Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Journey of Faith to the World Meeting of Families--From St. Mary's, Alaska, to Philadelphia!

A number of our sisters were able to be in Philadelphia last fall for Pope Francis' visit. However, undoubtedly, the one who traveled the greatest distance was Sr. Ellen Callaghan who came from St. Mary's, Alaska, with two members of the region where she ministers. We were delighted when she wrote about their experiences during that very special week!

On September 16 I had the joy of traveling to the Philadelphia with Caroline and Anthony Ulak who live in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region of our diocese and were the winners of the Yup'ik Eskimo lottery to participate in the World Meeting of Families (WMOF).  I used air miles and accompanied Caroline and Anthony because my family was hosting them for the 10-day visit. We arrived in Wilmington, Delaware, a few days prior to WMOF so that we could visit and give presentations on our Yup'ik way of life at Assisi House and at two schools. With samples of winter gear, dance fans, headdresses, a small Yup'ik drum, and other traditional items, Anthony and Caroline enthusiastically shared stories about life in Scammon Bay on the Bering Sea and a few unique things about life in Bush Alaska. Those who attended the presentations were most welcoming and very interested in the slides, clothing, and stories. The children loved trying to use the Yup'ik yo-yo, getting dressed in a quspeq, and learning an Eskimo dance to the beat of Anthony’s drumming. The elders were moved to quiet prayer listening to the singing of the Our Father in the Eskimo language. They followed the words on the screen and tried to identify the seven letters of the alphabet not used in the Yup'ik language. On Saturday we took a ferry across the Delaware Bay so Anthony and Caroline could have lunch in New Jersey. On Sunday we participated in a fund-raising dinner in Maryland to add still another state to the east coast trip.
Sharing stories of life among the Yup'ik Eskimos with east coast children
On Monday our hostess, Joan Callaghan,  took us to the train station to catch the rapid rail for our daily commute to Philadelphia Convention Center—another new experience. After a quick hour at the registration center for the 21,000 international visitors, we had time for a double-decker bus tour of central Philadelphia. Magnificent colorful banners lined all the streets and many buildings had huge welcoming signs for the papal visit. Several streets were barricaded in preparation for the pope’s arrival on Saturday. The WMOF Congress took place from noon Tuesday to noon on Friday. Over 120 cardinals and bishops were present for the daily Mass in the huge arena. For two of the Masses, we each ushered one of the 60+ priest to his Communion station. This was a little bit of a challenge in a congregation of over 21,000 people. Caroline and Anthony, along with an elderly couple from Mexico, presented Offertory gifts at Thursday’s Mass. In addition to attending Mass, the keynote presentations, and breakout sessions, we also volunteered for an hour of perpetual adoration and the Catholic Relief Service’s (CSR) Helping Hands Project. The CRS project packed over 205,000 bags of grain meals for families in Burkina Faso, Africa. This was definitely an outstanding experience of joyful service. 
 
Sr. Ellen, Caroline, and Anthony helped package grain meals for African families.
After a week of daily commutes, we decided to rest on Saturday, stay with our hostess, and watch Pope Francis’ arrival on TV. On Sunday we headed back to Philadelphia for the 4:30 Papal Mass. Many people thought we were crazy to try to get to Philadelphia with its heightened security. However, we were on a mission and went full speed ahead. Up at the crack of dawn, we began our trip at the train station in Wilmington for the express train to Philadelphia.  Only passengers with ID and the special Papal Visit ticket were permitted on any SEPTA train that day.  Both Wilmington and Philadelphia were super prepared for the immense crowd. Within two hours, we passed through Wilmington security with sniffing dogs, were ushered onto the waiting train, walked about two miles to the metal detector at Ben Franklin Parkway, and were sitting in our reserved seats (compliments of our sisters) by 9:15 A.M.  Our journey was quick, smooth, and worry-free with short lines and numerous warm, friendly people all along the way, especially the security personnel.  We had ample time to watch the final decorations being placed in the huge sanctuary; check out the vendors; enjoy our picnic lunch; visit with people in our section; and watch priests, bishops, and cardinals arriving from all directions.  To our total surprise, about 3:45 P.M. the pope mobile was spotted approaching the street two rows behind us! Everyone clapped and shouted with joy. Caroline kept calm enough to take a video of the pope waving to us. Our seats were very close to the altar but at a right angle so we were unable to see anything except on the jumbo screen provided for our section. However, this made everything seem even closer. What a holy experience!  And yes, Holy Father, we will not forget to pray for you.  

