During the period of confinement due to Covid-19, Sister Irma Sanchez and Father Ronald A. Niño, led a Christmas novena by video-conference from Paris. Irma tells us how the participants lived the traditions of their faith in a new way.
What is this tradition of the Christmas novena?
This custom, which precedes the celebration of Christmas, is deeply rooted in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador. In other Central American countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama, a similar tradition, called “Las Posadas” is celebrated. This consists of imitating the journey that the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph had to make in search of a place of refuge before the birth of the Baby Jesus. Both traditions take place from the 16th to the 24th December.
One way of celebrating is for neighbouring families, young and old, to meet, especially at night, to sing Christmas carols as a reminder of the child that is about to be born. Whether singing well-known carols accompanied by instruments or improvising a capella, the important thing is the joy of meeting people. These songs are accompanied by prayers to the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the Child God and the Holy Family. The evening ends with the sharing of the typical dishes of each country.
How did we celebrate the novena in Paris?
Due to the current restrictions of the 8 p.m. curfew, it was not possible to meet to pray together. Instead, a group of families living in Paris and on the outskirts of the city asked to experience the novena through Zoom.
I wondered what the experience would be like and what the result would be. In fact, it was a great opportunity to join the families gathered together in their homes every night. A Colombian priest, Father Ronald A. Niño, who is in Paris to study Canon Law, and I took turns to lead this novena as a different experience of the Church.
We took our inspiration from the novena of the Biblical Centre of the Fathers of the Divine Word in Ecuador. Each family prepared its own creche. We discovered them little by little each evening, and with them lived this time of novena to the Child God.
Starting on December 16th, 35 to 40 families living in France connected together at 8.30 p.m. for nine consecutive evenings to participate in this traditional feast of prayer, reflection, joy and sharing of short testimonies. Even families living outside of France connected through Zoom to live this solidarity.
Taking the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and the Child as our basic theme, we took a different aspect each evening. First, we brought it to life, enlightening these facts of life with the Word of God and a commitment as a family. Each evening, one or two families then led the different prayers of the day. We made up one big family in fact, ready to sing and participate in this joyful gathering, with the hope that the year 2021 will be better than what we experienced in 2020. The evening closed with a celebration of what we had experienced together.
We discovered gifts and qualities in many of these families. Each of them even took the trouble to prepare delicious, typical dishes at home.
These moments of celebration ended on December 24th with the commemoration of the birth of the Child God among us. That night we extended the meeting by Zoom until 11 pm.
What have we learned from this experience?
Thanks to the suggestion of some families, we took the risk of living something new together and so making the experience possible.
Pope Francis invites us to cultivate the tenderness
that is reflected in Bethlehem
and in the hope that the Child God offers us.
In spite of the serious problems that we have experienced in the year 2020 and which have been critical for our values and our projects, together we want to maintain hope and tenderness for families and the world.
I thank God for this rich experience. It was an opportunity to get to know each other better and to share our hope and faith by living it in a different way.
Sister Irma Sánchez, General Councillor