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An Advent Calendar Blessing L. Bonzena lives in Bitako village, which is served by St. Monica's clinic, a CAFOD partner in Yakoko, Nigeria. The Franciscan Sisters of the Divine Motherhood, who run the clinic, delivered her twins Peace and Patience. On 28 November, click bell 28 on the calendar to begin reflecting with us this Advent on Blessing's inspiring story.

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Page 1: Reflection

An Advent Calendar

Blessing L. Bonzena lives in Bitako village, which is served by St. Monica's clinic, a CAFOD partner in Yakoko, Nigeria. The Franciscan Sisters of the Divine Motherhood, who run the clinic, delivered her twins Peace and Patience.

On 28 November, click bell 28 on the calendar to begin reflecting with us this Advent on Blessing's inspiring story.

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When her labour pains started two months early, Blessing was ready.

She walked straight to the clinic and gave birth to healthy twins.

“They put me on a drip and gave me an injection to speed up my delivery. Afterwards Sr Teclar explained that I could have died if my blood pressure had gone any higher.” Stand ready because the Son

of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:42)

Stand ready!

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ReflectionIf Jesus returned to judge the world today, would I be ready? Matthew 25 says he’d be very interested in how I have treated the poorest and the rejected. How would I answer his questions? How do I respond when I’m visited by Jesus in the person who’s unpopular or difficult to get on with?

PrayerWelcoming God, help me to prepare for your coming by treating others as if they were you. Amen.

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Stand ready!

Action!Look up Matthew 25 and read it.

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Blessing named one of her twins, “Peace”. She was the second baby to be born and was smaller and lighter at birth.

Despite her name, Peace lives in a place where there has been conflict as a result of poverty and of tensions between Muslims and Christians.

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Nation will not lift up sword against nation, there will be no more training for war. (Isaiah 2:4)

Peace

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ReflectionIsaiah looked forward to the coming Messiah and spoke of a time of peace, yet Jesus was born into a nation occupied by the Romans. Jesus taught and lived peace-making in a time of great tension.

Am I a peacemaker? Do I try to include everyone or do I just avoid those who have different ideas?

PrayerPrince of peace, you call us to be peacemakers. Help me to be peace in this divided world. Comfort all who suffer due to conflict around the world. Amen.

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Peace

Action!Find out how you can supportpeace in another African country, Sudan.

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Simplicity

After her twins were delivered, Blessing was very weak and concerned at the size of her children.

She says, “I was on a drip. I was very worried about my babies… They were so tiny I could hold them in the palm of my hand.”

I bless you, Father… for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. (Luke 10:21)

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ReflectionJesus says God reveals his wisdom to the little ones. I need to have a child’s openness so that God can reveal things that are beyond my expectations. Like Blessing’s tiny twins, God will never forget us. We are “engraved “on the palm of his hand (Isa. 49:16).

PrayerCreator of all life, you came to earth as a tiny baby. Help me remember that it is in the little ones, and to the little ones, that you reveal yourself. Amen.

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Simplicity

Action!If you can, spend some time playing with a little sister or brother or helping a relative with their baby.

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World AIDS Day

At St Monica’s clinic in Yakoko, people are given treatment for HIV and AIDS, such as anti-retroviral drugs.

These drugs slow down and reduce the amount of HIV, greatly improving people’s quality of life.

He will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes and take away the disgrace his people have suffered throughout the world. (Isaiah 25:8)

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ReflectionToday is World AIDS Day. 33.4 million people live with HIV and AIDS worldwide. Thirty million of these live in low and middle-income countries.

In 2008, more than 1,000 children in the world were newly infected with HIV per day.

PrayerIn a moment’s silence, I pray for my sisters and brothers affected by HIV and AIDS… Amen.

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World AIDS Day

Action!Buy or make a red ribbon andwear it to remind people of those affected by HIV and AIDS

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Trust

When she was four months pregnant, Blessing’s husband turned her out of her home.