During a visit to our motherhouse, Anthony and Caroline stopped to admire our sculpture of St. Francis.
Caroline, Anthony, and I are deeply grateful to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for their scholarship funds, the Black and Indian Missions for their housing donation, and the several parishes of the Y-K Region for their generous donation to offset our incidental expenses and meals. The Alaskan Shepherd gave us diocesan lapel pins which were given to individuals who helped us with directions or engaged us in conversion about life or ministry in Bush Alaska.  Caroline and Anthony made several new friends—from local train conductors to Canadian parish ministers and the bishop who recognized our quspeq to students in Chester, Pennsylvania, with whom we visited and who now want us to come to their first basketball game! “Quyana cakneq” to all for these life-changing experiences during the World Meeting of Families!
 
 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Meet Sr. Jean Ustasiewski!

Once again I'd like to introduce you to one of our sisters--Sr. Jean Ustasiewski! Every time I write about one of our sisters--it seems that I'm telling you how busy she is. That is pretty much the reality of who these good women are--busy doing things for others and serving God through their care for those they meet each day!
Growing up in close proximity to the parish convent carries a certain probability that a young girl will come to know the sisters. Such was the case for Sr. Jean Ustasiewski who lived two blocks from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Convent in Baltimore. She was taught by our sisters there and later continued her connection with the sisters at the Catholic High School of Baltimore. Jean was often asked to help out—both in school and in the convent—giving her a glimpse into the sisters’ life—a life that spoke to her and seemed to invite her to be part of it. Ironically Jean’s aunts were Felicians and would have liked her to join their congregation. A trip to the Glen, however, affirmed what Jean had already sensed. “I knew that was where I belonged,” she explained.

During her years in ministry, Jean served on both east and west coasts. In fact, she was one of seven novices who, in 1954, were sent from the Glen to the western novitiate. After profession she continued to minister in the west until 1987. After ministering primarily in education and later as a provincial council member, Jean moved to OLA where she served as director of the Companions in Mission. In 2002 she was asked to assume the role of coordinator of OLA, a position she still holds in addition to her ministry in the Franciscan Spiritual Center. 

As coordinator of OLA, Jean’s goal is to “keep everyone informed of what’s happening and to keep everyone on the same page as well as creating a welcoming environment so that everyone feels at home.” From a practical standpoint, that means coordinating schedules for liturgies and prayers, communicating with various offices to coordinate events, interacting with benefactors, and taking care of emergency situations. Periodically she holds meeting with the contact sisters from the living units and helps process sisters into and out of the various units.  

Sr. Jean sends frequent emails to the contact sisters at OLA informing them of upcoming events, updates on sisters who are hospitalized, and other pertinent information.
 
Sr. Jean sends voice mail messages to the living units about unexpected changes in schedule.
Jean’s basic function at the Franciscan Spiritual Center is to serve as a hospitality coordinator, particularly at Clare House where she manages registration, maintains calendars, works with the housekeeping staff to coordinator cleaning, and develops and offers programs. One group that she works with is the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ. At other times she coordinates Martha and Mary retreats for the young men from both the TOR and OFM congregation. 

Srs. Julie Keegan and Jean Ustasiewski check the spiritual center website about possible dates for a program.
 
