By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

Glowing words for Christmas — including the lovely voices of a choir — came to the Syracuse Diocese on Dec. 12 all the way from South Sudan.

Maryknoll missionary Father Michael Bassano, who grew up in Binghamton, called the Sun from the United Nations Protection of Civilians (POC) Camp outside Malakal, on the east side of the White Nile River. In the background, his group was singing “Joy to the World.”

Father Bassano, the Catholic chaplain for the camp, said: “May we all pray for one another. … Let us pray we grow together to be at peace this new year as one family of God.”

He called at 7 p.m. local time (11 a.m. Eastern time). People were cleaning the inside of the church with straw and mud to make a new floor for Christmas.

He said those who can afford to buy new clothes can buy them; most of them can’t. There is no money in the camp and there will be no presents, but the people share their faith and “hope for a better future.” On the west side of the White Nile, five villages have already gotten rice for Christmas. More rice will be distributed in the POC camp and in Malakal in the coming weeks — “some extra food to cook,” he said.

The country has endured a civil war, but Father Bassano said an agreement has been signed and there is quiet throughout the country. “So not only is Christ bringing peace now but we hope to live in peace now,” he said. “See how it works. … It’s on paper but we hope it takes root on the grassroots level where the people are. This is our hope for Christmas.”

It is the cool season in Malakal, not far north of the equator in east-central Africa. During the day it is the regular 90 degrees, but the morning cools down to 55 or 60. On Dec. 15, the Catholic youth in the camp planned to sing Christmas carols. “They will call on me to say a prayer and to give the Christmas message to the folk,” Father Bassano said.

He will celebrate Mass on Christmas Eve and then at 9:30 a.m. on Christmas Day. He said it will be “a full day of Christmas” — dancing and singing all afternoon, with little packs of popcorn and candy for the kids.

“We pray for a lasting peace to come in South Sudan,” Father Bassano said, “that people may one day return to their homes from this camp.”

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