Blessing stayed with neighbours for two months before returning to her parents.

“My father was not happy when I turned up unannounced. But he let me stay with him.”

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to rely on human beings. (Psalm 118:8)

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ReflectionBlessing took refuge with neighbours, then with her parents.

Where do I take refuge in my times of need?

PrayerThank you, God, for all the people I can rely upon when I feel troubled. Help me to trust that I can always rely on you. Amen.

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Trust

Action! Say thank you today to someone who has helped you.

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Hope

Blessing hopes that her babies’ future will be bright.

“I hope that I can put my children through school and that they can become children of God.”

Be strong,let your heart be bold, put your hope in the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

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ReflectionToday’s psalm says I can be bold, because I hope in God.

Do I hope in God? What do I hope God will do?

Am I bold enough to do whatever God asks of me?

PrayerLord of all hopefulness, give hope to those who feel abandoned by the world. Help us to be hope to others. Amen.

Hope

Action!Find and read a story of hope on CAFOD’s website.

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Generosity

The generosity of our supporters pays for St Monica’s clinic where Patience and Peace were born.

Blessing says, “Thank you for giving money to this clinic. We are so grateful for your help. My babies would have died without medical treatment.”

You received without charge, give without charge.(Matthew 10:8)

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ReflectionSt Ambrose said, “It is not from your own possessions that you give alms to the poor, you are just restoring to them what is theirs by right”.

Do I really think that what I have is mine and mine only? Is there anything I have that didn’t involve someone along the way giving something up? Do I always expect a return for my generosity?

PrayerFather, you did not count the cost when you sent your Son for us. When I give, help me not to count the cost. Amen.

Generosity

Action!Be radical! Perform a random act of kindness today.

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Preparation

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Blessing says,“I gave birth to my babies at St Monica’s health centre when I was just seven months pregnant. I had decided not to give birth at home in case there was an emergency, but had no idea I would go into labour so early.”

A voice cries in the wilderness: prepare a way for the Lord. (Matthew 3:3)

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ReflectionJohn the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. Mary prepared for his birth.

How am I preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas?

PrayerGiver of all good things, help me to prepare to make this Christmas a time of giving, more than one of receiving. Amen.

Preparation

Action!Buy a World Gift yourself or suggest that your class or a group of friends club togetherto buy one.

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In many parts of Blessing’s country, Nigeria, people struggle to get enough water.

In Mabudi village, in an area called Langtang South, our partners provide tanks to catch rainwater and filters to keep water clean.

Let the wilderness and the dry lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom. (Isaiah 35:1)

Water for life

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Water for life

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Reflection“Every year during the dry season we have the same problem. It is like waking up in the middle of a nightmare that doesn’t end,” says Simi Martin, 22, from Mabudi.

Due to poverty and climate change, 864 million people in our world have no access to safe drinking water. What am I doing to help?

PrayerLife-giving Spirit of God, may my actions help to make streams flow in dry lands. Give me determination to do all I can to combat climate change, for the sake of the poorest in our world. Amen.

Action! Walk or cycle somewhere instead of taking a bus or asking for a lift.

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Protecting life

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Blessing says, “Without this clinic I would not have survived childbirth… Other women that have gone into early labour have not been so lucky.”

In Nigeria, 94 in every 1,000 children die in the first year of life compared to four in the UK.

Sometimes this happens because people can’t get medical care.

It is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18:12)

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ReflectionTwo thousand years ago giving birth was dangerous. In many countries it still is. In the Millennium Development Goals, the UK, and the rest of the world, promised to improve the health of mothers and babies by 2015. These goals are not on track to be met. Like Elizabeth and Mary, all mothers should be able to wait in joyful hope (not fear) for the arrival of their babies. This Advent, how can I help the UK stay faithful to our Millennium promises?

