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December 20, 2021

Dear Friends,  
As we weather a second Covid-19 Christmas, many of us will be only too happy to say goodbye to 2021. Dare we say “Merry Christmas!” – even  in the presence of a new variant of the coronavirus, new lockdowns and restrictions on our gatherings?  YES!!  Because even now, especially now, Jesus comes to us. He came into our world in Bethlehem: in the stillness of the night, in poverty, with a message that will never lose its freshness.  It is a message of hope and love, of healing and forgiveness, of peace on earth and good will to all. More than ever, we need Christmas. Why? Because we need Christ!
And so, we dare to live our faith. None of us have come out of this pandemic unscathed. Over the past two years, we have lost about 30 diocesan priests, including six who faithfully served our English-speaking parishes: Fr. Adelchi Bertoli, Fr. John Walsh, Fr. Ernie Schibli, Fr. Joe Cameron, Fr. Brian Martin, and Fr. Michael McKenna. Many of our religious communities, including the Jesuits and the CND sisters, were also hard-hit. And I am sure that all of you, in one way or another, have been affected in your own families, parishes, and circles of friends.  In pain, suffering and grief, we are in solidarity with one another.
In many of our parishes, health restrictions led to closed churches, reduced income, and staff lay-offs. Although the CERB and government wage subsidies and loans have helped, we have stayed afloat largely due to your generosity, through the gifts of time and talent and treasure, offered by so many of our community members who went above and beyond the call of duty. We have had to delay joyful events like weddings and baptisms, and more painfully, find alternate ways of marking the passage of the many loved ones we have lost through death. It has been hard.
In spite of the recent emergence of the Omicron variant, and the new restrictions on worship imposed by the government, we are not giving up. Mary and Joseph found their plans for Jesus’ birth disrupted by a government-ordered census, and instead of despairing or giving up, they adjusted.  They took the hard road from Nazareth, and in Bethlehem, “House of Bread”, City of David, Mary gave birth to Jesus: the One who would be known as Son of David, as Bread of Life, as Messiah and Saviour.  
“Good News and great joy to all the world! Today is born for you a Saviour: He is Christ the Lord.” In these challenging times, we too are called to a re-awakening of faith, hope and love. Like the shepherds who received the message of the angel, we respond: “I must go. People must know!”  Each of us, called by our name, sent forth in God’s name: to live Pope Francis’ call to build a truly synodal church, living in communion with one another, empowering the participation of all the faithful, sharing in a common mission to bear witness to Christ as agents of healing and transformation in our world. 
We do so conscious of a special responsibility to live the call to justice, peace and reconciliation within our church, acknowledging and healing the wounds left by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools and the clergy sexual abuse crisis. We know that, with the grace of God and our human efforts, we can and must do better. 
Dare we imagine a world of peace, joy, and love?  If we answer yes, then God will use the brokenness and fragility of this time, and of our own church, to bring Jesus’ teaching and example to birth in us.  For Jesus is the Peace that passes human understanding, the Joy which abides even in times of sadness, the Love which triumphs even over illness and death. 
Although 2021 saw our lives disrupted in so many ways, we know that God has not abandoned us.  Jesus, Emmanuel, “God-with-us” comes to us anew. Can we make room for him in the inn of our lives, our families, our broken world?  He is waiting for us, and He awakens within us the desire to become more and more that place of hospitality, welcome and acceptance the world so deeply craves. 
To you, to your families and loved ones, to all the members of your parishes and ecclesial communities, we wish a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.
“May Christ find a dwelling place of faith in our hearts; may our lives be rooted in love.”

Yours in the Prince of Peace,

Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V.
Episcopal Vicar for the English-speaking Faithful
Director, Office for English Pastoral Services
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal
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