Sr. Jean recently arranged for hospitality at Clare House for a group of Chinese pilgrims, including a bishop, priests, and sisters who are visiting Catholic parishes and organizations in various parts of the country.
Busy? Very definitely! But in her “free time,” Jean also finds time to visit and shop for family members and to continue her outreach to the folks at St. Ignatius Nursing Home.  
Ministries at both OLA and the spiritual center provide blessings for Jean. At Clare House she rejoices in the “signs of new life in the young persons who come there” and at OLA she “sees how this place provides special healing for some who come here.” In both she also recognizes that liturgy is often the “hub of all that happens.” For Jean that centrality of the Eucharist is what it’s all about—as in her own works she says simply, “Liturgy is my life.”

 

 
 

 

 

 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Of This and That: Recognizing the Giftedness of Our Sisters!

It's always a pleasure to share that many ways our sisters and their efforts are being recognized by folks outside our congregation. These are just a few of the recent acknowledgements some of the sisters have received.

Sr. Clare Christi Schiefer recently received a special award from the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Each year their congregation honors four individuals who have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to servant leadership and who have excelled in each area of the congregation’s mission: evangelization, education, eldercare, and ecumenism. Clare was chosen to receive the Fr. Matthew Jankola Lifetime Commitment to Servant Leadership Aware for Evangelization. The letter acknowledged Clare’s work as president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association and her longtime commitment to the healthcare profession. “You have led the organization in lobbying for or against legislation and regulations that have an impact on Catholic healthcare ministries—including protecting the sanctity of life and preserving religious liberty by recognizing the needs of children, the elderly, the poor, and the underserved, including immigrant populations,” the letter read. “Your work…underscores your belief that God calls all of us to be one with him. Pope Francis once said that ‘Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God. It is overcoming our selfishness; it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our breathren as Jesus did.’ That is what you do.”
(l-r)_ Sr. Clare Christi Schiefer; Sr. Michael Ann Orlik, SS.CM., general superior of the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius; and Sr. Romaine Niemeyer, SCC, who, like  Sr. Clare, received a lifetime achievement award.

Congratulations also to Sr. Maggie Gannon who received the Alumni Association Honorary Alumni Award from Neumann University during the university’s homecoming weekend last fall. She is well known to the folks at Neumann because of her work as president of Drexel Neumann Academy. The school, a cosponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis, Neumann University, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and St. Katharine Drexel Parish, became a reality when the last Catholic school in Chester was threatened with closure. Maggie has served as president since the school opened in 2007—leading it to its current status as an independent Catholic School with a Franciscan spirit. The academy provides the children of Chester with the “opportunity to be models of peacemaking in a violent environment and the education for a bright and successful future.”
Sr. Maggie received Neumann University’ Alumni Association Honorary Alumni Award.
 
Congratulations also to Franciscan Companion in Faith Phyllis Petryk. Phyllis recently published a book of her poetry. Entitled Our Awesome God: Spiritual Poetry and Prose, the book contains the poems she has been writing as part of her journaling since 1980 and is dedicated to her sister Florence whom she describes as “my sister, soulmate, and friend.” The publication also contains a number of beautiful photos—some of them taken at Our Lady of Angels Convent. Be sure to look for a sampling of Phyllis’ poems in our 2016 enewsletters.
Our Awesome God: Spiritual Poetry and Prose by Franciscan Companion in Faith Phyllis Petryk
 

Remember the article in one of last year’s Community News issues about the surprise party held at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Doylestown to acknowledge Sr. Thomasann Quinn’s 60th jubilee? Presentations by students along with gifts and messages from alumni and friends helped to mark the special occasion. One gift held particular meaning for Sr. Thomasann. She had often remarked that she would like a different statue of Mary to replace the one in front of the school—one that would offer a more gentle, motherly image. During the party, the Home and School Association announced that such a statue would be their gift to Sr. Thomasann. Well, the new statue has arrived and is in place—positioned so that children going to and from school can see the image of that gentle mother Mary. And the new statue is, of course, dedicated to Sr. Thomasann.  
The new statue gracing the grounds of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School is dedicated to Sr. Thomasann.
The January 8 issue of The Dialog, Wilmington’s diocesan newspaper, carried a feature article on Sr. Julie McCole as part of the diocese’s vocation focus. In the article Julie shared her own vocation story, focusing on the fact that it was the spirit of sisterhood that drew her to the Franciscan sisters she met in elementary school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Morton and with whom she continued to maintain a relationship during her high school years. That sense of “being sister” is something that Julie continued to share in her own ministries—whether it be in education, in parish ministry, at Anna’s Place in Chester, or today as director of Emmanuel Dining Room West in Wilmington. Check out the article at http://thedialog.org/?p=29801   



































































































































































