Monday, December 24, 2007

The Night before Christmas

Silent night. It's quiet all around - no sound of firecrackers. We still have more than an hour before 'midnight mass'. Soon, I will be conducting the seminarians' choir who, before the mass, will be singing christmas carols 'a capella' and in 3 voices to the churchgoers. No sopranos - it's an all male choir that I trained for the last 4 weeks.

Christmas brings back a lot of memories - both happy and sad.

Most of the happy memories go back to my childhood - especially with my family. Christmas eve was the time for family dinner, gathering around the christmas tree and exchanging gifts, and attending midnight mass together and coming back for 'noche buena' while firecrackers were exploding outside.

My four christmases in Rome are also unforgettable - celebrating it with Filipino friends and with Redemptorist confreres. The only thing lacking was the early dawn masses - but it was the height of winter so it was preferable to stay in bed.

But Christmas also brings back painful and sad memories.

On Christmas eve 34 years ago I was in a prison cell in Cebu together with 10 other political prisoners. We were on the sixth day of our hunger strike. We could hear the firecrackers outside and the Christmas carols being sung in a nearby chapel.

On Christmas eve 21 years ago, my family was still grieving after my mother was shot to death by rougue soldiers at the beginning of the Misa de Gallo. She was buried on December 22. We found it difficult to experience the joy of Christmas.

It's been a long time since I celebrated Christmas with my family. Both my father and mother are dead. My brothers and sisters are scattered in many places. My brothers Sam and Angel are in the U.S. My youngest brother Agustin is somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. My four sisters are in Iligan (I hope to see them next week).

But I still have my religious community and we will be having noche buena after midnight mass.

I remember tonight those who are alone - away from home, with no friends and no community. I also remember those who have lost someone they love. I know that Christmas can heighten their loneliness, their alienation and their grief. I pray for all of them and wish them a joyful Christmas. There is still reason to celebrate the birth of the one who came to bring light into our darkness.

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