Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We are nearing the end of the Advent season, a time of waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ as a baby in the manger at Bethlehem and also for his second coming at the end of time. The church encourages us to use these weeks before Christmas to still our hearts, take a break from the hustle and bustle that surrounds us, and focus on becoming better disciples of Christ.
One of the things I enjoy most during Advent is attending celebrations of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness and evangelizer of the Americas. This feast is a time of great joy, especially among our Latino brothers and sisters, who are very close to her. But her message is for everyone. Mary, in her unwavering fidelity, always points us toward Christ. There is no better way to prepare for the Christmas season than to open our hearts to God, just as Mary did when the angel Gabriel visited her with the news that she would give birth to the Son of God.
But this time of great joy is also a time of fear for many of our sisters and brothers in faith. I am thinking of the refugees and immigrants in our diocese, especially those who are undocumented and afraid they will become targets for deportation under the new presidential administration and their families split apart.
The feelings they are experiencing are not unlike what I believe the Holy Family felt long ago as they made their way to Bethlehem. Imagine the fear that Mary and Joseph experienced when they could not find safe shelter for their family because “there was no room for them in the inn.” And, then the anxiety and worry they felt as refugees when they had to flee for a time to Egypt, an entirely new and unfamiliar land, to escape the wrath of King Herod.
Today’s immigrant and refugee families also are looking for a safe place to live. They come here fleeing difficult political and economic situations in their home countries with the hope of starting new and better lives for their families and making positive contributions to their new communities.
I want to assure all of these immigrants and refugees — whether they are Latino, Somali or from another cultural background — of my ongoing support and the support of our diocese. We value the gifts you bring to our communities, we stand with you, and we will help you as much as we are able, so that you feel safe and welcome in your new home. This is what our faith commands us to do: to love our neighbor as ourselves. For those who are Catholic, we welcome you to the diocese and encourage you to become active in the life of a parish near you if you haven’t done so already.
In addition to the immigrants and refugees in our own backyard, we must also remember all those around the world who are fleeing from unimaginable situations of conflict and violence in places like Syria and Iraq. Christians, who have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years, as well as Muslims and members of other faiths, are being targeted by those who preach a false religion of intolerance and brutality. Please keep these victims in your prayers and consider making a contribution to an organization — Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Aid to the Church in Need or Knights of Columbus — that are providing humanitarian assistance.
This Christmas, as we gaze upon the manger centered on the birth of the baby Jesus and everything it means for the world, let us reflect on what Pope Francis said as the Vatican prepared to unveil its Nativity scene: “Those who visit this crèche will be invited to rediscover its symbolic value, which is a message of fraternity, sharing, welcoming and solidarity.”
It is a simple, but challenging, message. During this holy season, I ask you to reflect on it more deeply, letting it take root in your heart so you can share it with all those in need. May you and your loved ones enjoy a peaceful and blessed Christmas.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop Donald J. Kettler