 
 

 

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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The January 8 issue of The Dialog, Wilmington’s diocesan newspaper, carried a feature article on Sr. Julie McCole as part of the diocese’s vocation focus. In the article Julie shared her own vocation story, focusing on the fact that it was the spirit of sisterhood that drew her to the Franciscan sisters she met in elementary school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Morton and with whom she continued to maintain a relationship during her high school years. That sense of “being sister” is something that Julie continued to share in her own ministries—whether it be in education, in parish ministry, at Anna’s Place in Chester, or today as director of Emmanuel Dining Room West in Wilmington. Check out the article at http://thedialog.org/?p=29801   


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Pilgrimage to El Salvador: Memories to Touch the Heart

In December four of our sisters—Srs. Maureen Fox, Loretta Schaff, Sara Marks, and Ruth Bernadette O’Connor (as pictured to the right)—had the opportunity to join the 117 people on the SHARE  pilgrimage to El Salvador. The pilgrimage commemorated the 35th anniversary of the assassination of four churchwomen—Maryknoll Srs. Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan. In addition to visiting the sacred site where the women were killed, the group also visited the place where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as well as other sites associated with the struggles of the Salvadoran people. 

Sr. Ruth Bernadette found it hard to capture in words what the trip meant to her. She spoke particularly of the sufferings of the Salvadoran people. “Each day we listened to many stories of the sufferings of these people and their fight for their rights to truth, justice, sovereignty, and sustainability,” she explained. “I was so impressed by their strength and their inspiring stories of survival and hope for a better future for their families.” A visit to the Wall of Remembrance had an especially deep impact on Ruth. “I will never forget the Wall of Remembrance bearing 30,000 names of people martyred or disappeared during those terrible years,” Ruth recalled. “One man wanted to point out for us the name of his father. It was touching to hear him tell his story.” Speaking of the martyrdom of the four churchwomen, Ruth described their witness as “testimony to the power of God to transform madness into hope.”  
The four young church women who were raped and murdered 35 years ago in El Salvador. Top row l-r: Sr. Ita Ford, Jean Donovan; Bottom l-r: SRs. Maura Clarke, Sr. Dorothy Kazel
Burial site of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero
A Salvadoran gentleman indicates the name of his father who is one of the many "disappeared" in El Salvador.

Srs. Loretta Schaff and Maureen Fox shared their remembrance of their experiences in poetry. 
Memories of the experience still surface frequently
and we continue to process our experience
which has been difficult to put into words at times
. . . for the experience was intense and deep
especially at the sites of the Monument of Truth and Memory,
of Oscar Romero's assassination,
the murder of the 6 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter,
and
the place of the 4 women's horrific death.
We also were shown the place of the drowning of Sr. Carol Piette
who worked with the women but is little known (outside El Salvador)
except for the people that knew her.
She is included in all their memorials.
The 5 women are very much alive in the spirit of the people.

We were also grateful for the generosity of community
to be able to be generous in all donations that were solicited while there.
Upon our return, the monies that were "left over"
 were given to Fruit Trees and Women's Leadership with CONFRAS
in care of SHARE/El Salvador in Berkeley, CA.

We are forever grateful for this opportunity to experience a small taste of the history and people of El Salvador.
There are parts of us that will never be the same because of this experience.



