Mary models evangelization for all

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
As this Christmas season unfolds with the proclamation of the Incarnation we can savor once again the joy of our salvation. It is the way of the disciple, faithfully following the Way, The Truth, and the Life, Jesus Christ, the Lord. The Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of the Lord, the praise of the Heavenly Host, the visit of the Shepherds, the Star that guided the Magi, all are moments of grace that direct us to God’s glory. As we gaze heavenward during these majestic days, we are at the same time planted on the earth where we incarnate the joy of the gospel into the flesh and blood of our lives.  Let us look to the Blessed Mother, the Lord’s first disciple who models for us the way of a disciple.
Her encounter with the Angel Gabriel reveals a mind and heart open to God that set her on course as the first evangelist, the one who joyfully carried the Savior in her heart and in her body. From three minutes to three days after the encounter with the Archangel Gabriel she was likely to be fixed in place taking this great mystery to heart.  From three days to three month, she was experiencing the growth of the new life within, and making plans with Joseph to build their lives together.  Three months later she was bounding along in the mountains of Judea en route to assist her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was further along in her pregnancy with John the Baptist.
With the scene of this Visitation before him, Pope Francis lovingly calls Mary our Lady of Promptness.  She is a woman at peace with the Lord’s call in her life, and inspired to serve.  Her radiance was so palpable that the baby John leapt for joy in his mother’s womb.  We can sense the heart of evangelization in this encounter with Mary and Elizabeth.  She embodied a joyful promptness to serve, because she carried the Lord within her, the one who came not to be served, but to serve.  Elizabeth and her unborn son could easily sense this and rejoiced in the presence of the Lord.  Joy is contagious.  Mary in turn rejoices:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
What a gift for all of us to cherish as the Lord’s disciples. Peace and joy are fruits, or living signs, of the Holy Spirit alive in us through faith. Consider the profound joy of Mary as she held the child Jesus in her arms during and after the visit of the Shepherds who saw the glory of God on the face of the child in the stable.  The evangelist Luke tells us that once the Shepherds encountered the Lord they too became evangelists.  Meanwhile, “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Not all of our days and experience leave us feeling happy, but the joy of the gospel runs much deeper than happiness. It’s the abiding sense of God’s presence even when the clouds of darkness and doubt, sadness and suffering envelop us.  In these times we need to recall that Emanuel, God with us, is the Lord who is always near, assuring us of God’s loving presence.  Even when the clouds of death had darkened Jesus last night on earth, he could still pray that His joy may be in his disciples so that their joy may be complete.
We can never minimize the horror of the Lord’s suffering and death through crucifixion, because it devastated his disciples. The Blessed Mother who had cuddled the infant Jesus in her arms, now held the broken body of her Son at the foot of the Cross. In this same sense we can never minimize the power of sin and shame to ravage the life of God within us. However, we can never underestimate the power of the resurrection through which the risen Lord healed and empowered his disciples for the mission to evangelize the nations. When they were huddled in fear and shame behind locked doors he came into their midst to grant them forgiveness and peace.  His suffering and theirs, those bloody wounds of body and soul became the source of new life.
“The disciples rejoiced when the scales fell from their hearts in receiving the Lord’s peace, and their mission began when he breathed into them the life of the Holy Spirit saying that “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  This was the Pentecost moment in John’s gospel.
The final biblical image that I want to recall is the day of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles. Here we have Mary again, but this time not in solitary prayer receiving the Angel’s greeting, or cuddling her newborn child in a stable, nor holding a broken, lifeless body, but with a community of faith waiting in joyful hope for the power that would come from on high. This was the second birth for her, for the Church, and for us, when the Holy Spirit empowers us to know the unfathomable riches of God’s love. They were not disappointed, and when the driving wind of the Spirit and the burning flames of God’s love embraced them.  Nor are we disappointed as we take up the torch of evangelization in our generation.
The words of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta take up the mandate of Jesus, “you are the light of the world; a city on a hill cannot be hid.” “You cannot hide your Christian character. Love cannot be hidden anymore than the sun in the sky.  When you exercise yourself in a labor of love, in any kind of good work, you are observed.  We may as well try to hide a city as to hide a Christian. Every Christian should be in open view according to God’ purpose to give light in the house.”
Throughout the Christmas season Mary teaches us that the work of evangelization can be a steady state in our lives. Each time we gather to celebrate the sacred mysteries, we bask in the glory of God, the power from on high, and we pray that we, like Mary, can be prompt to proclaim the greatness of the Lord, and prompt to live, love, and serve as disciples on the path of salvation.  Merry Christmas!

