Dad used to tell us his favorite Christmas story. In the boiling Pacific of World War II, Dad was on USS Cleveland and saw the intensity of naval warfare at places such as Midway, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Manila.
On Christmas Eve, 1944, the men got good news: A priest would come aboard for Midnight Mass! Dad would recall how they sure needed the “good news” of the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, during those clashing days.
But, when the priest arrived for Mass, the hundreds of gathered, expectant sailors began to growl, “He’s a Jap!” (to use the politically incorrect word of that time).
Dad would tell us that, although they would later learn he was actually a Filipino priest, the understandable hostility of the war still led the men to grumble, as they wondered about the worthiness of this “Oriental” (to use another outdated term) to offer Mass. . .
But . . . then came “O Come All Ye Faithful”; then came the sign of the cross; then the gospel of the first Christmas, and the suspect priest’s simple and sincere sermon of love for family at home and longing for peace on earth and sea; then came prayer and Holy Communion; finally came the priest’s blessing and “Silent Night,” with men crying and hugging, and the “Jap priest” cheered and engulfed with affection as he left the ship to visit another awaiting congregation.
Prejudice, hatred, suspicion and antagonism were changed into love, acceptance and joy on USS Cleveland. That’s the miracle of Christmas!
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