PrayerMary our mother, be close to all who nurse mothers and babies in the developing world. Pray with us that world leaders will do everything needed to fulfil their promises. Amen.

Protecting life

Action!Find out about Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.

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Thanksgiving

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Blessing says, “I will never be able to tell Sr Teclar how grateful I am for her help. She has given me faith in people again.”

Bless the Lord, my soul, and remember all his kindnesses.(Psalm 103:2)

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ReflectionI have so much, but am I as thankful as Blessing?

PrayerThank you, Lord, for the many gifts you’ve given me and the many people who help me every day. Amen.

Thanksgiving

Action!Think of ten things to thank God for. Then thank God!

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Solidarity

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Blessing says, “My home is run down, we don’t have a water hole and I have no business. I can’t count on much in my life, but I can rely on the clinic.”

I, the Lord, will answer the poor and needy, I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them. (Isaiah 41:17)

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ReflectionSt Teresa of Avila said, “God has no hands on earth but ours”.

If God cares for the poor, it is through my hands that God will express that care.

PrayerJesus, present in my heart, help me to be open-hearted, ready to notice other people’s problems and to respond. Amen.

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Solidarity

Action!Ask your parents to buy a World Gift as one of your Christmas presents.

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Guidance

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Blessing says, “I hope to get a business and look after myself. As you can see, my greatest wish is not to get free treatment. I need a business so that I can pay for my children’s health care.”

I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you; I lead you in the way that you must go. (Isaiah 48:17)

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ReflectionI resist being led. I like to choose my own way. But maybe I don’t always know best.

Where is God leading me in my life choices?

Blessing wants to help her children. Will my choices help others?

PrayerGood Teacher, make me open to be led by you. Help me to make good choices so that, through my life, the world will be a better place. Amen.

Guidance

Action!Take two minutes to think about what you will study, or what career to follow. Ask God to lead you.

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Saying sorry

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Poverty is an injustice. It is real people like Blessing and her family who experience the every day reality of this injustice.

We shall never turn from you again; our life renewed, we shall invoke your name. Psalm 80:18

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ReflectionAdvent is a time to repent for the ways I’ve hurt people. But who repents for the hurts experienced by those living in extreme poverty? I may not be conscious of it, but I am part of a world system that ensures the world’s resources are not fairly shared. I may not feel rich, but I’m part of the richest 25 per cent of the world.

PrayerLord, I’m sorry for not appreciating the luxuries I enjoy. I’m sorry for not putting in more effort to win justice for those who don’t have even the basic things that they need. Give me a heart that strives for justice. Amen.

Saying sorry

Action! Find out the date of your school or parish Advent service and put it in your diary.

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Patience

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Blessing named the first-born of her twins, “Patience”.

You too have to be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon. James 5:8

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ReflectionIt feels like Christmas will never come! And it’s not helpful when someone says “have a bit of patience!”

How must Mary have felt as she waited nine months for Jesus’ birth? But Mary’s waiting bore fruit, as the child grew within her. Will my waiting this Advent bear fruit in faith and love?

PrayerMary, some things are worth waiting for. Pray that I will patiently await good things to come, but never stop working to help good things become reality. Amen.

Patience

Action!Be patient with someone today.

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Blessing says, “I farm on somebody’s land to buy clothes for my children… I leave here at 5am and get home at 1pm. It takes about 45 minutes to walk to the farm. We don’t rest because we must work all day.” “If there is no money for food I take my babies to the farm with me and I breastfeed them.”

A hero arises from their stock, he reigns over countless people. (Numbers 24:7 )

Heroism

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Heroism

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ReflectionIn today’s reading, the prophet Balaam points towards Jesus’ birth. Born in a borrowed room, in a poor town and an oppressed nation. Strange birth for a hero! But he changed the world.

Who are the real heroes in this world? Are they people like Blessing who works tirelessly for her children’s sake?

PrayerJesus, unlike fictional superheroes, you really are a Saviour. Your life makes a real difference to people. Help me to be a hero like you. Amen.