Catholic Day plans set

JACKSON – Catholic legislators will be honored at a luncheon next year as part of Catholic Day at the Capitol, Wednesday, Feb. 4, in Jackson. Organizers have re-vamped the event this year, focusing on interacting with Catholic legislators and educating people about advocacy in their home districts.122614dayatcapital
“We felt like it would be a good time to meet with our Catholic representatives and thank them for their service,” said Charlotte Koestler, head of Parish Social Ministry for Catholic Charities. She is the event organizer. “We want to give our faithful across the diocese some tools they can use to advocate for social justice, reform and other civic issues,” she said.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz will offer the opening prayer in the Legislature the morning of Catholic Day at the Capitol. The first group event of the day will be Mass in the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle at 12:05 p.m. followed by lunch. Bishops from both the Diocese of Jackson and the Diocese of Biloxi are expected to speak. Organizers will need a head-count to plan for lunch so registration is requested. Look for more details and registration instructions in the next issue of Mississippi Catholic.

2015 Publication Schedule

The staff at Mississippi Catholic is looking forward to a busy and productive 2015. As always, we invite participation from faithful from across the diocese. Please submit your stories, photos and events so we can include them in the paper.
Look for special sections this year marking Catholic Schools Week, the Year for the Consecrated Life, the 25th Anniversary of the death of Sister Thea Bowman, the World Meeting of Families and more.
Send submissions to Send information three to four weeks before or within one week after an event. Ads are due one week prior to publication. Visit the paper online at
The staff here at Mississippi Catholic would like to thank you, our readers, for your prayer and support and wish you a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.
The publication schedule for 2015 follows.

Friday, Jan. 9
Friday, Jan. 23
Friday, Feb. 6
Friday, Feb 20
Friday, March 6
Friday, March 20
Friday, April 3
Friday, April 17
Friday, May 1
Friday, May 15
Friday, May 29
Friday, June 12
Friday, June 26
Friday, July 10
Friday, July 24
Friday, Aug. 7
Friday, Aug 21
Friday, Sept. 4
Friday, Sept 18
Friday, Oct. 2
Friday, Oct. 16
Friday, Oct 30
Friday, Nov. 13
Friday, Nov 27
Friday, Dec. 11
Friday, Dec. 25



Boy Scout Receives Ad Altare Dei emblem


STARKVILLE- On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 27, Brett B., a Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 45 in Starkville and a member of St. Joseph Parish, received the Ad Altare Dei emblem. Farther Lenin Vargas presented it during Thanksgiving Day Mass
Ad Altatre Dei is one of the highest honors a Boy Scout can receive. It means “to the altar of God.” The purpose of the program is to help Catholic scouts develop a fully Christian way of life in a faith community. The program is organized in chapters based on the seven sacraments.
The presentation of The Ad Altare Dei emblem marked the end of a spiritual journey that took Brett across two dioceses (Jackson and Nashville). It included a service project for wounded warriors, attending a priest ordination and serving at a wedding at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville, Tennessee. While visiting, Brett became friends with Bishop David  Choby,  Bishop of Nashville and also with Andrew Bulso, a seminarian studying in Rome.
“It was an amazing thing that I was able to make the friendships that I did with these men of my faith and have been able to remain in close contact with them. ” says Brett.
Bailey also had to attend a weekend retreat for the program. He attended the Dwelling Place and spent time with founder and director, Clare Van Lent. He attended a Mass at Corpus Christi in Macon where he used a shield and staff that he made, blessed by Father Mario Solórzano, in the procession.
Brett was guided through the program by his counselor, Dr. Randolph Follett, a fellow parishioner at St. Joseph.
After the Thanksgiving Day Mass Brett and his family prepared and served gumbo to fellow parishioners in the fellowship hall before they went off to enjoy Thanksgiving Day with their families.
(Story and photos submitted by Rosalind B..)
(For more information on the Ad Altare Dei Emblem and how a Boy Scout can begin the program, please contact your local Boy Scout Council office or the Diocese office.)