Thursday, January 14, 2016

Adding Faces to Corporate Social Responsibility

Our Corporate Social Responsibility Office does a great deal of work with shareholder advocacy. Another of their tasks involves choosing and following up with recipients of our congregation's social justice grants. In a recent article for our congregational newsletter, Sr. Nora Nash talked about one instance where these two functions coincided. The work done by GoodWeave was something that really impressed me when I was editing the article for publication and I thought you might enjoy it as well. It also gives you some insight into another aspect of our sisters' ministries where we work to put our beliefs into measurable actions!
 
On September 2, 2015, we learned that Target “has teamed up with GoodWeave in support of their mission to end child labor in the rug industry.” Check out https://corporate.target.com/article/2015/09/good-weave-partnership. This happens to be double “good news” us because we not only work with Target in shareholder advocacy, but we have also  supported GoodWeave with our social justice grants.  

The executive director of GoodWeave, Nina Smith, wrote a special letter to share this wonderful and exciting news. Summary details of the letter follow. According to GoodWeave, Target is a $72 billion company and the single largest licensee in GoodWeave history.  GoodWeave teams have already spent time together in Target’s source-weaving communities in India as well as their Minneapolis headquarters.  

The most important moment in GoodWeave’s model to end child labor occurs when a company signs a contract with GoodWeave, agreeing to open up all levels of their carpet-making supply chains for random, surprise inspection.  This single act unlocks the doors where children toil in obscurity, deterring producers from exploiting children and ensuring that if a child is hidden away in a subcontracted workshop, GoodWeave will find and protect her.  Companies sign with GoodWeave for a range of reasons: because consumers demand it, to mitigate risk, or to achieve broader corporate responsibility goals.  GoodWeave measures success in this area through market share growth and in 2015 project to reach 7% market share—one step closer to our tipping point estimated at 17%. 

Additionally, for 2014 GoodWeave set a new high for consumer reach—85 million at year-end with earned media coverage in The Huffington Post, NPR, The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, CNN.com, The New Yorker, and more.  Some of their direct community impact data points include
§  52 children rescued from labor on the looms and provided rehabilitation,
§  39,007 adult workers assisted, including job training and placement,
§  education offered to 2,558 children,
§  approximately 28,000 deterred from entering the workforce. 

GoodWeave’s priority is to implement its expanded standard, phasing into the certification the concept of no forced or bonded labor or trafficking. Their  new standard, combined with their recent ISEAL Alliance membership and ISO65 accreditations, sets GoodWeave apart as one of a handful of organizations with the depth of expertise, capacity, and professionalism to monitor the informal labor sector and related supply chains. 

GoodWeave has been experimenting with social programs that interrupt the cycle of illiteracy and exploitation even earlier.  The idea is to reach a child in her home village before she ever comes face-to-face with an inspector in a factory.  One key effort is the Child Friendly Community (CFC) model.  This project engages teachers, parents, local government officials/panchayats, school administrators, and employers—all to support school enrollment for children.  And it’s working.  In 2013, the baseline household survey in 13 weaving villages identified 912 out-of-school children ages 3-18.  Just over a year later, with the CFC approach, 91% had been enrolled in Motivation and Learning Centers or mainstreamed to government schools. 

Additional Note 
In the spring of 2011, Christian Brothers Investment Services, the Sisters of St, Francis of Philadelphia and a few other ICCR shareholders enabled Macy’s to be the first retail store to support GoodWeave in ending child labor in the rug market.  

To read stories of children who have been rescued from child labor, visit

 


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Year of Mercy: Reflection and Ritual for Blessing the Doors of Our Homes and Our Hearts

As you probably know, Pope Francis has declared this year the Jubilee Year of Mercy and religious groups throughout the world are taking part in many prayer activities and personal avenues to emphasize the need for mercy in our lives and in the lives of people around the world. Part of a jubilee year involves the concept of "opening doors"--you might have seen photos of the doors of the Vatican being opened as part of a ceremonial ritual to open this special year. Similarly dioceses and parishes throughout the world held ceremonial openings of the church doors. But we, as individuals, are also called to open the doors of our hearts in order to show mercy to all whom we meet. Our sisters, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, will also be celebrating this special Year of Mercy by reflecting on just what that concept might mean in our individual and communal lives. And each month our Mercy Committee will be sharing with us some practical reflections and prayer suggestions. I'd like to share with you the January reflection and prayer ritual that our sisters will be using. I thought the prayer ritual--the blessings of the all the doors in our convent homes was particularly beautiful and I felt that some of you might find it helpful to share with your own family and loved ones.

