in Cainta, Rizal Province.
At the beginning of our ministries, we thought we had been sent to help, assist and give. But, we returned feeling grateful and blessed for the gift of the people we met because our interactions with them led us to encounter the compassionate God himself.
Fathers Christian Nirina Rakotosolofo from Madagascar and Gabriel Lamug-Nañawa from the Philippines were amazed and consoled by the breath-taking beauty of the scenery of Bontoc-Lagawe: high green hills, waterfalls, stony rivers and deep valleys. At his first Misa de Aguinaldo mass, Fr Rina was surprised that the church was fairly full, with lots of young people and children. During the recessional, the children lined up to receive benediction from him. Their joy and smiles were so energizing that he faced the day filled with enthusiasm. Outside the church, the community extended the joy of the Eucharist by sharing hot soup, rice cake and coffee. It was a precious moment of fraternal agape.
For nearly all tertian priests, the most challenging part was waking up every day at 3:30 in the morning, preparing the homily and delivering it in a language that was neither the preacher’s nor the audience’s first language.
The experience of Fr Kwon Hyo-Sop from Korea gave him confirmation and conviction of his identity as a Jesuit priest by confirming what gives him true happiness: seeing the bright eyes of the children in Tabuk who attended Mass before dawn, the people who sang or sat quietly while waiting for him when he was late, the Mass he presided in candle light because there was no electricity. He believes he will never forget these experiences in his life.
Filipino Fr Rogel Anecito Abais, who was also assigned in Tabuk, shared the same experience with Fr Rina of braving the hilly and muddy tracks in the rain as passengers on a motorcycle. Fr Buddy Haryadi of Indonesia enjoyed a tiring six days of walking ten kilometres every day in the mountain area of Tanudan, Kalinga.
Br Nobu was impressed with the hospitality of the community at L’Arche. He found that they were cheerful and positive despite their difficulties and painful experience, and that although they learn slowly, they have a keen of sense of feeling. He witnessed this one day when one of the assistants got depressed. One of the core members said to the assistant “Are you all right? My Jesus will console you and encourage you. In my hand there is Jesus, so when I touch you, you’ll become fine.” Then he patted the assistant on his head, shoulder and back. This encounter touched Br Nobu in a special way. He saw how beautiful but simple it was for God to be present among us.
Our Christmas ministries turned out to be imperfect, fragile and beyond our capabilities to manage as well as we had wanted to. However, the more we felt belittled by the experience, the more we felt how God provided and preserved our ministries. The beauty of our experience did not come from how good we were in serving them, but in how much and how far we allowed God’s initiative to take us. That is the gift of Christmas.