Christmas in Yuanli


Christmas in Yuanli

Maryknoll missioner from New Orleans makes this Christmas
an extraordinary time in Taiwan By Francis Schexnayder, M.M., Photos by Sean Sprague

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Father Schexnayder and his preschoolers welcome visitors.

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Father Francis Schexnayder tells his pastoral associates, Sisters of the Sacred Hearts Raphaella, left, and Cecilia, they are worth their weight in gold.

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Dec 04, 2006 - Christmas is an ordinary day in Taiwan. Banks, shops and schools are open as usual, but here in our mission parishes, we do our best to announce that Christ is born to the 80,000 residents in our area.

Our parish runs two preschools for 340 children, 2 to 6 years old. One school is in Yuanli and the other in our mission in Tunghsiao. While the vast majority of the children come from Buddhist families, they participate in the parish's annual Christmas shows and pageants that attract great crowds of adults. Far from objecting, the parents appreciate that we teach the children that Christmas has a much deeper meaning than the Santa Claus present in all the department stores to boost the sales of toys and trinkets.

This coming Christmas season will be the high point of our rural parish's golden jubilee year. (It was founded by Maryknoll Father Frank Rebol in 1956.) Our yearlong celebration will culminate on New Year's Day 2007 when Bishop Li Khek-Bian of our Hsinchu Diocese will welcome 10 adults who will be baptized in the Catholic faith, administer the sacrament of confirmation to a large group, and dedicate our new Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Yuanli.

Of course, we use more than the Christmas season to spread the Gospel of God's love for humanity. The main reason parents send their children to our schools is that they know they will be taught discipline and values. None of our 20 teachers is Catholic, but all of them are spiritual people with a strong ethical sense. Sister Raphaella and I teach the religion classes.

We teach what Jesus proclaimed in the Gospels, that we are all brothers and sisters because God is our creator and heavenly Father. Jesus taught us to love everyone and to forgive everyone, even our enemies. This is the love that lasts forever and leads to happiness without end.

We also spread the Word of God through our active Legion of Mary, a dedicated group of eight lay people directed by Sister Cecilia. They first of all visit and pray with the sick, but they also visit the homes of our students. The majority of the parents are young energetic couples. Our legionnaires encourage the couples to practice their faith as an example for their children, and answer questions they may have about the Catholic religion.

Sisters Raphaella and Cecilia are members of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a local religious community founded by the late Maryknoll Bishop Frederick Donaghy in 1962. Raphaella serves as my pastoral assistant. We are always on the same page, searching for new ways to attract people to the Catholic faith. One of our great joys happened when we were able through prayers and encouragement to convince a couple to give birth to their third child, when they had previously planned to have an abortion. We constantly teach that both Buddhists and Christians believe that all life is sacred.

Yuanli is more than 8,000 miles from Louisiana, but that's where my own missionary journey began. After ordination I was assigned to Taiwan. I have been here to my great joy ever since.

My family and friends in Louisiana have been a great help to our parish, especially through the annual Cajun Festival, hosted by Chef John Folse. The dinner to support our mission was held for 17 straight years, until 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

We will remember those friends in a special way in the Jubilee Mass in our new church on Jan. 1, because without their help, it would have been impossible for us to effectively spread the news of God's great love in this corner of the world.

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