A different kind of Christmas

Aurelio Porfiri

In these days of mid-November, all the newspapers here in Italy talk basically about one topic: coronavirus. Now, there are many things that are connected with this pandemic, and one wonders how Christmas 2020 will be. Yes, because Christmas is a time when families gather together and build relationships and reinforce their bonds. You might also say that this is ruined by a consumerist culture that focuses on these events (that means selling more food and goods exchanged as gifts) rather than on the spiritual aspect, and the original meaning of Christmas is lost. Yes, this is true, we are drifting far away from the authentic spirit of Christmas.

But if we look at some of the effects of this consumerist culture, they might not be so bad for Christians: families today are struggling to keep going, fewer people marry and more marriages are on the verge of breaking up. So the fact that there is a special occasion during the year when the family values are encouraged does not sound so bad. But not this year. We are told that we should avoid meeting with family members, except the closest ones. Let us say it clearly: there is a good reason given the fact that the pandemic is now out of control. The day before I wrote these lines we had more than 40,000 people who were infected. Certainly these kinds of numbers make the government plan carefully in the direction we have to go.

And of course people in the Church ponder over this situation too. In northern Italy a bishop had suspended the celebration of Masses for two weeks. Not everyone agreed on this. In an article in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, journalist Anna Bono said: “There are places in the world where the faithful accept the deadly challenge of jihad every Sunday to participate in Mass, where, in order not to miss Mass, priests and faithful organize themselves outdoors waiting to rebuild their church that someone had reduced to rubble, where people pray at home, discreetly, and even this is not enough to appease hostile neighbors. Troubled, but not crushed (the title of the 2012 book in which the journalist Rodolfo Casadei collected stories of persecution, faith and Christian hope) in those places, from Pakistan to Vietnam, from Nigeria to Indonesia, millions of faithful known to be persecuted because they are Christians and because they live as Christians in the fullest sense of the term and this makes them courageous, capable of building and rebuilding, active factors of peace and coexistence in spite of everything, witnesses of the Gospel, strong enough not to give up, not to despair, even to live with serenity and joy in spite of everything and to show charity towards their persecutors.”

Yes, this issue is difficult, because from one side there is the necessity of protecting people from a virus, on the other hand there is the necessity to prevent people from thinking that Mass is not something essential for Christian life. (Image: The Flight into Egypt by Giotto di Bondone 1304–1306, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)