In preparing for the birth of Jesus, St Joseph’s Maronite Church are delivering a family-oriented Christmas program, while also teaching young parishioners important lessons on the way.
The Croydon parish held its annual “Christmas in the Park” on Saturday 2 December in Burwood Park, setting up food stalls, rides and Christmas photos with Santa for families and the public to enjoy.
Two weeks earlier, the parish’s family committee, with Maronites on Mission, held for the first time a “Spring sleepout” for children aged 5-12.
The sleepout gave kids a chance on church grounds to experience the reality of homelessness and poverty that many are facing this Christmas.
“They’ve never experienced being without,” explained parish priest Fr Danny Nouh.
“In the society we’re in today, we try to give our children everything. We don’t have that sense of appreciation.
“The most we do experience is seeing homelessness. Coming up to Christmas, it was a good opportunity for them to experience what that really means.”
Raising almost $35,000 for struggling orphanages in Lebanon, more than 62 sponsored children registered, and between 2pm and 7pm took the brave step into a world unfamiliar to them.
It all started with one cardboard box.
“The box laid flat would be their home, their bed, and it would need to be looked after because it’s how some people will sleep”.
“Then they soon grew hungry, and it became a lesson in knowing that people on the streets don’t know when they’re next meal is coming.”
For dinner the children received a small bottle of water and a cup of rice. Fr Danny said the participants learned an important lesson.
“One child said, ‘Before I put bread in my mouth, I need to make sure my neighbour eats first,’” Fr Danny said.
“They really understood the concept. It was amazing.”
Invited to the altar during Fr Danny’s homily the next day, the children shared the lessons they learnt.
“They shared that they had experienced something they had never known before in their lives: that they have a lot, but they can give a lot. That life is not always as good as they know it, especially for children,” he said.
Fr Danny returned the message to preparing for the birth of Christ.
“He was born in the humblest of ways, and this is what we must do also, we must humble ourselves, giving to each other and especially to those in need and vulnerable, in the same way he gave himself to us.”
It was this message of the humble child in a manger that took St Joseph’s to the public arena, bringing their Christmas festivities over to the park for all to experience.
“The whole point is to show people that we are approachable,” said volunteer Thomas Moussa of the “Christmas in the Park” event.
Behind-the-scenes work from various parish committees nearly five months in advance meant the centre strip of Burwood Park was lined with rides, games, food and drink stalls for both parishioners and the wider suburb to enjoy.
“We are Catholic, and we can showcase our faith. Importantly, we can showcase our faith not just in the church, but also in public,” Thomas added.
Those there for their weekly exercise, table tennis or walks with the dog were met by the large group of Catholics sharing the space.
“What I’ve been doing is saying his to everyone because I want to showcase the fact that yes, we’re Catholic, but you can be a part of this as well.
“We’re here, we’re present, so come and join us. Get around the Christmas Spirit.”
Several families, including children from the sleepout and their parents, also came along to enjoy the festivities and support St Joseph’s.
Parishioner Peter Mouawad and his family said events like this in the leadup to Christmas time are an important reminder for people of the Church as a spiritual home for families.
“This is what the church does. It’s all about family, and I want my family part of this community, praying and meeting the expectations of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
“It’s a lot of hard work and we like to support the parish and the community as much as we can.”
The parish is continuing with its Christmas program with a nine-day Christmas novena, a carols and outdoor movie night on Wednesday 20 December, as well as a Christmas play at the church on Friday 22 December.