Christmas a time of celebration, joy and hope

The Good Samaritan Foundation brings together people and resources to support the works and initiatives of the Good Samaritan Sisters to assist the needy in communities across Australia and the Pacific.

The Foundation’s Executive Director, Catherine Cresswell, said 2020 had been a very challenging year. “Thanks to your generous gifts and prayers, we were able to continue to support the Sisters’ programs. We hope you enjoy this snapshot of how Christmas will be celebrated in some of the Good Samaritan ministries.”

Good Samaritan Inn, Melbourne

Good Samaritan Inn is a crisis accommodation service for women and children who have experienced family violence or are at risk of homelessness.

The Inn’s Executive Director, Felicity Rorke, said Christmas is a time of fun, festivities, food and gift giving. “A local church donated a Christmas tree that is decorated with ornaments, ribbons and baubles. A hand-crafted nativity scene has pride of place alongside the tree.”

Leading up to Christmas Day, presents that have been donated and purchased are placed in one room for the mothers and another room for the children. “The mothers and children are invited to enter the relevant room and choose gifts for their children/mother,” Felicity said.

Two Case Managers will help to cook a Christmas feast that may include roast meats accompanied by lots of fresh vegetables, legumes and spices.

One or more of the Good Samaritan Sisters always drops in, usually with a gift and a special blessing for each of the guests. 

Bacolod, the Philippines

The Good Sams provide assistance to some of the poorest in the community, including those living on the street and in squatter settlements.

Sister Anne Dixon SGS said this year the people were unable to gather in groups due to COVID-19, so there would be no Christmas parties or visits from Santa. “The children know all the borders are closed so Santa cannot come. Their surprise will come on December 21 when we will deliver more than 600 family gifts.

“Each family in Boulevard (one of the large squatter areas) is decorating a chair and we will distance them appropriately and place their family gift on each chair. Inside the gifts are toys to share, clothes and food.”

The family gifts are made possible thanks to donations to the Share the Joy, Give a Toy campaign. Donations are welcome via the appeal website or the Good Samaritan Foundation.

Santa Teresa, Northern Territory

Sister Liz Wiemers SGS, who has lived and worked at Santa Teresa for more than 10 years, described a typical Christmas in this remote Indigenous community. 

“The Christmas tree is put up on the first Sunday of Advent and decorated by the community. When someone puts on a decoration, they say a special prayer calling for peace in our world, peace in our country, peace in our communities and peace in our families. “ 

On the fourth Sunday of Advent there is a blessing of the nativity sets. “These could be a picture, a snow dome, or a crib the families have made. There’s a Christmas lights competition with many of the houses displaying very elaborate lights and decorations,” Liz said. 

“From lunchtime on Christmas Eve we play Christmas carols. The kids start to get excited, wondering what gifts they might receive. It’s really a great time of year to be in Santa Teresa.”

In Railaco, Timor-Leste

Sister Rita Hayes SGS lived for 15 years in the rural community of Railaco. She continues to assist with the delivery of the Good Sams Foundation scholarship program, which supports more than 100 students.

“On the outskirts of every village the young people have been preparing a life-size nativity scene made from various materials and achieving remarkable artistic depictions of that memorable nativity that we celebrate,” Rita said. 

The people of Timor-Leste are masters of harmony and sing with great feeling. “Choirs prepare for weeks to be at their best for Midnight Mass and the churches and cathedrals are packed to overflowing,” Rita said. 

“Many people will return for the Christmas Day Mass and the choirs will have prepared another repertoire to celebrate the feast that means so much to them.”

In the Pacific nation of Kiribati

Sister Taabeia Ibouri, one of the newly professed Good Samaritan Sisters from Kiribati, describes a typical Christmas on her home island of Kuria.

“Most Christmases I would go back to see my parents. In the days leading up to Christmas, all the people in the parish gather in the maneaba (meeting house) each morning, lunch-time and evening.

“On Christmas Day, everyone comes together at midday for a special feast, which is followed by dancing. The head of each family will dance, then invite the next family to join in. They will share gifts with the person they invite to dance.

“The celebration foods at Christmas include chicken and pork. There is plenty of rice, which is usually eaten only on Sundays.

“Where I am from, they don’t believe in Santa. My mum hadn’t heard about Santa until very recently.

“December 28 is a special day for children aged 2-16. They join in competitions of Kiribati dance and singing and also contribute to the Mass. All the children, even the very young ones, sing a song they have practised.

“Christmas on Kuria Island brings everybody together and it’s always very busy and very special.”

Published in The Good Oil, December 2020.