Who can I bless with kindness today?
On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door in the Vatican as a sign of the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He wrote, “…the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.” Passage through a Jubilee Holy Door is an outward sign of a person’s decision to leave their past lives to enter a new life, a renewed life in Christ.
To unite ourselves with the Church in every corner of the world, we are encouraging you to designate a door in your convent/home and your bedroom door as a “door of mercy.” These doors will remind us to celebrate that the Church has opened a Year of Mercy and to unite with a people hungry for God’s mercy.
Jesus Christ is the door of God’s heart. Through him, God’s infinite mercy takes our flesh and walks into our pain, our joy, our struggles, and our longings. During this year we are invited to gaze ever more attentively on God’s mercy so that we may become more effective signs of God’s action in our lives. The Year of Mercy starts in our own hearts. When our own hearts are convinced we have been touched with mercy, we can witness more strongly and more effectively to others. 
We recognize as we pass through our doors of mercy, we are called not to “build our tent” in this space but to emerge through these same holy doors and cross the thresholds of other sacred doors —doors, where we encounter the face of God in the poor and the physically or spiritually marginalized. We are called to be witnesses to God’s enduring love and limitless mercy through our own engagement with those who have not felt love nor known mercy from others.
Let us begin this Holy Year by blessing our doors and offering, to ourselves and all who pass through them, a blessing of kindness in this Year of Mercy. We encourage you to bless your bedroom door and possibly put a symbol or picture to remind yourself as you pass through you are entering a place of mercy.
Suggested Ritual to Bless our Doors
Prepare: A bowl of water and a branch with which to sprinkle the doorway. All gather in front of the closed door and pray:
First Reading: Why do we use the symbol of the door?  Jesus says: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me (they) will be saved.” (Jn. 10:9)  Because we need ongoing conversion, we pray whoever passes through the door may recognize and “…experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.” When we cross this door, let us remember God’s infinite mercy and compassion and be ready to show mercy and kindness to others.
Second Reading: Merciful and compassionate God, as women consecrated to you and members of your holy Church, we believe mercy is the foundation of our lives. We pray that in all our activities and interactions, we show your tenderness. May we be witnesses of merciful and compassionate love to all.
All: Amen
Third Reading: We dedicate this door as a particular symbol of your unconditional gift of love and mercy. We pray that all who cross its threshold be filled with a sense of forgiveness and be drawn to show compassion to all, most especially for those who are poor and afflicted.
All: Amen
Door is opened and each person walks through the threshold blessing the door with Holy Water.
As each person passes through the door, the leader will call out her name and we respond:
All: Be merciful just as our God is merciful!
Leader:   May God bless us and make us merciful to one another. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
All:        Amen

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Updates from Nyumbani Village

Sr. Julie continues to keep us updated about her ministry at Nyumbani Children's Home in Kenya. Nyumbani provides a safe and loving home for children affected by the HIV/AIDS virus.  Following are Sr. Julie's accounts of Christmas in Nyumbani. To learn more about all of the Nyumbani ministries, visit. htt://nyumbani.org.

December 4, 2015
On Sunday we had our Open Day. The children who were going home were very excited to see their families.  We had Mass followed by the birthday celebrations in each cottage/hostel and then returned to the hall for some performances. Sr. Mary ask the families to help our children to learn how to live in Kenya by treating them, not as guests but as family when they come home. The help of the families will make our children's transition back to Kenya a lot easier.  Paula and Ambassador Afonde from our Kenyan Board also spoke. Protus , our emcee, introduced he staff to the families. After Mass a caterer provided lunch as their Christmas gift to Nyumbani.  Both the food and the service were excellent. Once the families had visited the social worker and the nurse, they signed the children out and headed for home.  It was a very rainy day so a bus pulled into Nyumbani and picked the happy families up for their journey home.  Only about 30 children remained so on Monday we were able to combine the children into cottages C, G and BH.  This is always a difficult time for those left behind but they seem to be handling it okay.  On Monday I distributed movies and goodies to the kids and this lifted their spirits.   

