"[T]he joy of Christmas, the joy of life, does not come from material things, but from simplicity and the gift of ourselves to others." A PIME priest who experienced his mission between Italy, Hong Kong, and China gives his thoughts and memories. The laity who consecrate their lives to evangelisation following the example of Felice Tantardini.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Fr Mario Marazzi, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), was born in Varenna (Italy) in 1928. Ordained priest in 1960, he spent the first 20 years of his mission in Hong Kong.
Between 1980 and 2000, he was back in Italy where he managed the Museo Popoli e Culture (Peoples and Cultures Museum), worked for the PIME missionary centre in Milan and for AsiaNews. He returned to Hong Kong in 2000 to serve in the parish of St Francis in Ma On Shan, three years later he moved to China.
In Guangzhou, Guangdong, he spent a few years in a family home for people with mental disabilities, run by the Chinese non-governmental organisation Huiling. What follows is his Christmas letter.
Several years ago, I attended a refresher meeting for priests in Hong Kong. The speaker was Fr Bernard Häring, a German theologian who is especially responsible for Catholic morality with a human and joyful face: from a morality of the law to the morality of love, from "You must!" to "You can", from the fear of sin and hell to the joy of the freedom of the children of God, called to be fulfilled in love.
After writing books and giving lectures around the world, Fr Häring retired to the quiet of a monastery in Bavaria in the last years of his life. He passed his time between prayer, study and meditation. To a friend who came to see him he said these words: "I pray because I live, I live because I pray. That is, prayer is a response to the Father who gave me life and who also gives me the strength to live, that is, to accept the sufferings that I do not lack."
I sometimes think of these words "I pray because I live, I live because I pray". I continue to live in the PIME Missionaries' home in Hong Kong, but without any particular work commitments. I have more time to read, reflect and pray. I pray to thank God for the gifts I received. I pray to recommend to Him the people I love. I pray for the still suffering Church in China. Praying also helps me find serenity despite the infirmities of age, and understand that all is grace, that "all things work for good for those who love God" (Paul to the Christians of Rome, Romans 8:28).
A few weeks ago, we had special guests from Italy at the home – Edoardo and Silvia, a young couple of newly-wed who, with the little Giona – who were getting ready to go to China as volunteers to help disabled people in Huiling.
Looking at this couple that was offering themselves to serve the mission and at the young confreres who come to us from time to time, I thank the Lord for the new forces that are replacing us older missionaries, for whom the time has come to step aside and pass the baton.
We at PIME are now engaged in the Year of Lay Missionaries, which will end in September 2018. The presence in PIME of lay people who consecrate their whole life to the evangelising mission is a splendid reality that dates back to the beginning of the Institute, in the mid-19th century.
One of the most important lay figures is Felice Tantardini. Originally from Introbio in Valsassina (Italy), he spent almost seventy years in Burma (now called Myanmar), where he died in 1991. Following a request from his bishop, Mgr Alfredo Lanfranconi, of Mandello, Felice wrote his memoirs, the tale of his adventurous life, and is now known and venerated as ‘God’s blacksmith’ . He was a splendid example!
This coming Christmas reminds me of the "mechanical crib" that was set up every year in a room near the church of San Lorenzo in Mandello. The statues moved: some washed clothes, others cooked the chestnuts, etc. and many passed in single file in front of the hut to pay homage to the little Jesus. This memory from my childhood encourages me to offer you a Christmas story , where the figurines of the crèche are also moving . . .
"Dear little angels,” said Baby Jesus, “no offense, go and sing a little further away. Let no one know what's going on here!" Obediently as always, the little angels, without understanding this strange request, flew further away. Then, Baby Jesus called the Wise Men on the phone and asked them to let things go, not to bother, that the desert war dangerous, that there are terrorists, etc. As for the shepherds and sheep, it was easier. "Run from the wolf!" Naturally the shepherds ran like the wind with the sheep . . . at their heels!
At that point the surroundings of the hut were deserted and quiet. And it was indeed a holy and silent night, as the famous song says. With the gathering broken up, everyone had left; only the little man of the polenta stayed behind. Poor fellow! He had hoped until the end that he could rake in the money that evening. With all those people who had come! Disappointed and a little dumbfounded, he approached the babe and asked him: "How could you do this? Why did you chase everyone away?"
"See friend,” answered Baby Jesus, “I did not want everyone to get into the chaotic and crazy pre-Christmas rush, poisoning even more the air of the city. They would have been overwhelmed by the anguishing buying spree, becoming more restless and bad . . . I did not want that old man dressed in red snatch away my birthday party . . .".
"Right!" said the little man of the polenta, who then cut it into slices. He gave one to the Babe, one to Mary, one to Joseph, one to the donkey and one to the ox. He cut one for himself and all together they had a simple but nice dinner. This is what we could do at Christmas instead of gorging ourselves like pigs. Nobody can stop us from doing this!
May this Christmas story remind us that the joy of Christmas, the joy of life, does not come from material things, but from simplicity and the gift of ourselves to others. I wish you a Christmas in which you can experience such spirit ...
 Felice Tantardini, Il fabbro di Dio – Con rosario e martello missionario in Birmania. Autobiografia, lettere e testimonianze (God’s blacksmith – With rosary and missionary hammer in Burma. Autobiography, letters and stories) Emi Editore, 2016.
 The Christmas story was taken from the magazine Città Nuova, December 2016.