Action!Read one of the info sheets from our World hero resource.

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God of the poor

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Blessing agrees that God is close to her in her need: “I pray to God every day. I hope that he sees the condition that we live in and provides an answer to our poverty.”

The Lord is near to the broken-hearted; he helps those whose spirit is crushed. (Psalm 34:18 )

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ReflectionThe Church teaches that first place should be given to the poor and vulnerable. This is called ‘the option for the poor’.

Do I give first place to the ‘poor’ or less visible people around me?

PrayerFriend of the poor, help me to seek out the people who are ignored and to remember that you chose to spend your time with them. Amen.

God of the poor

Action!Spot the person who is feeling left out (in the playground, the lunch hall, the youth club) and invite them in.

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Faith

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Blessing says, “God is taking care of my family”.

Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for someone else? (Luke 7: 18)

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ReflectionToday’s reading shows that even Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, had times of doubt. My faith is often weak. But Blessing’s faith, in the face of the difficult life she leads, can inspire me.

PrayerLord, when I doubt your love for me, remind me how little Blessing has and how strong her faith is. Strengthen my faith. Amen.

Faith

Action!Send a Christmas card to someone who is special to you.

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Against complacency

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Blessing says, “Sr Teclar examined my children today and saw that their hair is grey. She says this means that the girls are malnourished. She touched their stomachs and said that they were bloated.”

“She has referred me to the hospital in Zing to collect plumpynut* to help them.”

*Plumpynut is a nourishing food supplementIn my prosperity I used to say “Nothing can ever shake me!” (Psalm 30:6)

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ReflectionHow complacent rich people can become about their wealth! Jesus told the story of a man who piled up riches in a barn. Only when he died did the man realise he couldn’t take his wealth with him.

As Blessing travels to a hospital to collect a food supplement for her malnourished babies, I wonder how complacent I am about my ‘riches’?

PrayerJesus, you gave bread to hungry people. Inspire me to do the same today. Amen.

Against complacency

Action!Send a Christmas card to someone you think might feellonely this Christmas.

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Global family

On behalf of the Church in England and Wales, our partners work alongside people in Nigeria and in more than 40 other countries.

May every race in the world be blessed in him, and all the nations call him blessed! (Psalm 72:17)

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ReflectionI am part of God’s family, stretching from one end of the earth to the other. Do I recognise people of all nations as my sisters and brothers?

What difference does that make in how I live my life?

PrayerFather of all the nations, teach me to welcome each person as my sister or brother. Amen.

Global family

Action!Send a smiley icon to someone’s phone or smile at someone today.

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Justice

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Many developing countries have been treated unjustly by the world.

For example, global trading systems often favour developed countries by imposing charges, called tariffs, on imports from developing countries.

I shall raise an upright Branch for David; he will reign as king and be wise, doing what is just and upright in the country. (Jeremiah 23:5)

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ReflectionThe prophet Jeremiah spoke of a future king of Israel who would reign in justice. Centuries later, Jesus revealed that this justice was merciful. It involved praying for enemies, being generous to strangers and choosing to suffer for others.

Would people describe me like that?

PrayerMerciful Judge, I want to be willing to put up with hardship for others. Help me today to eat only what I need so that others in the world may experience greater justice. Amen.

Justice

Action!Put the money you save by forgoing a treat into the CAFOD collection box or request a box today.

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God with us

Blessing says, “God is here with me, I can feel him around me. He looked after me when I nearly died in childbirth and now he is looking after my babies.”

Look! The virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Immanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’. (Matthew 1: 23)

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ReflectionBlessing remembers that God is with her. Do I remember that God is with me?

Christmas reminds me that God wanted to be with us… and still does.

PrayerImmanuel, be with me and with everyone who feels as if you are far away. Amen.

God with us

Action!Once today, imagine Jesus sitting next to you. Whatpositive thing will he say to you?

