Autumn has officially arrived here in Pennsylvania. The leaves have started to turn color and are now beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow. The temperatures have started to drop and the days have gotten shorter. I have started to unpack sweaters and jackets, paid a visit to the pumpkin patch, and have been brainstorming Halloween costumes and treats. I have always loved this time of year and all of the fun and spooky festivities that accompany it. This love that I have for the Halloween season is why I was especially excited when I got to visit Africa and experience their traditions and celebrations!
Greetings and welcome back to Holly’s Headlines! I hope that everyone had a well-deserved, fun and relaxing summer. While everyone uses their downtime during the summer season differently, summertime for me is always used to play catch-up with long distance friends. Personally, I enjoy reaching out the “old fashioned way” – by handwriting a letter. While writing these letters this summer to my old friends, I found myself thinking about my African pen pal named Lilian. Throughout my years working in Africa I have met hundreds of children of all ages and backgrounds. I’ve encountered children who were healthy, children who were sickly and starving, children with families, and children who were orphaned. My encounters with all of these children brought me equal amounts of joy. However, there was one little girl in particular that really stuck out in the crowd.
As a Catholic of only 23 years, I have participated in many different groups and organizations to try and find my niche in the Church. One of my favorite Catholic organizations that I have been a member of is the Serra Club. The Serra Club and its members are devoted to promoting vocations to the priesthood and Religious life.
This past month we marked the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the first of the Pontifical Mission Societies, as well as the beatification of Pauline Jaricot, whose vision led to the founding of that Pope’s mission society.
Each April we celebrate “Earth Day.” Our planet is an amazing place, but it needs our help and TLC to thrive. I do try my best to do my part in cherishing, protecting, and treasuring the beautiful world God has given to us.
It currently seems impossible to turn on the television or radio without hearing something about the war happening in Ukraine. The death and destruction is accompanied by millions of people, fearing for their lives, fleeing as refugees to other countries for safety. Unfortunately, groups just as large are being left behind, cut off from basic utilities and lacking access to water, food, medication, electricity, sanitation, and even shelter. Hospital workers are struggling to give care and are being forced to relocate their patients to bomb shelters or basements. For many of us, the thought of this currently happening is almost impossible to comprehend and accept. Unfortunately, for myself, I have previously come face-to-face with the terrors that surround war.
I love Ash Wednesday: the symbolism of receiving a cross of ashes on my forehead; the start of Lent, 40 days for prayer and sacrifice, demonstrating our gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Every year these reminders help me to not take Jesus’ love for granted and to grow a bit more in my faith.
One of my most cherished memories from my mission trips was working with orphaned children cared for by local Sisters. Many of these efforts in the Missions ~ like the orphanages I spent time in ~ are supported by donations from children here in the United States through the Missionary Childhood Association. The Sisters there provided children with all their basic needs, as well as a place they could call home. Many of these children did not just suffer from being parentless, they often suffered from malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, and infections from contaminated local drinking water.
I’m sure that everyone is quite familiar with the biblical story of the Three Wise Men (Kings or Magi) who visited the baby Jesus. As I reflect upon this story this Christmas, my focus always turns to the star that guided these three men. This star is better known as the “Star of Bethlehem.” When thinking about this story and this star, I always think back to one of my missionary journeys to Africa. This one particular journey led me to Africa on Christmas Eve, and during a lengthy, very spirited Christmas Eve service, one of the Sisters had shared some information with the villagers that were in attendance. Much to my surprise, the information being shared that evening was about me, the visitor in attendance who was from Bethlehem. No, not “the” Bethlehem, better known as the birthplace of Jesus, but the beautiful little city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that was founded on Christmas Eve night, and thus named after the birthplace of our Lord.
At Thanksgiving, most of all, I like to spend time reflecting on my life, and all of the things for which I’m most thankful. I have been so blessed with the gift of bringing goods to countries where people might not find it quite as easy to find reasons to be grateful. To some degree, I understand their struggle which is why I am so passionate about my mission work. Let me explain a little bit about my past, and how one beautiful little African girl's story truly hit home for me.