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December 20, 1996     The Message
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4 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Almost like home: Poles in Rome enjoy Polish Christmas By L WEIL Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- This time of year, many a house- hold makes a small ceremony out of finding and raising the Christmas tree. But only the papal household had its main tree delivered from Slovenia on a flatbed truck. It's also common to invite a few people over for holiday fes- tivities before the big day itself. Pope John Paul II will play host to as many as 4,000 at once. And while the night before Christmas leaves visions of sug- arplums dancing in some heads, for his own part the pope will be looking at a lot of fish. Pope John Paul's list of offi- cial events during this season brings new meaning to the phrase, "busy holiday schedule." However, amid the many speeches, Masses and meetings, some events are likely to have a more personal meaning for the Polish pope, according to his compatriots in Rome and Vati- can observers. One of them is the singing of "koledy," traditional Polish songs about Christmas, Advent, Epiphany and related themes. There are said to be more than 300 "koledy." "The Holy Father sings very well, and he particularly likes the koledy," said Father Konrad Hejmo, director of "Corda Cordi," the pastoral center for Polish pilgrims to Rome. "It is amazing how he can recall the lyrics of so many songs, while the rest of us have to keep the text in front of us." Father Hejmo is one of the select few who have spent Christmas Eve at the pope's table. Usually Pope John Paul invites between 10 and 20 peo- ple u friends from Krakow, prominent Poles in Rome, and a Polish cardinal or two. It is never the same group, and there might be several years' separa- tion between invitations u for those who are invited more than once. "The Holy Father has a gift for making friends," Father Hejmo explained. The table is arranged inside the papal apartments, which are decorated with up to a dozen trees that have been brought in fresh from the forests of Poland. "They have to be brought from Poland," Father Hejmo said. "The mountains of Northern Italy do not provide the right kind of trees. And it makes the Holy Father feel more at home. You know how he likes nature." The pope's personal nativity scene offers another uniquely Polish touch: Among the almost life-size sheep and other ani- mals are the huddled figures of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus, all dressed in Polish folk costumes, as is done in many Polish homes. Christmas Eve in a Polish household usually involves a din- ner with 12 courses, up to half of them fish, as no meat is to be eaten on that occasion. Pope John Paul is unlikely to subject him- self to all 12 dishes, observers say, but he customarily does have more than one fish course. Other traditional treats include poppy seed bread, spiced cakes and vodka. Father Hejmo said these items also grace the Christmas Eve table at his pastoral center, located just outside the Vatican walls. Christmas is an impor- tant family holiday in Poland, he noted, so he tries to make it as homey as possible for the staff members, nuns and pil- grims who find themselves so far from home this time of year. On the afternoon of the 24th, they have the unique opportu- nity to sing "koledy" with the pope at an audience in the Vat- ican. The more than 12,000 Poles living in Rome and the surrounding area are all wel- come, and as many as one third of them show up. In addition to the songs, at the audience Pope John Paul per- forms the Polish Christmas cus- tom of dividing a special wafer called an "oplatek." Two people grasp the large, rectangular wafer and pull, breaking it together as a sign of friendship. "We always break the oplatek together in my family," said Sis- ter Rita Partyka, a Polish-Amer- ican nun who has been in Rome for five years. "So it is a real spe- cial event to be there when the pope does it." Sister Partyka, originally from Scranton, Pa., now lives with her order, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Founded by a Polish woman, the order ran the nursery school that Pope John Paul attended as a child. Often, the nuns from this order who are based in Rome are offered front-row seats at the pre-Christmas audience. Sister Partyka says she once gave up her front-row seat to a nun from Poland, "because I knew how much it would mean to her." The Christmas-time folk cus- toms also are important to the pope, according to Father Adam Boniecki, one of his first biogra- phers and the former editor of the Polish edition of the Vatican news- paper L'Osservatore Romano. "These are sentimental things," Father Boniecki said. "But why not? After all, even the pope can be sentimental some- times." Father Hejmo at the Polish pilgrims' devotion is apparent to Peter's S "In mas as Father ce] ruary. Father', scene has long past when gists would like down. get about it, can do." a patriotic Jerzy Hurdynski, l the pope's Krakow who Rome for 32 sent a life despite a people pation by For this reason that the Christmas decorates St. have add 1997. Each year the tree a different came on an truck from and destination ! guages. Next from Poland. :ii Human rights concerns abound this Christmas s By JUDITH SLrDILOVSKY Catholic News Service BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) -- For the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who will be converging here for