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Miracles

Felicia Linus, Blessing’s mother, says, ”What St Monica’s have done for Blessing is amazing. If I didn’t thank God for their help I would be lying to him… Blessing has given her life to God and St Monica’s answered her call.”

…for nothing is impossible

to God. (Luke 1: 37)

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ReflectionWatching the news can make me feel it would take a miracle to change this world. Mary and Elizabeth would say “miracles happen!” Blessing would agree.

Do I notice the miracles in my life?

PrayerLord, the world seems a very troubled place. Help me to believe that you can do the impossible. Amen.

Miracles

Action!Spend a minute or two identifying a miracle in your life and appreciating it.

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Neighbours

Sr Teclar, who delivered Blessing’s twins, was on call day and night to serve the needs of expectant and new mothers like Blessing.

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39) Reflection Main page

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ReflectionWho is my neighbour? Jesus said it’s the person who helps another.

Mary, already pregnant, made a long, hard journey to visit and help her cousin, Elizabeth. When did I last put myself out for others?

PrayerJesus, help me to be a good neighbour to those around me. Amen.

Neighbours

Action!Say hello today to someone you don’t normally speak to.

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Faithfulness

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Sr Teclar said, “I fell in love with the health clinic at Yakoko – even before I was a trained nurse. I asked to come back here because I saw how great the need was.”

He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love - according to the promise he made to our ancestors. (Luke 1:54)

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ReflectionMary praised God for being faithful to his promises.

I’m called to be faithful too, just as the sisters at St Monica’s clinic are faithful to their commitment to serve the people of Yakoko.

PrayerFaithful God, I’m sorry for the times I’ve failed to keep my promises. Give me energy to try again. Amen.

Faithfulness

Action!Decide one promise you will make as a New Year resolution.

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Possibilities

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With help from our supporters, babies like Peace and Patience, who would have died, are being brought safely into the world.

Elizabeth gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had lavished on her his faithful love, they shared her joy. (Luke 1:57-58)

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ReflectionNew life is full of promise. Elizabeth’s son, John the Baptist, grew into a great prophet. Who knows what Peace and Patience might do with their lives.

What about me? How am I using my gift of life?

PrayerLord of life, open me to possibilities I haven’t yet imagined. May my life fulfil all the dreams you have for me and help to make the world a better place. Amen.

Possibilities

Action!Visit our young leaders’ toolkit to see how you can make the world a better place with CAFOD

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Freedom

Nigeria is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, but local people do not benefit.

Many developing countries are still not ‘free’ to reap the benefits of their natural resources and hard work.

Products often benefit richer countries more than they benefit the people living in the developing countries producing them.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people, he has set them free. (Luke 1:68)

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ReflectionJesus was born so that everyone could be free, yet many people are still trapped in extreme poverty. It’s not fair that some people make a lot of money from developing countries, and yet farmers and small producers there can’t afford to send their children to school.

Trade systems need to be changed. I can influence change through the choices I make.

PrayerSon of God, Child of Mary, you came to set prisoners free. Show me how I can help bring freedom to those imprisoned by poverty. Amen.

Freedom

Action!Ask your family to buy Fairtrade products for Christmas lunch - tasty and fair!

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Christmas – rejoice!

Blessing’s children were also born in poverty. Yet, like Mary, she too rejoices.

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living place. (Luke 2:7)

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Reflection‘Glory to God on high!’ the angels sang, rejoicing at the birth of Jesus. My presents may make me feel happy today, but does the fact that God is with us also fill me with joy?

PrayerThanks for the Christmas gifts, Lord. And thanks for the greatest present of all, your Son. Amen.

Christmas – rejoice!

Action!Sing a carol (hum if it’s less embarrassing!) to pray for Blessing’s family and all who live in poverty.

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Photography: Simon Rawles /CAFOD

Design: Lisa Bogue

Credits

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