CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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The Christmas lights of the hill

Hiking uphill through the hot tropical afternoon to the Aeta village of Baliwit, San Marcelino, carrying our loaded backpacks was a challenge in itself. But the happy thought of bringing some Christmas cheer into the lives of the extremely poor indigenous people kept us going.

Our mission was to bring Christmas lights into their lives. For us, we discovered it to be inspiring and encouraging.

The only reward for our days of hiking would be the healthy exercise, fresh mountain air and the aroma of the flowers wafting from the forest vegetation. But at the end of our journey would be the simple mountain food of the native people.

There we looked forward to the Christmas joy and smiles that would light up the people’s faces when we opened our gifts. That would make it all worthwhile. Sharing with others is the joy of living.

These were the feelings and thoughts of the community workers from the PREDA Foundation, who, like the Three Kings of the Magi were bringing gifts, but this time of Christmas lights to the remote mountain village.

It was a mission to light up their lives and enlighten them about the rights and dignity of women and children.

In years past, before electricity, candles and oil lamps helped dispel the dark and lessen the fears and imagined threats that it can bring.

Children are most vulnerable to fear of the dark. They imagine menacing monsters and witches in the dancing shadows on the walls of their rooms or the little house they live in as they lie down to sleep. Life without night light can be scary, dangerous and non-productive.

We take light and electricity for granted in our lives as most people in the modern world have never lived without it. With a majority of people in the world living in cities for the first time in human history, they hardly know what the sky looks like at night.

They cannot see the stars or the moon for the screens of their televisions, smart phones or tablets. Many would be seriously disoriented and perhaps even traumatised if deprived of the electricity to run them.

Many people are alienated from the world around them and think nothing of the environmentally destructive forces that are at work burning the fossil fuels that provide electricity.

Power generation by burning coal and oil darkens the skies, damages our lungs, pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that heats the planet and is contributing to a change in the climate.

Modern people have lost much contact with the natural world. They rarely experience the dusk and the creeping darkness at the end of a working day. Few wake up with the rising sun.

A Christmas star is a comet that no longer heralds the coming of a saviour or captivates the awe in the way it struck people at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Nowadays, modern people land scientific instruments on its surface to determine its composition and ask how comets might have contributed to human life on Earth.

But maybe we should be asking how all the magnificent scientific theories, learning and discoveries are benefiting humankind. Do they end poverty, human hardship and social injustice? They do not.

The meaning of the Christmas story has been lost to the modern craze of self-indulgence, greed and an unreflective life, overwhelmed by commercialisation, triviality and nonsense.

Self-giving to help others is alien and incomprehensible to many these days. Gratifying personal urges, desires and wants is the paramount purpose of living and it is self-destructive. The message of Jesus of Nazareth can change all that if believed and followed.

Those wallowing in poverty and hunger are left to wallow. But the greatest values and unselfish human behaviour so necessary to humankind are in the Christmas story. They are the key to the survival of the species and the planet.

As the Three Kings arrived in the remote Aeta village, they were greeted with delight and smiles. A great welcome came for them from these people of simple rural living.

They have no electricity and live according to the natural cycle, where the rotation of the earth and its journey around the sun determines their lives and that of all living things. But that was about to change.

After a big welcome and a humble healthy meal, it was time for gift giving. The Three Kings opened the backpacks and laid out the 40 lights that are part of a bigger donation of solar lamps from parishioners in Melbourne in Australia.

The people understood immediately what they were and clapped with glee sporting wide beaming smiles.

Each lamp is made as a hard plastic disk in the shape of a thick pancake with a dozen tiny LED bulbs on top. They are powered by rechargeable batteries. The bottom of the Pancake Lamp needs to be exposed to the sun to recharge the batteries.

In The Philippines there is lots of sunshine. The lamps last up to nine hours. Technology has provided a way to add sun to the night.

Now the children can do their homework, adults can carve, do woodwork and basketry. Some who can read will enlighten themselves with the educational comics brought by the Three Kings.

In other less safe villages, where women and children have to go out at night to the communal toilet, the bright lamps will better protect them.

The fear of the dark has been banished.

This simple, but effective and efficient lamp is bringing light to hundreds of people in remote places. But it reminds us that solar and wind power, as well as geothermal electricity generation is the way of the future if we are save our planet from ourselves.

Christmas is about salvation, in this world and the next. It is about human ingenuity and God’s protective arm stretched across our lives.

 

          • Father Shay Cullen 
www.preda.org