María es modelo de evangelización para todos

Por Obispo Joseph Kopacz
A medida que esta temporada de Navidad se desarrolla con el anuncio de la Encarnación, podemos saborear una vez más la alegría de nuestra salvación. Es el camino del discípulo, siguiendo fielmente el camino, la verdad y la vida, Jesucristo, el Señor. La Anunciación, la Visitación, el nacimiento del Señor, la alabanza de la Hueste celestial, la visita de los pastores, la estrella que guió a los magos, todos son momentos de gracia que nos dirigen a la gloria de Dios.
Cuando echamos una mirada al cielo durante estos majestuosos días, al mismo tiempo estamos plantados en la tierra, donde encarnamos la alegría del evangelio en la carne y la sangre de nuestras vidas. Miremos a la Virgen Madre, la primera discípula del Señor que modela para nosotros el camino de un discípulo.
Su encuentro con el ángel Gabriel revela una mente y corazón abierto a Dios, que la afirma como la primera evangelista, quien con alegría lleva al Salvador en su corazón y en su cuerpo. De tres minutos a tres días después del encuentro con el Arcángel Gabriel es probable que tuviera fijada su atención y su corazón en este gran misterio.
De tres días a tres meses, estaba experimentando el crecimiento de la nueva vida dentro de ella, y haciendo planes con José para vivir su vida juntos. Tres meses más tarde, estaba de camino a lo largo de las montañas de Judea en ruta para ayudar a su anciana prima Isabel que estaba más avanzada de su embarazo con Juan el Bautista.
Con la escena de la Visitación ante él, el Papa Francisco amorosamente llama a María nuestra Señora de la Prontitud. Ella es una mujer que está en paz con la llamada del Señor en su vida e inspirada a servir. Su resplandor era tan palpable que el bebé Juan salta de alegría en el vientre de su madre. Podemos sentir el corazón de la evangelización en este encuentro de María e Isabel. Encarnaba una alegre prontitud a servir ya que llevaba al Señor dentro de ella, el que vino a no ser servido sino a servir. Isabel y su hijo podían fácilmente sentir esto y regocijarse en la presencia del Señor. La alegría es contagiosa. María a su vez se alegra: “Mi alma proclama la grandeza del Señor, mi espíritu se alegra en Dios, mi Salvador”.
Qué regalo tan valioso para todos nosotros estimar como discípulos del Señor. La paz y la alegría son frutos o signos vivos del Espíritu Santo vivo en nosotros a través de la fe. Consideren la profunda alegría de María cuando sostenía al niño Jesús en sus brazos durante y después de la visita de los pastores que vieron la gloria de Dios en el rostro del niño en el establo. El evangelista San Lucas nos dice que una vez que los pastores vieron al Señor, ellos también se convirtieron en evangelistas. Mientras tanto, “María apreciaba todas estas cosas y las meditaba en su corazón.”
No todos nuestros días y la experiencia nos deja contentos, pero la alegría del evangelio se extiende mucho más allá de la felicidad. Es la constante sensación de la presencia de Dios aún cuando las nubes de la oscuridad y la duda, y la tristeza y el sufrimiento nos envuelve. En estos tiempos tenemos que recordar que Emanuel, Dios con nosotros, es el Señor que siempre está cerca, asegurándonos de la presencia amorosa de Dios. Incluso cuando las nubes de la muerte habían oscurecido la última noche de Jesús en la tierra, él todavía podía rezar para que su gozo estuviera en sus discípulos para que el gozo de ellos fuera completo.
