Christmas in Afghanistan

Colored christmas glass balls isolated on white

Fr. Mark Mastin, SCJ, is a chaplain with the US Army, stationed in Afghanistan. Here, he writes with an update on his ministry, as well as Christmas greetings:

Merry Christmas.  I pray all are well.  For over a month I lead a Christmas planning group of several Coalition Catholic and Protestant chaplains.  My counterparts wanted me to head this planning project of religious services and concert events not because they wanted to avoid the work but because they viewed me as the key NATO leader; English is considered to be the main language we are to speak here and therefore I got the short straw, in a nice way of course.  The experience was very good.  It gave me a small taste of what all of our men experience, particularly our SCJ superiors, when they meet in Rome for general assemblies or other international gatherings.

Fr. Mark Mastin

Fr. Mark Mastin

So, we had several ecumenical events with prayer and music.  The Germans and Norwegians supplied the bands and I provided the manpower, sound,  flyers and programs.  It was good to hear songs from different nations and appreciate the lyrics and melodies.  Many of the American Christmas songs were from the 50s and 60s — Big Band style.  This is the music that I grew up with as a child.  Listening to it made me fell a little less  lonely.  Furthermore, I have been able to see how our American culture, particularly in music, has influenced other countries.   As a side note, the Germans know how to do Christmas well here — they actually bring in real trees and lights and ornaments.

It was interesting to listen to and to participate in the sing-a-longs in another language.  I certainly did my share of butchering the pronunciations of a view Croation and German songs.  One of the songs that got people on their feet was Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.”  Everyone became Hispanic on that song.

We had a true midnight mass.  Again, I felt like I was back in my childhood when my family and I went to mass at this time. The chapel was packed and soldiers and civilians were standing out in the cold.  There were three priests: a German, Croation and me.  I put a book together of the mass prayers in all three languages, as well as assorted songs.  We each preached for 3 minutes even though I joked with my German friend that he spoke for 5 minutes and therefore I should get six.  Overall, the mass went well and people were very grateful for the experience.  I am a litte worn out from all of the events in the past week.  However, my spirits feel uplifted from the experiences.

Well, take care and tell everyone I said hello and Merry Christmas.  Happy New Year too!

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