When we stop and think of a true “family holiday”, nothing really beats Christmas. Not only does it bring families together in celebration but, for Christians, at the heart of Christmas is the family itself: the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Family life has been a prominent theme for our Church this year. On December 8 we concluded the Year of St Joseph, and we are halfway through the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family, which continues until June 2022.
What does Christmas and family life look like for the many people and cultures who make up our Diocese of Parramatta? For Raimie Caramancion, Pastoral Formation Facilitator with the Mission Enhancement Team in the Diocese of Parramatta, and parishioner at Our Lady of the Angels Rouse Hill, Christmas is about connecting with loved ones. Raimie grew up in a family of five, with parents Rey and Linda, older brother Eric and younger sister Regine. “Christmas time has always been family time, even if our extended family haven’t seen each other the whole year”, she says.
When Raimie’s family gets together on Christmas Day, there’s lot of time for fun and connection. “Traditionally we go to church in the morning and come together at a family member’s house for a banquet that usually lasts us for lunch, dinner, and leftovers”, she says. “We play games for prizes and laughs, and every year the same cousin dresses as Santa and hands out the presents to everyone. It’s a really fun time!”
Raimie says the impact of COVID-19 on her family has been surprising. “During the extended lockdown my family still found ways to support each other and stay connected online even though we all live separately”, she says. Her experience strengthened her understanding of how strong family relationships are. “Family is fundamental”, she says, “and when it is life-giving and charitable it can get anyone through almost anything that life throws at them.”
For Raimie, these life-giving family moments come through experiences of love and joy which, she says, come in different shapes and sizes. “My mum loves spending time with us over a meal, exploring new food and catching up in deep conversation”, she says. “My dad loves helping us get our big and small tasks done, like building a patio or going shopping together. And my siblings experience joy through jokes, memes, basketball and movies.”
Raimie describes the relationship with her siblings as one of the closest of her life. “I get to experience life with two people whom I not only grew up with, but who have also turned out to be some of my closest friends”, she says. While she admits it’s not always peaceful, she says even the challenging times help them to grow closer together. “We grow in character and love through forgiveness and honesty and can have a laugh even after a fight.”
When asked for her thoughts on the role and mission of the family today, Raimie describes family as the first place of love. For her, the role of the family is the place to nurture others in charity, in the best way we know how. Quoting St Teresa of Calcutta, who said: “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family”, Raimie emphasises the importance of creating a loving environment at home. “Imagine the world where everyone knew and experienced how loved and cherished they are, and how that is only a glimmer of how much God loves each of us”, she says.
Raimie identifies several beautiful family initiatives in her parish community. “There are opportunities for families to attend a Family Camp at the end of each year and spend time together”, she says. For her, the most meaningful family initiative happens during the Mass. “I particularly appreciate the time after Communion where children and parents with their newborns come up to the sanctuary and receive a special blessing”, she says. “Sometimes kids give the occasional high-five to the priest, too!”
Raimie is hopeful that new families in the Diocese of Parramatta will feel that same sense of love, inclusion and welcome. “I hope they find a place and home in the Church where they can attend, participate and ask their questions to other families in the community”, she says. “My hope is that families continue to journey together in friendship, and share moments of joy, struggle, and faith.”
Raimie Caramancion is a Pastoral Formation Facilitator with the Mission Enhancement Team (MET). To learn more about the MET and their programs, visit their Facebook page and follow them on Instagram at @pastoralformation.
The Year of Amoris Laetitia Family began on 19 March 2021 and aims to reach every family around the world with spiritual, pastoral and cultural proposals and initiatives. You can learn more about this special year by visiting the official website.