Nosotros nunca podemos minimizar el horror de los sufrimientos del Señor y su muerte por crucifixión, ya que devastó a sus discípulos. La Virgen que había  abrazado al niño Jesús en sus brazos, ahora sostenía el cuerpo quebrantado de su hijo a los pies de la cruz. En este mismo sentido, nunca podemos minimizar el poder del pecado y la vergüenza para que arruine la vida de Dios dentro de nosotros. Sin embargo, no podemos subestimar el poder de la resurrección a través de la cual el Señor sanó y facultó a sus discípulos para la misión de evangelizar a las naciones.
Cuando estaban apiñados en el miedo y la vergüenza a puertas cerradas él se les presentó para concederles el perdón y la paz. Su sufrimiento y el de ellos, esas heridas sangrientas de cuerpo y alma se convirtieron en la fuente de la nueva vida. “Los discípulos se alegraron cuando las dudas se disiparon de sus corazones al recibir la paz del Señor y  su misión comenzó cuando sopló en ellos la vida del Espíritu Santo diciendo que “como el Padre me ha enviado, también yo os envío”. Este fue el momento de Pentecostés en el evangelio de Juan.
La última imagen bíblica que quiero recordar es la del día de Pentecostés en el libro de los Hechos de los Apóstoles. Aquí tenemos otra vez a María, pero esta vez no orando en silencio recibiendo el saludo del ángel, o acariciando a su hijo recién nacido en un establo, ni sosteniendo un quebrantado cuerpo sin vida, pero con una comunidad de fe esperando en gozosa esperanza por el poder que vendrá de lo alto. Este fue el segundo nacimiento para ella, para la iglesia, y para nosotros, cuando el Espíritu Santo nos capacita para conocer las insondables riquezas del amor de Dios. Ellos no estaban decepcionados cuando el viento impetuoso del espíritu y las llamas del amor de Dios los abrazó. Ni nosotros nos sentimos decepcionados al tomar la antorcha de evangelización en nuestra generación.
Las palabras de la Beata Teresa de Calcuta toman el mandato de Jesús: “Ustedes son la luz del mundo; una ciudad en lo alto de una colina no se puede ocultar. Ustedes no pueden ocultar su carácter cristiano. El amor no se puede ocultar más que el sol en el cielo. Cuando ustedes hacen obras de amor, cualquier tipo de buen trabajo, ustedes son observados. Es como tratar de ocultar una ciudad como para ocultar a un Cristiano. Todo cristiano debe estar abierto a ser visto de acuerdo al propósito de Dios para dar luz en la casa”.
Durante la temporada de Navidad María nos enseña que la obra de la evangelización puede ser un estado estable en nuestras vidas. Cada vez que nos reunimos para celebrar los sagrados misterios,  nos saboreamos en la gloria de Dios, en el poder de lo alto, y oramos para que nosotros, como María, podamos estar dispuestos a   proclamar la grandeza del Señor, y dispuestos a vivir, a amar y a servir como discípulos en el camino de la salvación. ¡Feliz Navidad!

