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Happy New Year!
I hope everyone had a blessed Christmas. We had quite a few celebrations here in Thailand. I began Christmas at St. Eileen's in Nong Seng, in Udon province. This was Saturday, Dec. 17. We have quite a community there; Catholics, Protestants, and lots of Buddhists. We had the nativity play put off by Pai Si Tong children. Then we had Mass, and after Mass children had skits and adults got up to sing and dance as well. There was a nice meal for everyone, and everyone got bags of candy and a gift. There were 6 very poor families that joined us. They were cutting sugar cane for a living, and their clothes were clean but ragged, and none had a sweater in the cold. They were like the shepherds. With Christmas present money sent me, I bought thick jackets and heavy blankets for them. They were very grateful. It is really cold up there, and kids just had T-shirts. Cutting sugar cane is like indentured labor. Never get out from underneath debt.

Then, Sunday, December 18, I went to the Sangkom mountains to do the same at Na Muang Thai, for the same audience, except that Don Wai children did the nativity play. There are some really beautiful mountains and rural scenes up there. The beauty west of Na Muang Thai rivals anything in the north of Thailand.

Christmases for the bulk of our Catholics, in Pai Si Tong and Don Wai were held on Dec.24-25. Our 114 children of SARNELLI HOUSE joined in these celebrations with the villagers. Gone is the day when the children were shunned. Many villagers work at our homes for children, and others grow vegetables, and raise fish and chickens, selling their produce to us. I now also have a staff of about 35 people as well, the majority of them being local people.

The kids had a great Christmas party, and since we had purchased tents (4-5 children per tent), they camped outside on Dec. 30-31. They loved it. Unfortunately about 2:00 A.M. New Year's morning, some of the older boys from St. Pat's got on the microphone and made animal sounds. The result was that about 80 runts whizzed in their tents, because they didn't want to go out of their tents and get eaten by tigers. When I went to say Mass at 8:00, steam was still rising from the ball field. It smelled like a barnyard on a balmy March day. They all took their Christmas money to the mall. I threatened the older girls about buying hip-hugger jeans, but they just stare me down, with this drop dead glare they have perfected. They used to be afraid of me. Things were easier then.

On Dec. 30, I also had a New Year's party for our adult AIDS sufferers and their kids. They cooked up a nice meal, and everyone got gifts and toys. Some have been taking ARV medicine for a while, and have put on weight and their skin infections are clearing up rapidly. Others have just begun their medication.May the good Lord give you good health, happiness and contentment throughout the New Year!

Father Shea
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