December 11, 2015
On Saturday the mums, uncles, children, and I went to Westgate Mall to participate in the annual Rotary Christmas Party.  We walked through the mall and went up the escalator to the movie theater. We were each given a bag containing milk and a breakfast cake. The Good Dinosaur began and everyone relaxed and enjoyed the movie. Later we lined up to get our box lunch and then headed back to the bus for our trip home.  It was lunch time and the children were looking forward to their chicken and chips.  We saved our boxed lunches to go with our 4 o’clock tea. I discovered today that the Rotarians also had Christmas presents but they forgot to tell us to wait for them. Our driver is going back to get them tomorrow so we can surprise the kids with them. 

I also spend time preparing our Christmas Caroling Program for our annual performance at the Porterhouse Steak House in Nairobi.  Teacher Margaret practiced the songs with the children and I added the finishing touches.  Amal was our emcee with Joseph M was as our song leader. of song. Two our Paul Miki students, Shaldine and Nathan, joined us. As the group sang “Silent Night, they portrayed Mary and Joseph. Mwende was the angel who stood behind them gently flapping her wings.  Anthony played the bad boy with the “Bah Humbug” hat at whom the children pointed as they sang “You Better Watch Out” ETC. He threw his hat down on the ground as the song ended.  James helped us out when we sang “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” by singing the words between the lines.  [For example, shiny nose (like a light bulb) or it glows (like a flash light), etc.] As we sang “Carry Your Candle,” Mungai held up the Peace On Earth Banner with a beautiful white dove on it.  Finally the children did a great dance and the second time around, we invited the audience to come up and join us. We finished with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  The audience really enjoyed the show and the children were really happy with themselves.  The owner treated all of us to a hamburger, chips, vegetables, soda, and ice cream. Then, tired but happy, we all hopped into the van for the trip home and a chance to see all the Christmas lights, especially those at the Prestige Plaza Mall, the Junction Mall, and the Crossroads Mall.  Our kids seldom get out at night so the ride home was a real treat.  

December 18
On Sunday Sister Emily took a group of our children to a Hindu Temple for a Christmas party.  They invite us every year and they have a great party with entertainment, singing, dancing, lots of good food, and presents..  After all this they also send us home with donations for the home.  May God bless them for their generosity to us each year. 

December 24, 2015
This week you probably read about the attack on a bus in Kenya  where Muslims protected Christians from being killed by terrorists.  In this experience they witnessed their reverence and all inclusive love for people. They refused to be separated into Muslims and Christians and said they would need to kill them all or let them all go.  Luckily, they chose to let all of them go.  May we experience many more of these heroic acts that show that we are all sisters and brothers of a God who loves and respects each one of us regardless of our race, religion, nationality, economic situation, political affiliations, or sexual orientation. We are all citizens of the global community who are called to love and care for one another. 

On Saturday we had a trip the Junction Mall.  When Donna, Uncle Joseph, and I arrived with the children, we discovered that Capital FM 98.4 was hosting the premiere of Alvin and the Chipmunks Road Chip. We told them we were from Nyumbani Children's Home and that the children love the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies but we did not have tickets. The registrar asked us to wait while she checked to see if she could get some.  She called her boss who agreed. The children got free tickets to the movie as well as soda and potato chips before the movie and juice and personal-size pizzas after the movie. They met the woman in charge who promised that from we would be on her list anytime she had another such event.  I thanked her as we got into the van and I also texted her a thank you as we rode home.  She responded by thanking us for giving them the opportunity to serve our children and wishing us Christmas Blessings.   