Knights deliver coats for children in shelters

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – Four Mississippi Knights of Columbus councils participated in the National Coats for Kids program this year, donating more than 70 coats to Catholic Charities’ shelters for battered women. Members of the councils from Flowood, Gluckstadt, Madison and Pearl delivered six cases of coats to Arteria Puckett, the shelter director, at Catholic Charities’ downtown Jackson headquarters on Friday, Dec. 12.
Philip Jabor, Chris Sigler, Tunney Vandevender and Tony Kumor brought some samples up to the office and then helped Puckett load the cases into her vehicle so she could deliver the coats to children in both the Jackson and Natchez shelters, which are usually full at this time of year. “This is perfect. We had a little boy in the Jackson shelter last night ask for a coat, so this couldn’t come at a better time,” said Puckett.

Tony Kumor hands a donated coat to Arteria Puckett, director of the Catholic Charities Battered Womens’ Shelter.

Tony Kumor hands a donated coat to Arteria Puckett, director of the Catholic Charities Battered Womens’ Shelter.

The Knights of Columbus work with a manufacturer on a national level to make the coats available at discount rates. Each case of 12 fleece-lined, puffer coats in blue and pink costs $220 and contains a variety of sizes. Last year was a record-breaking year for the program nationally.
“We usually try to find out how many coats Catholic Charities needs and then ask each council who is willing to sponsor as many cases as they can,” said Jabor, the state treasurer who has organized the drive for the past few years.
“We really appreciate these coats. Even if we don’t give them all out right now, we now have enough to last most of the winter season and that’s a good feeling,” said Puckett.

‘Las Posadas’ tradition gains popularity in Mississippi

By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – The Posadas is a very old Catholic tradition that, according to historians, started in Spain and was brought to America when the Spaniards first came to the new continent. By the sixteenth century the missionaries had started celebrating this ritual in México with the intention of catechizing the native Aztecs by representing the story of the birth of our Lord.
The Spanish word “posada” means shelter. Jesuit Father Eduardo Pinzón Umaña recounts in his book, “In the Name of God we Seek Shelter,” that in the month of

JACKSON – Dilan Sánchez and Jordaine Piernas played the part of Joseph and Mary during the representation of las Posadas last year at the Christmas Eve children’s Mass at St. Therese Parish. (File photo by Elsa Baughman)

JACKSON – Dilan Sánchez and Jordaine Piernas played the part of Joseph and Mary during the representation of las Posadas last year at the Christmas Eve children’s Mass at St. Therese Parish. (File photo by Elsa Baughman)

December, during the nine days of the bloody feasts of the Aztecs, the Spanish missionaries introduced the novena of Christmas they called Posadas. Throughout the years this tradition became “ … nine nights in which the community of faith walked in procession from house to house in the neighborhood asking for posada for the child who was to be born.”
According to Father Pinzón Umaña, with time the participation of the indigenous people in this representation began to grow and little by little they were willing to approach Christianity.
Presently, the celebration of las Posadas begins on Dec. 16 and continues through Christmas Eve. The tradition recounts the story of Joseph and Mary searching for shelter. The group of participants outside sing the part of Joseph, “In God’s name, we seek shelter” explaining their situation and asking for a place to stay. The people inside sing back saying they have no room. They continue the journey going to other doors until one of the homes invites them inside.
Usually the Posadas are held at different homes in which adults, youth and children take part in the celebration. Families prepare their home to receive the guests who will participate in the reenactment of the story. The participants gather in two groups, one travels with the Holy Couple as they go door to door outside of the house seeking hospitality while the other group remains inside the home.
The way it’s celebrated in the United States varies from city to city and in some parishes is usually held only one night as a way to gather the community to experience the joy in giving hospitality, to better understand what Joseph and Mary went through, and to give people an awareness of the gifts Hispanics bring with them as well as the difficult trials they face when they migrate to other lands.
The celebration might include readings, reflections, prayers and songs and usually ends with a piñata for the children who also receive a small bag with cookies, candy or fruits.
In the Diocese of Jackson this celebration has grown in popularity in parishes which have Hispanic parishioners. In Jackson, the Hispanic communities of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle has been holding Posadas for several years and lately other parishes have celebrated it including Batesville St. Mary, Booneville St. Francis, Corinth St. James, Jackson St. Therese, and Southaven Christ the King.
Another Hispanic Christmas tradition is the Novena of Aguinaldos which is considered an equivalent to the Posadas.
The celebration, also known as the novena, is a set of prayers recited during the nine days before Christmas to honor the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the Wise Men, and baby Jesus. This is a custom of Catholics in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador where families and friends gather to pray, eat, and sing villancicos together.
The prayers may be recited individually or together as a group. Often a book with all the novena prayers is passed around and read. There are prayers for specific nights as well as a set of prayers that are read each night.
Just as the pilgrims went to a different place each night seeking shelter, a different member of the group may host the novena each night.

