Washington D.C., Dec 24, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Passers-by stopped for a moment to pause and listen in the busy streets of Washington, D.C., as Dominican brothers, sisters and friars gathered in joyful song to wish people a Merry Christmas.
One observer, John Cherry of Washington, D.C., described the scene as “very soothing to my spirit.”
He told CNA that religious brothers and sisters represent the “call of the future” of the Christian Church.
“The purpose of Jesus is to come and let the light shine in the darkness,” he continued, saying that the Dominicans’ singing offered a reminder of this in an often busy and sometimes difficult city.
Student brothers and friars from the Dominican House of Studies, along with Dominican sisters from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia and the Dominican Sisters of Mary, took a short ride from their Washington, D.C. priory and convent to sing Advent and Christmas carols to people walking the downtown streets on Dec. 16.
Some of the friars, brothers and sisters also stopped to talk to the people walking by, praying with them, answering their questions about Catholicism and the meaning of Christmas, and handing out crucifixes blessed by Pope Francis.
Asdrubal Mencia, a D.C. resident and member of the Knights of Columbus at his local parish, said that while he had heard there were religious brothers and sisters in the city, this was his first time seeing them.
They have a “great tone,” he observed, but added that there was also a quality to their singing that he could not quite describe.
“It’s something joyful,” he said, a type of warmth. “I like it! It’s excellent.”
Bridget Boland and Branan Durbin – childhood friends who both attended a Dominican-run high school in Baltimore – explained that they had come specifically “to hang out with the Dominicans” during winter break at their colleges.
“It’s so cool to see them interact with everyone,” said Durbin, explaining that she loves to “see them talking to the little kids” and “out in the community.”
Boland added that the Dominicans offer a “really beautiful witness” and way of “teaching people about the Gospel.”
“They want to be with people, they want to share their faith,” she said. “It’s too much to keep inside – they want to spread it to the world.”
Br. Vincent Ferrer Bagan, O.P., who led the choir, explained that the brothers and sisters hoped to reach people by singing “songs of Christmas joy.”
This is the second consecutive year that the brothers have gone caroling downtown. The tradition began as a student activity for the Year of Faith.
“One of the brothers came up with the idea,” Br. Bagan said, and the other brothers agreed it was a good idea to take to the streets “in the spirit of the New Evangelization” in order to “remind people of the reality of God in the world” around Christmas.
Last year, Br. Bagan noted, the brothers picked Advent and Christmas hymns that they were familiar with and “practiced for about an hour” to prepare for caroling. After receiving many requests for other classic Christmas tunes, they incorporated additional songs such as “Feliz Navidad” into their song list.
Fr. Benedict Croell, O.P., vocations director for the Dominican province of St. Joseph, which has jurisdiction over the eastern United States, said that the event is “part of a larger effort of the younger brothers to try to figure out how to engage the larger culture” and help “put evangelization into action.”
Throughout the year, he said, the brothers seek ways “to be human” to people who have little interaction with the Catholic faith. Other efforts to reach out include talking to members of secular societies on college campuses and playing bluegrass in New York’s Central Park.
“You do something cultural or creative or something and people start talking,” he explained, adding that the caroling trip is a method of evangelization in tune with the order’s charism of being “out with people and engaged in the culture.”
“We want to bring the Gospel to people. The humanity which all of us share and the recognition of who God is,” Fr. Croell stressed, “is what we want to witness to.”
Still, the priest explained, “there’s no kind of grand scheme” to events like the downtown caroling.
“Our effort was simply to spread some Christmas cheer,” he said. “We’re just here to wish you a Merry Christmas.”
Vatican City, Dec 24, 2013 (CNA) -
Pope Francis’ homily at the vigil mass for Christmas focused on the importance of Jesus’ incarnation as a real and meaningful event.
“The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light,” said the Pope on Dec. 24 at the mass held in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.”
Below, the full text of Pope Francis’ homily:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).
This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas Night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us – and within us as well – there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.
Walking. This verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country towards the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way towards the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.
In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11).
On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God's grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).
The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.
The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks. Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.
On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Lk 2:10). And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.