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.”