Vatican plays key role in new relations with Cuba

By Patricia Zapor
WASHINGTON (CNS) – A not-insignificant part of the diplomatic coup pulled off by the White House and Cuban leaders Dec. 17 was that hardly anyone knew they had been working toward a reset in relations between the two neighbors and longtime antagonists.
That the two nations had been negotiating in secret for 18 months and that the Vatican had played a key role in keeping the discussions moving were among the factors that no doubt made the dramatic shift in policies possible. By keeping negotiations among a small number of diplomats and out of the public eye, outside pressures were kept to a minimum.
In simultaneous news conferences that day, U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington and Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana announced that their countries were re-establishing official diplomatic relations. Obama detailed a lengthy list of things that will become easier – sales of materials to Cuba’s small-business owners, for Internet technology and for housing construction; visits to Cuba by more Americans; banking and use of credit cards by Americans visiting Cuba; remittances of greater amounts of cash – to name some of the major changes.
That’s not to say the 54-year U.S. embargo has gone away altogether. Congress still holds the reins to portions of the laws prohibiting trade with Cuba, intended as a sanction for repression and human rights abuses after the Marxist revolution that put Fidel Castro in power in 1959. He or his brother, Raul, who took over from the ailing Fidel in 2006, have ruled the country ever since.
U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower first imposed an embargo on Cuba in October 1960. President John F. Kennedy expanded the embargo, and every president since has maintained it until Obama. He is the first to significantly loosen the controls, in 2009 easing restrictions on travel for family and cultural visits and allowing Americans to send more money to their relatives there.
Critics of the shift in policy, most conspicuously a handful of Cuban-American members of Congress, say they will attempt to block the changes. Among the steps they suggested are opposing the nomination of an ambassador and restricting funds needed to reopen an embassy in Havana.
But Congress also holds the power to retain or end the key parts of the embargo, which were put in place by federal law. The law established the main prohibitions on commerce with Cuba and the ban on travel except as permitted for family, cultural, educational, religious and humanitarian purposes.
The most recent national polling on the embargo done by the Pew Research Center in 2009 found a bare majority, 52 percent, of respondents said the U.S. should renew ties with Cuba. But only 33 percent opposed renewing ties. That poll came not long before the Cuban government began a series of changes, including allowing individuals to buy and sell property and to open businesses. More recently, Cuba began allowing its citizens to travel freely, without government authorization.
Annual polling of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County by Florida International University has found steadily increasing support for ending the embargo, reinstating diplomatic ties and permitting U.S. citizens to freely travel to Cuba. This year, 68 percent favored reinstating diplomatic relations, with younger Cuban-Americans and recent arrivals backing the changes by even greater numbers, as much as 90 percent and 80 percent, respectively.
Tom Quigley, former foreign policy adviser on Latin America and the Caribbean to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service that it’s true what one of the chief critics, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, says about the need for more progress in changing the political systems in Cuba that prompted the call for an embargo in the first place.
“But it’s not going to get any better by leaving the status quo in place,” he added.
The Catholic Church in both countries has long worked to end the embargo. Yet Stephen Colecchi, director of the USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace, said he was unaware of the talks between Cuban and U.S. diplomats until the day of the announcement.
Boston daily and Catholic newspapers reported that Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, one of Pope Francis’ key advisers, played a behind-the-scenes role, helping relay messages between a Boston nonprofit group, Beyond Conflict, that encouraged Pope Francis to intervene with Obama to press for an end to the embargo. When Obama and Pope Francis met in March, Cuba was reportedly one of their main topics of conversation.
For years, the Cuban bishops have worked steadfastly to diminish the emotional distance between Cubans and their Cuban-American relatives. Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez of Santiago de Cuba, president of the Cuban bishops’ conference, used the 2012 observance of the 400th anniversary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, to encourage Cubans worldwide to unite across borders.
He became a regular visitor to the U.S., especially to Cuban emigre communities in Florida and New York.
By the time Pope Benedict visited Havana, Santiago and the shrine of El Cobre in 2012, thousands of Americans went to join him. From Miami alone, nearly 1,000 people went on flights chartered by the archdiocese.
Under Obama’s 2009 orders allowing more “people to people” travel to Cuba, the idea was for interactions between everyday citizens of both countries to help pressure Cuba’s leaders to bring about more improvements.
Archbishop Garcia’s goal was framed in more theological terms, but he was clear about what he hoped would happen if people would come together in a spirit of pilgrimage.
“La Caridad nos une,” (the Virgin of Charity unites us), Archbishop Garcia said repeatedly on visits to the U.S. preceding the anniversary. “Whether inside Cuba or outside Cuba, there is a sense that we are all one church.”
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)

