Srs Marie-Claude and Colette spent Christmas Day 2019 “together” in Paris but not in the usual way. They describe their experience and how it marked them.
Every year on December 25th, the Sant’ Egidio community organizes a “Christmas together” meal in several neighbourhoods in Paris, bringing together refugees, lonely, elderly, and homeless people. As Daughters of Jesus, we felt concerned because in recent years we have created links with this community through the reception of Syrian families at the Rue d’Arras, as well as mutual aid and support in the service of refugees.
For a Christmas in solidarity
In the 5th arrondissement where we live, Colette and myself, Marie-Claude, participated with others in the preparation of the meal: invitations, making gift packages, organizing and decorating the room, the meals … All these preparations required time and concerted action by many people: members of the community, including many “Youth for Peace” members, and friends of Sant’ Egidio… The generosity of the municipality also made this festive time possible, as it took place in the beautiful large reception room of the town hall.
Invitations to the party but not just anyhow! Invitation cards were handed out with the names of the person written on it, even those on the street! François, homeless, was deeply moved when he discovered his name on the card! “My name, look, it’s my name, I’ve been invited.“ He had discovered that he, as a person, existed for someone new.
A place for all at the table
When Christmas Day arrived, what a joy it was to welcome “the guests” and install them “at the best places” in a friendly hubbub. Two volunteers at each table were simply there with them. While some volunteers were busy in the kitchen, serving at table or wrapping gifts, Colette and I took care of the people there on their own, helping them to get to know each other: Natacha, from Pakistan, François and Faustino from Italy, Massae from Japan, Lydia from Egypt, and Miral from Lebanon. Simply, each one said a little bit about his or her life, tasted the joy of the moment, was amazed by so much attention, the glass of champagne and the little surprise gift! Everyone existed and felt loved.
What struck you, Marie-Claude, about this special day? “For me, at Christmas time, this event was “light” in the darkness of our world. To me, it said that everything is possible for men and women of peace and hope, that hope “which gives wings to fly with even when obstacles seem insurmountable“ (Pope Francis). During the meal, borders between us became blurred and prejudices fell, leaving room for closeness and openness. Our regard changed and listening to the others became welcoming those others with their history and their mystery. Trust was established, uniting us as brothers and sisters in humanity. No exclusion! It was truly Christmas! Jesus, God’s tenderness took flesh in our midst!”
A living creche
And you, Colette? In his Advent 2019 letter, Admirabile Signum, Pope Francis invited us to rediscover the meaning and value of the Christmas creche. In December, the city of Paris gave us a foretaste of Christmas with its scintillating lights, music and decorated shop windows, but this is not enough. It takes life and shared love! The meal organized by Sant’ Egidio allowed me to take part in a “living creche” that brought together 150 people of all ages, backgrounds, and countries: elderly people, street people, students from abroad, migrants and us the volunteers. Joy, fraternity, solidarity, and generosity filled the hearts of these men, women, and children whose isolation, poverty and sometimes exclusion are part of their daily lives. It is for all of us, but first of all for them that Jesus, the God-with-us, is born among us even today. »
The Christmas Star guided us to the town hall of the 5th arrondissement and now it goes on ahead of us, inviting us to continue on our way, attentive to the many other “living creches” around us.
Srs Marie-Claude Bit and Colette Gélinas djs