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Merry Christmas
(7.12.2002)
Merry Christmas 2002 After 3 years with our kids, I have come to the conclusion that God made Christmas especially for children. Each year, after Midnight Masses at our four churches, kids in our hostels perform Christmas skits at the parties. This morning, the Viengkhuk hostel girls told me excitedly that they are already having play practice. In their plays, the baby Jesus gets separated from His parents, and never sees them again. He wanders from home to home, and people refuse to invite Him to eat or stay with them. This achingly mirrors their lives before being taken in by us.

During the year, we have had some highs and lows in our three hostels. The lows, of course, were the deaths of three of our AIDS children. On January 6, the feast of the Magi, little Samuel "Kirk" rode off silently into the mist of eternity with the Three Wise Men. On July 22, six years old "Dutch Michael", a very sick little boy abandoned by his Dutch father, died after a three day coma. Then, just four days later, lovely pixie-like Miss Rainwater died in her sleep. Each death drove a dagger of bitterness into our hearts, that we were not able to save them. On All Souls day, when we said Mass in the cemetery, we had mounted photos of the children who died framed on their ossuaries. It was the first time the AIDS children at SARNELLI house realized their friends had died. It was a sight that had me choking back tears, watching them mill around with little candles and flowers, exclaiming, "This is Knock! There is Kirk!" as they recognized the photos. The older ones were sad and pensive, wondering when this would be their fate.

In late August and early September, the Mekong River burst it's banks and flooded inland creeks. Girls at the Viengkhuk hostel were forced to move to the small priest's house in Pai Si Tong, just up the road from St. Patrick's boys' home. All 28 girls were shoehorned into this one house, with only three outdoor bathrooms. The positive side of the flood was that the inland creeks flooded local commercial fish ponds and now our three fish ponds are well stocked. We subsequently had a great rice yield from our paddies. The kids harvested over 70 burlap bags office. Now, we are trying to raise money to buy more rice paddy land, so as to be able to feed the kids the year round with our own rice.

Late July, I traveled to the U.S., to do some needed fund raising. My old Scripture professor, Dr. Bill Cummings, arranged for me to give a mission appeal at St. Joseph's, in Macon GA. The pastor and people were very generous. Other appeals were made and generously responded to, at Redemptorist parishes, like my cousin Fr. Jim Shea's parish in Kansas City, and the parishes of St. Alphonsus Brooklyn Center MN, and St. Alphonsus in Grand Rapids, MI. Other Redemptorist priests, like Frs. Chuck Bierewaltes and Dave Polek, organized fundraisers to help. My cousins, Sam and Molly Mueller were volunteers at St. Patrick's Boys' home. They organized the CEBORIDE (a one day bike ride of 126 miles in one day to raise money from sponsors for the anti-retroviral drugs for the AIDS children). CEBORIDE was named after Miss Cebo, a mischievous little girl with AIDS, staying with us at SARNELLI HOUSE. Thanks to their efforts and donations from foundations and individuals, we can now afford for one year the expensive "cocktail" of anti-retroviral drugs, and the frequent and expensive blood tests for our 26 children who have AIDS.

We'd like to embarrass the government into free medicine and check ups, but for now it is "not on the state budget." (One sour note to all this, was when Cebo's two aunts rode in on their brooms to tell us angrily that they have life insurance on Cebo, and she has lived long enough and to take her off the medicine. I wasn't there when they came, but if they come again, I will drive garlic tipped stakes through their hearts. All of us are motivated to keep Cebo as alive and healthy for as long as we can, fervently hoping those two witches will go broke buying life insurance every year). Fr. Dick Strass CSsR has returned to help with the work of SARNELLI HOUSE. Fr. Dick was stationed in Thailand 29 years ago. Dick is most welcome!!

We will have wonderful Christmases. I have four parishes, so the kids go to each parish and perform their skits, eat and play with others. Six foot eight inch Sam Mueller was Santa last year, so I will have some explaining to do when Santa shows up a good foot shorter this year!

We ask for prayers for 14 year old Fai, a girl in the Viengkhuk Hostel, who must undergo open-heart surgery in middle January to repair a heart valve. Also, little Alec will begin his operations on his clubfeot, now that he has a legal guardian (us).

May the Christ Child and His mother bless you and yours throughout the New Year, giving you and yours good health, happiness and peace!

Love from us all.. .priests, staff and the children.
Fr.Mikel Shea
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