Christmas Market visit: highlight of Vienna


VIENNA (CNS) – Tucked behind the Austrian capital’s well known Museumsquartier – a complex of art, natural history and cultural museums – is a little side street Christmas market called Spittelberg.
No more than a medieval alleyway, gray cobblestones and slightly wobbly Tudor-like white and dark timber buildings, Spittelberg is a place where old Vienna comes to life.
In the mellow splendor of muted Christmas glitter, with candlelight lamps in tones of red and wooden market stalls, the Spittelberg Christmas market is about vegetarian cheeses, wild boar sausages, sweet nuts and holiday biscuits. Add a variety of mulled wines and “Weihnachtspunsch” (Christmas punch), there’s enough to tempt any palate.
Here the spirit of Christmas comes to life. Less commercial than other markets across the city, Spittelberg’s quirkiness shines through in the homemade exquisite tree ornaments and in the friendly sense of community brought by three generations of vendors.
“My grandmother started selling waffles here and I used to come and help her,” says Anna Pichler, spooning a generous portion of plum jam onto a waffle made of organically grown spelt flour. “Then my mother came and now I’m here. We just like to keep this tradition going. Advent is a special time for us in Austria.”
Farther down the narrow street, the resident St. Nicholas wanders among the stalls, wooden staff in hand, bringing good cheer.
Invited to a decorated cup of mulled wine to keep away the chill, St. Nicholas hesitates.
“It’s too early in the evening,” he says.
Wandering from Spittelberg toward the old central market, Naschmarkt, shoppers emerge onto Maria Hilfe Strasse (Our Lady of Mercy Street) – and more Christmas market food, drink and craft stalls. One offers sheep slippers from Transylvania for sale, reminding visitors of Old Testament accounts of winter in Bethlehem.
“The most beautiful thing about the Vienna markets is that they are sort of nestled in between these elegant buildings,” says Susie Kelpie, who is from the United Kingdom.
Kelpie is one of 3 million annual visitors who attend Vienna’s at least two dozen Christmas markets, which traditionally open the Saturday before Advent.
Despite the number of visitors – albeit commercially important to the mainly rural Austrian economy of craftspeople – there is a certain magical quality about Christmas in this largely Catholic European capital.
Walking through the elegant sunken streets of the town’s center, known as the Graben, women in fur coats and men in old-fashioned hats and green loden capes mingle under pure white Christmas lights that represent the brightest stars on a winter’s night.
Appropriately, the most elaborate Christmas decorations are hung near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. They appear to align with the power of that emanates from the 12th-century church, the heart of the Archdiocese of Vienna.
Nearby, at yet another market, Am Hof, a group of young men warm the night with their baritone voices after a couple of glasses of hot wine or punch.
“My grandfather used to sing here during Advent,” said Constantin Spallart, one of the singers.
Moving outside the center city, Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt (Christ Child Market) on Parliament Square attracts busloads of tourists from Eastern Europe. But even there Vienna declines to take part in a commercialized idea of Christmas. A life-size Christmas manger, complete with Christ child and blonde-haired Mary, occupy a prominent part of the market.
(Copyright © 2014 Catholic News Service/United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news services may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to, such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method in whole or in part, without prior written authority of Catholic News Service.)