Letter of the European Coordinator for Christmas 2023
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; … and his name shall be called … Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2-6)
Dear Confreres, Dear Sisters, Dear Partners in Mission,
Every year, on the night of Christmas, we hear the words of the ancient promise from the book of the prophet Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone….” In this year 2023, too, this image applies and expresses our current reality: Wars and violent conflicts are raging in many countries of our world and people are filled with a great longing for peace. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, we can say that many people and many nations live in a situation of darkness and long for a ray of light.
We Redemptorists in Europe are directly affected by this. Our confreres in Ukraine and our sisters there experience the reality of war every day; they stand by the people who are suffering from violence and aggression. They are supported by many from the entire Redemptorist family in Europe. Every act of solidarity is a moment of light, a ray of light for which we can be grateful – and there are many of them. Nevertheless, the reality of war remains distressing. The violence does not stop. We are worried about our two confreres Ivan Levitskyi and Bohdan Galeta, who have been kidnapped and detained by the Russian military for more than a year. We hear that they are alive, but we have no further news of them.
God comes into this world. He is not looking for a special, privileged place that is particularly pleasant or inviting. He comes into this world with our unresolved questions and conflicts, with our solidarity and concern for one another. That was already the case in Bethlehem, and it is not different today. Each of us knows many and very different places of such darkness into which a ray of light should shine.
The 26th General Chapter invites us to be “witnesses of hope”; this hope is based on the presence of God who transforms our world. Being a witness in this way is a challenge, especially in situations of suffering and unresolved conflicts. In order to become concrete – and to become active – it helps to look into the faces of individual people. It helps to see in the faces of specific people something of their “joy and hope, sorrow and fear” (Second Vatican Council) and to share it with them. This applies to the confreres in our own community, to the people we meet in our mission, to our colleagues – or even to Ivan Levitskyi and Bohdan Galeta, of whom we at least have a photo to look at. The General Government has encouraged us to think about our community life in particular this year and to work to improve it. Taking a closer look at others next to us, paying attention to and respecting them, is a possible contribution to this.
The celebration of Christmas invites us not to avoid the darkness. The mystery of Christmas is expressed in the way that light shines in the dark.
I am pleased that, in my experience, we in the European Conference are in an increasingly close process of taking each other into account, i.e. with growing trust and a willingness to show solidarity. The experiences of the discussions during the 3rd phase of the General Chapter in Tuchów in September this year are an example of this, as are many individual encounters and discussions throughout the year. Growing trust and the willingness to show solidarity with one another will be particularly important for all of us when we take concrete steps towards closer cooperation. For all confreres and associates in Southern Europe, 25 January 2024 is a special date: on this day, the new Province Europe South will be established. I ask you all to accompany this beginning in a special way with your prayers and commemoration and to express your solidarity in this way.
There is another detail that makes me particularly joyful this Christmas. Due to a decision of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, a calendar reform was carried out in this church. This year, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the (Latin) Roman Catholic Church are celebrating Christmas on the same day, 25 December, for the first time. Together we celebrate the coming of our Redeemer Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, who transforms our lives and who calls us to be his witnesses.
Merry Christmas and God’s blessing in the New Year 2024!
Johannes Römelt, CSsR.
Coordinator of Europe