As we approach the joyous season of Christmas, Fr. John Boles, Director of Columban Missionaries in Britain, pens a heartfelt appeal, shedding light on the transformative mission work in places like Manila and urging us to be beacons of hope for those in need.

Columban seminarians bring hope to the forgotten community of Parola, a notorious slum on the edge of Manila Bay
Columban seminarians bring hope to the forgotten community of Parola, a notorious slum on the edge of Manila Bay

Dear Columban Friend,

Christmas greetings to you and your family, from me and from Columban Missionaries across the globe.

We Columbans are called to international and cross-cultural mission, serving the poor and needy in many parts of the world. I am composing this letter while on a visit to the Columban mission in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where the phrase “poor and needy” takes on a special significance.

During my time here I’ve been able to accompany Columban Filipino seminarian Lydio Mangao Jr. on one of his regular pastoral visits to a notorious slum named Parola, squeezed between the docks on the edge of Manila Bay. “It’ll be an eye-opener”, he promised me, and he wasn’t joking. What a sight met my eyes. In Parola some 75,000 squatters are crammed into a mere 10 acres of swampland, their makeshift huts perched on flimsy stilts to avoid the worst of the twice-daily tidal flooding.

Nearby, the Pasig River empties into the sea after coursing through Greater Manila, dumping urban litter and waste into the waters of the bay. Much of this filth washes up onto the Parola marsh. Incredibly, this is regarded as a benefit by many of the residents, who eke out a living by scavenging through the rubbish and selling it — for a pittance — to be recycled.

Lydio and other Columban seminarians bring hope to this forgotten community by engaging in social, educational and liturgical activities with the local youth. They also help the over-worked parish priest in such tasks as blessing the dead (funerals as we know them are not possible for people here).

This is the sort of thing Columbans are engaged in, be it seminarians, priest, lay missionaries or co-workers. This is why I am appealing to you now, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our joy and our inspiration. It is only through your kindness that we can shine the star of Christ’s hope in places like Parola. Thank you so much.

2024 has been designated a year of prayer by Pope Francis and the year begins on the 3rd December 2023, the first Sunday of Advent.

The Prayer Trust, founded by Fr Pat Sayles and now joined to the Columban charity in Britain, has been sharing prayer everywhere since 2000. Fr Pat’s vision is that prayer is available to everyone. He is very grateful to all who have bought his book ‘Jubilee Prayers & Pictures’ and hopes the prayers will be shared widely. You can still order the book. If you want it for Christmas, we need your order by Friday 8th December.

May the glorious light of Jesus shine in your heart and home always.

Happy Christmas!

Fr. John Boles SSC

Columban Director in Britain

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