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Christmas Appeal 2013

From Fr. Mark R. Francis, CSV

Dear Friends, 

It was my first year in Bogotá, Colombia, and Christmas was approaching. But it certainly did not feel like Christmas to me. In December, the weather in Bogotá is rainy with temperatures hovering around 55°F during the day. There was not a hint of snow, and even the tops of the nearby mountains were a verdant green. Still, there were many things to do to prepare for the holiday. Since I was just learning Spanish, I had to study the prayers of the liturgy and write out my homily to be corrected by my brother Viatorians whose first language was Spanish.

The chapel where we would celebrate midnight Mass also had to be decorated. A group of wonderful women, who volunteered to do the decorating, asked me what kind of flowers I wanted for the sanctuary. Not being an expert on flowers, I asked them to buy flowers that were usual in Colombia for celebrating Christmas. They said something about getting “azucenas,” but I did not understand at the time, given my limited Spanish botanical vocabulary.

Much to my surprise, when I walked into the chapel on Christmas Eve, the church looked very different from Christmas back in Chicago that usually featured banks of poinsettias. Placed all around the sanctuary were Easter lilies! My first reaction was disappointment. It just should not look that way at Christmas! But at that moment, I realized how much Christmas is tied emotionally to our own familiar customs and traditions. While many of these customs are important, it is always necessary to know and appreciate the real object of our celebration at Christmas in order to put these secondary elements into perspective.

Since that first “Colombian” Christmas, now more than thirty years ago, I have celebrated this wonderful holiday in Europe and Asia as well and again have had similar reactions to unfamiliar Christmas customs and symbols. But I can now say that whether we decorate our churches with Easter lilies (Colombia) or poinsettias (United States), whether we have codfish (Italy) or lutefisk (Norway) for Christmas dinner, whether we reverently place the infant Jesus into the manger at the beginning of Christmas Mass (Mexico) or not, the message of Christmas is still the same. On this day we celebrate the extraordinary love that God has for each one of us in becoming one like us. On this day we celebrate our awe-inspiring belief that the most eloquent and complete way God communicates to us is through God’s Word made flesh — Jesus Christ — a human person. The most important expression of Christmas, then, is not snow, poinsettias, or Christmas trees, but the Christ child born to us who gives life to the world.

At Catholic Theological Union (CTU) we are especially sensitive to the cultural differences that influence our expression of faith. We are also very conscious that we are preparing candidates for priesthood and lay ministries who need to be able to effectively communicate the bedrock upon which our faith is built — Jesus Christ. More than forty percent of our students receive financial aid of some kind. They are men and women who are challenging themselves to learn all that they can in order to express the essentials of our faith while appreciating their diverse cultural expressions. Your generosity makes possible the courses and programs at CTU that train this next generation of ministers.

We count on your generous support this Christmas season and always. May this holiday — whether celebrated with poinsettias or Easter lilies — deepen your love for our God whose compassion and light transcend all that divides the human race.

Merry Christmas!

Fr. Mark R. Francis, CSV

If you would like to make a gift, please access our secure, online giving form. Donations can also be sent to Catholic Theological Union at 5401 South Cornell, Chicago, IL  60615, or by contacting Anne Marie Tirpak, Director of Development, at, 773.371.5417.

All gifts to CTU are important and have a tremendous impact on the academic and spiritual life of the school, regardless of their size.