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When the Christ of Christmas appears as a migrant

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01-26-2017

By Tom Webb, Special to The Catholic Voice

The week before Christmas in East Oakland was made a little more joyful through collaboration between the Oakland Catholic Worker, several Catholic parishes and schools, Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana and the East Bay Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. Between the annual Christmas gift distribution program organized by the Oakland Catholic Worker and a special three day Los Posadas pilgrimage the Christmas spirit was readily apparent.

On Dec. 18 St. Lawrence O'Toole Parish generously hosted the Oakland Catholic Worker's annual Christmas gift distribution. Organized by Maria Benevento of the Catholic Worker, 140 families received gifts provided by the Catholic Community of Pleasanton, St. Joseph's Basilica, St. Philip Neri Elementary School, St. Joseph Notre Dame High School, the Chinese Catholic Community and Turning Wheels for Kids.

Families were interviewed and selected from among the 250 to 300 households who receive weekly produce and groceries provided by the Alameda County Community Food Bank and distributed by the Oakland Catholic Worker. Five hundred people received gifts through the generosity of those who donated. All were entertained by the pranks and merriment of Clowns without Borders.

This was the second year Benevento was the primary organizer of the gift distribution. She observed, "The gift distribution made it very clear to me that people still see Christmas as a time to give to those in need and to serve their neighbors. The number of people who wanted to help was amazing; this was a huge event, but we had so many volunteers they made everything look easy. The generosity and willingness to serve that I witnessed made it easy to see Christ's presence in this Christmas event."

The Catholic Worker continued its annual three-day Posada Dec. 22-24. This year, Posada participants stayed close to home singing and processing through our 50th Avenue neighborhood. Each night's Posada ended at a different site: the OCW staff house, the OCW guest facility and finally ending the Posadas on Christmas Eve as usual at Corazon del Pueblo.

Amid prayer, good food and ponche (a traditional Latin American Christmas beverage), the sound of bursting pinatas left excited children scrambling across the floor in search of candy.

A special Las Posadas was organized by the Catholic Worker, EBIIC and Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana Hispana on Dec. 23.

Funded by the Share the Spirit campaign of the Bay Area News Group, this version of the Posada called special attention to the egregiously high costs of housing in Oakland which displaces former residents and contributes to the innumerable challenges immigrant families face when they live in Oakland.

Participants sang and processed eight blocks from the Catholic Worker to Primer Iglesia reenacting Mary and Joseph's search for shelter led by OCW co-founder and folk singer Francisco Herrera.

Irma Hernandez, a staff member at Primer Iglesia, was particularly moved by Las Posadas. This was the first year Hernandez had participated in Las Posadas. She experienced both "the sadness that the pregnant Mary and Jesus must have felt every time they were rejected" as they sought housing two thousand years ago in Bethlehem.

Participants received gift cards from Smart and Final and Target. A special meal of Guatemalan tamales, pan dulce and hot chocolate was served.

Three days of processing, singing, praying and celebrating left participants in a joyful mood. At the same time, all were mindful of the somber challenges awaiting them in 2017.

(Tom Webb is a staff member of the Oakland Catholic Worker.)

Find the original article on The Catholic Voice website.

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