Fr. Varghese wrote a thank you to friends, listing all the events that had unfolded leading up to and through Christmas: "Carol singing, Confessions, breaking the Word of God, prayer services, poor feeding, distributing blankets to the widows and poor, and orphans. Extending help towards nearby missionaries, giving clothes to the lepers, conducting devotional programs for small kids in our parish. Going 31st night to the railway station, bus depot, streets and giving gifts to the beggars and homeless, telling that 'Jesus loves you.'"
Nearly 1,000 people came to Sacred Heart Mission's outdoor Christmas vigil Mass. A tent was erected on the compound, the hall was newly scrubbed and painted, and Father Varghese and some mission boys had built what the priest called a "meaningful crib" -- a sizeable nativity scene.
His days were "very busy" leading up to Christmas, with "Confessions, Mass, meetings, discussions on Christmas, etc," wrote Fr. Varghese.
At the beginning of Advent, he housed a Bible in a small creche, representing the "Word made Flesh," and invited his people to light candles, pray and choose one special intention to pray for throughout the season.
Planning for Christmas was made difficult by a shortage of funds, but "in spite of all our struggles," wrote the priest, "God is great, protecting our cause and helping the situation...Child Jesus will show us the way at even the last moment."
On December 15th, the pastor scrubbed the floor of his hall with an older lady who came to help (the mission lacks a church, so uses a multi-purpose hall).
That night, Fr. Varghese set off with faithful for the first night of a nine-night novena of Christmas carol singing. Costumed Santa Clause danced and sang with the children. A parishioner played the tabla drums as faithful added "Jingle Bells" to their religious carols. Families received a little calendar, a blessing and prayers from Fr. Varghese, and a printed message telling of the love of "Child Jesus."
Akhila is shown here at the Mission, helping to arrange the calendars. It was "nice" how the children and other faithful chipped in to help with preparations, wrote Fr. Varghese.
On December 22, he texted a friend in the U.S.: " Hurray, our blankets are at hand!"
Friends in the U.S. had provided funds so Fr. Varghese and two fellow priests in East Godavari Deanery could distribute 100 blankets to the needy at a feeding for the poor, scheduled for January.
Old friends arrived to visit from Fr. Varghese's former mission in Yelleswaram, and the pastor took extra effort to make guests welcome, carve out his personal prayer time and maintain his regular round of pastor's duties, while "arranging the things in order."
Caring for Fifi, the mission puppy, added to the excitement, as did the arrival of a neighbor's calf just days before Christmas.
At the last moment, needed funds arrived from mission friends to help provide new outfits for nine school-children Fr. Varghese had saved from child labor situations.
In the hours leading up to the December 24th Vigil Mass, an outdoor altar was erected and a garland of balloons strung. Rented chairs filled the compound and the choir gathered. A banner declaring "He is our Liberator," next to the Divine Mercy image of Jesus, could be seen from the last row.
Fr. Varghese blessed the infant Jesus in the nearby manger, and strung a garland of flowers around his crib, then proceeded to celebrate the long-awaited Mass.
"It was beautiful," he wrote. "Everything went on well."
Just days prior, he had written a letter praising "Jesus, the only true God Who lives in the "Word of God, miracles and the poor."
With such enthusiasm and reverence, Jesus' birth is truly celebrated in our missions.