Christ- mas, celebrating the holiday in the birthplace of Jesus is a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity. But for the residents of Beth- lehem, the experience of Christ- mas is dulled by the political dif- ficulties under which they live. The students of the Latin Patriarchate schools in the parishes of Bethlehem and the two neighboring villages of Beit Jala and Beit Tsahour are like students everywhere: they hang out with their friends in the school courtyard munching on potato chips and peanut snacks, they tease each other and giggle in class. They are eager for the holiday season and look forward to family gatherings and cele- brating with friends. But for them, the meaning of Christmas is always entangled with the political realities under which they are living. "I'm very happy that Christ- mas is coming but something is wrong here," said Choline Botto, 16, who studies at the Latin Patriarch High School in Belt Jala. "I am happy that tourists come (but) . . . I can't enjoy it Pope 'in holiday spirit' VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II got into a hol- iday  spirit the week before Christmas with Christmas trees, nativity figurines and noisy children. The pope presided from his apartment window Dec. 14 over the traditional lighting of the Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square, an 85-foot-tall fir from Slovenia. As noted by Cardinal Rosalio CastiIlo Lara, the governor of Vatican City State, the tree and the pope had some common roots. Both were 76 years old, they grew up in mountain regions of Eastern Europe, and now they were together at the Vatican. The pope responded by prais- ing the tradition of Christmas trees, which began as a Nordic practice but has come to mean much more. "A tree is the presence of nature, which is also redeemed, next to the symbol of the Redeemer who is coming," he said. The pope began the prac- tice of placing a Christmas tree and a giant nativity scene in St. Peter's Square. A'Slovenian pilgrim group danced, sang and exploded fire- works at the brief ceremony. The next day, the pope received more trees from visitors from his native Poland. At a Sunday blessing, they unfurled a banner reading "Zakopane Is Waiting," a reference to the Tatra Mountain resort town where the pontiff used to ski as a young man. "I hope to come," the pope said in Polish. He is scheduled to make a 10-day visit to Poland next spring, and part of the ten- tative itinerary includes a cou- ple of days' rest in the moun- tains. The Polish group brought sev- eral smaller pine trees that were to be set up in Pope John Paul's private apartment and in other Vatican offices. The pope also blessed Christ- mas nativity figures held aloft by hundreds of Italian children, another annual event in St. Peter's Square. Praising the simplicity of the Christmas creche tradition, he said he wanted to extend his blessing to children around the world. The same day, the pope visit- ed a parish in a western suburb of Rome, where at one point he was surrounded by a group of exuberant young people. Chil- dren are the "first to have fun and the first to make a lot of noise," he remarked. "But thank God there's this uproar because it's a sign of joy. And that's the way the third Sunday of Advent should be," he said. Later, he spoke to adults in the parish about church plans- for the year 2000. After Christ- mas, the Diocese of Rome will begin distributing copies of St. Mark's Gospel, accompanied by a letter from the pope. The pope said it was a sign of his personal desire to see a rekindling of faith among Romans during the preparation period for the jubilee year. I | FIRST FEDERAL Savings and Loan Association I Washington & Loogootee i Peoples Trust Company SOUTH MAIN STREET P,O. BOX 191 LiNTON. iNDIANA 47441 iii i fully because my parents can't go to work and we can't go to Jerusalem .... Christmas means to have peace, both inside and out, and we don't feel peace inside us yet." After violence broke out between Israelis and Palestini- ans at the end of September, leaving over 70 people dead, Israel imposed a closure on the Palestinian territories. Although the measures have been eased since then, many Palestinians have been unable to reach their jobs within Israel and the eco- nomic situation in the territories has worsened. "Tourists and pilgrims come to Bethlehem for a specific goal, so can they live a very specific experience," said Father Yousef Rizek. "But for us, we have been living in this political and eco- nomic reality for many years." "We try to read the Christmas story of the Gospel in the light of our situation, to see in this Jesus a continuous hope for our salvation," he said. "I don't see Jesus as a personality of ancient times living 2,000 years ago. I try with my people to see the Jesus of today." Many of his parishioners will be unable to buy new clothes or gifts for the holiday, he said. "The celebration must be accompanied by joy and a festive atmosphere but the people here have lost the feast," "NeverthelesS, I all these externS ized) things reality of Jesus was in a manger. best way to c.e to see Jesus share with him tion," he said. Usually, Micheline the St. located a the Church and her plate the the city where' "Sometimes that he was believe it," Ranya Isa come this place? I us know how to be like celebrate soul, not clothes." St. Joseph feel lucky Bethlehem. the king of here, in a gives me a my life. It simple in your An Olde Fashioned May the true spirit of the season warm your hearts and minds. Helming Bros, Inc. P.O. Box 103 Jasper, IN 47547-0103