On Sunday after Mass we had  a visit from the Medical Clowns from Israel as well as a representative from the Israeli embassy.  Their clowning captivated all of our attention. The kids followed all they mimed and the little they said. It was great slapstick comedy and they got lots of belly laughs.  After the performance they shared cookies and juice with us before they headed off to another performance.  In Israel they work with children who are hospitalized, ministering to the spirit while the doctors take care of the body.   

Today Sr. Emily and the kids are putting on all of the finishing Christmas touches in the hall.  The manger scene is almost complete and Sr. Ann is working on decorating the altar.  The sisters do a wonderful job in preparing our liturgical setting for Christmas. Sr. Reena and our young men are working in the store to be sure we have all the supplies we need for tonight and for Christmas.  We have a goat that we will eat this evening after our Christmas Mass.  Donna and I have completed all of the work in Santa’s Workshop.  All of the gifts are now ready for Santa to distribute on Christmas Day. We also went in to Karen to purchase a Christmas movie for the kids and some snacks for the 26th. We plan to have Movie Day at Nyumbani on the 26th.  Once Protus sets up the LCD we will turn the Fr. Dag Hall into the Fr. Dag Cinema. If we have any special visitors, we can interrupt the movie, welcome and entertain them, and then return to our movie.  It should be a relaxing day for all of us.

Everyone--from the youngest to the "young at heart" enjoyed a visit from Santa.
 
On Sunday the 27th the rest of the children will come back from their family visits. It will be great to have them home. We are planning a New Year’s celebration for all of them.  

January 1, 2016
Christmas in Nyumbani is certainly a magical time. It all started with a beautifully decorated hall on the 24th for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day liturgy.  The majority of children who were here to celebrate were our little ones and they did a superb job.  Our  five little boys were angelic like angels who knew how to spread their wings and our little girls and two boys were wonderful dancers.  Amal did a great job leading our choir. Srs. Emily and Ann prepared the hall and Sr. Emily prepared and dressed the children. The presence of our children makes us so much more aware of the presence of Jesus in our lives.   

The youngest children sang and danced during the Christmas liturgy.
 
On the 26th I went to the airport to meet Karen Robb, one of our U.S. board members who spends her Christmas holidays with us.  She comes with this party bag on wheels: party hats, horns, and Hawaiian leis for everyone. She also has large packages of candy that she sorts into baggies for each child.   

On the 27th some of the children came back from their home visits.  All seem well and have enjoyed their home visits.  We were really happy to see them all back.  Lots of hugs were going around. We have about 75 children home now but all are expected back by Saturday since school begins on Monday.   

New Year's Celebration
Thursday we got ready for our New Year's Eve Celebration.  I put up some decorations in front of Paul Miki since our evening celebration would be held there under our tent.  Our big boys and uncles worked hard to get everything ready for the celebration, including making of the big fire, setting up tables and chairs under the tent, getting the music set up, and cooking over the grill.  Karen, Donna, and I prepares the bags of candy and distributed all of the party items to the cottages/hostels.  By 7 P.M. all were ready. All I needed to do was to distribute the glow sticks. I blew the whistle and all the kids came out of their cottages with their hats and horns making lots of noise.  The fire was blazing, the music was blaring, and the food was cooking on the grill.  Sr. Mary arrived, received her hat, and joined in the celebration. We all enjoyed watching the kids run around shouting, blowing their horns, and waving their glow sticks as Mungai played the music.  Our kids are happy just being outside at night but they were even happier when it was time to enjoy the feast.  After eating Sr. Mary shared a New Year’s greeting s with them and then it was time to dance.  Protus invited each cottage up to dance and the little ones were really happy to do so.  At the end all the big kids joined in the dancing and paraded around the oval.  By then it was close to 10 P.M. —time to end our festivities.  I led a New Year’s prayer and the kids returned to their cottages/hostels as the big boys started the clean up and then went to their hostels to continue the celebration inside till midnight.   

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