Catholic News Service
A boy waits outside the entrance of a new community chapel during a meeting of youths and Catholic outreach volunteers in Leon, Mexico.
Catholic News Service
A boy waits outside the entrance of a new community chapel during a meeting of youths and Catholic outreach volunteers in Leon, Mexico.
Most of us don't think twice about a library card and certainly don't put it in the category of a gift that "keeps on giving" year-round. However, for a child who doesn't have ready access to books or a library, it can seem like Christmas every time the mobile library pulls into the neighborhood, especially if it's a neighborhood in Guanajuato, Mexico, where books are scarce and a library was just a concept until the "bibliobus" began making its rounds so children could board, browse and check out a book or two.

That opportunity, that experience, that gift would surely qualify as it continues to bring joy and wonder to children whether snowflakes fly or a hot dry wind blows dust into sunny days.

One American couple with roots in Mexico decided to bring the world of books to the children of a number of villages in Guanajuato through this "bibliobus." They found a place where "retired" buses were housed and cobbled together a bus from parts. Then they found ways to bring donated books to the bus and then to the children.

Volunteers rehabbed the bus, taking out seats and building shelves for the books. It turned into an amazing gift for everyone: Volunteers realized what a gift it was to give youngsters a new window on the world through a library bus, and children discovered how a library can open the world for them.

The bus is one of many ways this couple, and by extension their entire family, reaches out to others. Their faith drives their own personal bus. They believe God gives them purpose, whether they're stocking a library bus or volunteering in their parish or developing a vacation Bible school in Mexico.

It's all about putting their faith into action, being open to God's plan for them every day -- not just during the Christmas season.

The great gift I receive throughout the year is to meet people like this couple: to listen, to learn and to write their stories. Christmas may circle around once a year, but the people I've met believe in living the Gospel every day throughout the year.

I find them in St. Vincent de Paul councils, helping people put a roof over their heads if they've lost theirs, or keep the roof they have if that's possible. The people I've been fortunate to meet don't worry about someone taking advantage of them, and somehow they don't become jaded when it turns out someone's been less than honest about his or her predicament. "That's not my role," they've told me. "I'm here to do what God wants me to do and help where I can."

Another group of "Christmas people" helps young people experience the true meaning of giving in a way that changes their lives. They pass on that spark that cannot be extinguished, no matter how many years pass.

The understanding that practicing the corporal works of mercy or living the beatitudes isn't some smarmy way of looking at life. It is life. And through that prism of reality others have a chance to hold on to that dignity offered to them, and a chance to look at the future with a bit of hope instead of complete despair.

This doesn't produce Kodak moments or Hallmark movies. Often, it comes out of the pain and rejection of people who don't want "do-gooders" in their lives. However, the "do-gooders" I know don't shy away from someone in pain, someone who's crusty on the outside in more ways than one, who says he or she wants to live on the streets and who appears to have no one to care for them.

These are Gospel people, and they don't just fold up their tents and go home in the face of trouble. They believe in daily doses of prayer and turning their lives over to God to do with them what he wills. That makes for an exciting, uplifting time, whether it's December or July. It's a Merry Christmas all year long.

The writer is editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill.