The annual Christmas celebration lent a special sparkle to the Indian Embassy, Wednesday evening, aglow in light and decorations emblematic of the divine festival.
At the Chancery, the celebration is an eagerly-awaited, much-appreciated event attended largely by the Indian-American Christian community.
Welcoming the gathering to the 2017 function which Ambassador Navtej Sarna described as a “small but very loving celebration of this very important festival,” the envoy noted how the festival is celebrated all over the world, including throughout India, in different ways. But, the central message of peace, love, tolerance and brotherhood is the same, he emphasized.
A seasoned diplomat, he recalled attending various Christmas celebrations around the world – in Russia, Poland, and Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. “So, I have witnessed the spectacle of Christmas in different countries, in different societies. But, no matter how different this may be in country-to-country, family-to-family, church-to-church, the fundamental message is the same. It is the message of peace, love, tolerance, brotherhood. This is a message that the world needs today,” he said.
Looking around at the Indian Christian community who migrated to America, Ambassador Sarna noted, “You are carrying this message of love, peace and brotherhood in your heart and you are bringing it to the United States with a particular Indian ethos behind it.”
“I think this is the message that is imbuing the people-to-people relationship between India and the US,” the envoy added.Christmas, he noted, “is a festival of light. The coming of a Messiah is always the coming of light,” the dispelling of darkness, and of superstition.
“Even as we celebrate Christmas, we bathe ourselves in this heavenly light, our prayers should be for those who are less fortunate than us, those who do not have the privilege that we enjoy, those who are poor, the homeless, the weak and the oppressed. If we keep them in our thoughts, we enrich ourselves,” Ambassador Sarna said.
Among the special guests at the Christmas celebration was Derek Kan, US Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, who affirmed, “Love, peace and brotherhood are the hallmarks of India.” Referring to pictures of Mahatma Gandhi and John F. Kennedy on the walls of the Chancery, he noted, “it is a reflection of the deep partnership” between India and the US.
“President Trump has committed to strengthening the US-India relationship,” he said, recalling that when the president met Prime Minister Modi at the White House earlier this year, he “echoed the importance of that strategic partnership.” Noting that the two leaders met in November at ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Kan mentioned that they “reiterated a shared commitment to create a free and open Indo-Pacific region” in defense, energy and many other areas.
He told the gathering at the Embassy that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao “loves the Indian culture. She loves Bollywood,” he said. “Not only do we share information and cooperation in the areas of defense and energy, the fact that it is extended to Bollywood and entertainment, truly reflects a deep friendship between our two countries”.
Kan pointed out that the Department of Transportation (DOT) “has a longstanding relationship with the government of India” and is now coordinating with five Indian Ministries and many state and local authorities.
“We firmly believe that transportation is an area where countries can work together. We deal with so many issues that are shared such as congestion, pollution and safety,” Kan said, adding that he looks forward to continue to exchange ideas and best practices and work together for the good of both countries.
On hand to deliver the invocation, Pastor John Waidande of the Adventist Church in Virginia noted that the Christmas celebration at the Chancery reflects the true spirit of what India stands for: a secular democracy. Given that Christians are a small minority in India, the fact that the festival is celebrated throughout the country is a tribute to the founding fathers, he said, adding that freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitutions of both India and the US.
Reverend Samuel Honnappa, Pastor of the Memorial First India United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, reminded the gathering that in an era fraught with anxiety and stress, Christmas is a time of good tidings, of good news, heralding the birth of a savior. “The central message is that God loves us,” he said, underscoring, “Christmas is a time to love God and love our neighbors”.
Pratik Mathur, First Secretary, Press, Information and Culture, at the Indian Embassy, served as the emcee of the event. Given that a quintessential part of a Christmas celebration is the divine music, members of the DC-based Indian American Catholic Association Choir Ministry, led by Lena Faria, rendered a medley of popular carols. It is noteworthy that gifted singers of the 25-year-old association performed during the visit of Pope Francis to Washington in 2015, and regularly participate in programs at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in DC, as well as other holy venues.