Father Joe’s Vision of Christmas

By Bishop William Patrick Callahan

1971 could quite seriously be hailed as the start of the digital age with the invention of the microprocessor. The year also hailed the admission of China to the United Nations and the grand opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, along with other natural, political and social events of significance. For our particular consideration it is important that we remember 1971 for one particular event that made history in Lima, Peru: the arrival of Father Joseph Walijewski. Christmas in Peru, of course, has its own special kinds of cultural and religious expressions; but it shares a similar point of reference to all people of every race and every nation throughout all of creation: the birth of The Baby. Jesus is, of course, as much “the reason for the season” in Peru as He is in Western and North Central Wisconsin. Father Joe certainly knew how important the celebration of Christmas was for his friends in the Diocese of La Crosse and his family back in his home state of Michigan. He knew how important Christmas is for children; and, his love for Christmas and his love for children made his arrival in Peru in 1971 a match literally made in heaven!

While Christmas in Peru certainly has its own particular cultural style and expressions, it would be correct to note that Father Joe found a similarity in recognizing the presence of Jesus in each of the children he encountered in the cold and destitute streets of Lima. There was then, and there certainly is now, very little difference between the Child found in a manger in Bethlehem and the children Father Joe found covered with sheets of old newspaper trying to keep themselves warm.

These visions of Christmas help us to comprehend more deeply the kind of man Father Joe must have been in his sense of urgency for fulfilling the Mission of Jesus Christ; all the more reason for us to seek his heavenly guidance in our celebration of Christmas for years to come. Father Joe lived the Christmas reality with passion and energy born from a pure faith in the presence of Jesus among us right now! Father Joe continues to inspire us, by his life and ministry, with an awakening of the child of God within each of us. Father Joe rescued street children and Casa Hogar continues that essential and beautiful ministry. The Legacy of Father Joe still raises up a sense of innocence and childlike confidence in all of us—to care for children, yes, but to further allow God’s amazing grace to transform the child of God within each of us to be like Jesus and act like brothers and sisters in His sight. As we pray for Father Joe’s beatification and canonization, be aware that his energy allows us to support the children of Casa Hogar in Peru, but by his heavenly support to recognize the child within us and the children around us who struggle to see God’s love in their lives each day. Let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year!