Since 2017, the Christmas Family Fiesta at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) has been a highly anticipated year-end celebration, not just with our parishioners but also in the neighbourhood of the parish. It is the highlight of the parish’s year-long evangelisation efforts whereby our parishioners are encouraged to bring a non-Christian friend, neighbour or loved one to experience our Christmas joy with songs, Nativity plays, free-flowing food and drinks, games, and a church tour, and perhaps to experience a kairos or “opportune” moment with the Lord.
With the global Covid-19 pandemic, Christmas 2020 posed many outreach challenges to us.
- With strict social and safe-distancing regulations our traditional fiesta event to non-believers to encounter our faith in a friendly and non-intimidating manner was capped.
- Although rules were relaxed towards the end of the year, events were limited to 50 attendees which decreased the potential reach to a bigger target audience.
- Minimal engagement and interaction meant that we were limited by time, content and depth of spiritual encounter.
- The limit on the number of attendees also meant our parishioners had to pre-screen those whom they wished to invite.
That said, every crisis also poses an opportunity, and this is exactly what the IHM parish set out to do with our dedicated Christmas Open House this year.
Undeterred and led by our new parish priest, Father Paul Ngo, MEP, we made radical modifications to our approach to ensure its evangelisation intentions and safety regulations were met as stipulated by the authorities.
First, we conscientised in the parish a need to pray for the conversion of a non-Christian they knew, or anyone they knew who was struggling to return to Church. Advent Tree pledge cards were given out for them to write names and then to hang onto the physical Advent tree placed at the main church entrance. The Advent Tree has been a IHM tradition for a few years. A new feature in 2020 was the provision of Internet “padlets” for those unable to come to church to make similar pledges to pray for conversion.
Next, we announced our Open House on two Sundays – Dec 27, 2020 and Jan 3, 2021 – two sessions on each day at 6.30pm and at 8pm. These announcements urged parishioners to specially invite their non-baptised guests to an hour-long programme at any of the Open House slots.
The actual programme included several videos featuring our parishioners – from children, youths, to neophytes, elderly, and representatives from various ministries – greeting, and explaining what Christmas means to us. The videos also featured some testimonies related to individual faith discoveries, and they allowed us to make all the presentations that we were unable to do in-person during this pandemic. We also invited a couple of parishioners to share their faith testimonies live, and had exhortations led by our priests. The Alpha Course and the RCIA programme as avenues for them to discover the faith and get to know Jesus were also introduced.
Finally, each participant, guest or parishioner, was given a lighted candle to offer their personal prayers. Since the event was held inside the main church, they were invited to speak to Jesus present in the tabernacle. It was absolutely heartening to see that every guest came up to the sanctuary, offering up his/her prayer – some standing, some sitting and some kneeling in front of Jesus.
We are happy to conclude that in the four sessions, a total of 69 Catholics brought 101 non-baptised friends to the events. There were also some Catholics who had fallen out from receiving regular Church sacraments for many years, and now wanting to pick up their faith again. As a community, we will continue to pray for them in their search for God and for life’s answers, as we see this as a small contribution towards the Archdiocesan vision of a vibrant, evangelising and missionary Church.
Contributed by the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary