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Celebrating the Holidays
By Kathleen Bagg-Morgan
Not being with family during the holidays is tough for anyone. But for those in the military, spending the holidays away from home is often a reality. The uncertainty of unrest in Iraq will make this holiday season even more stressful than usual for the families of military members serving in harms way.

Nurse and Navy Capt. Kathleen Michel is fortunate. She will be home when her four children unwrap their presents this Christmas day. But she didn’t expect to be. Capt. Michel was called to serve at the Expeditionary Medical Facility in Kuwait, the only coalition forces military hospital just south of Iraq. In our cover story this month, Capt. Michel explains how her faith helped her tend to the combat wounds of our soldiers and endure time spent away from her husband and kids.

And while our armed forces are doing the business of the country, military chaplains, like Father Michael Mikstay are busy at home taking care of the families of our military personnel. Father Mikstay is Command Chaplain at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. He will be here for Christmas ministering to the families of St. Edward Chapel before joining the Marines as a Catholic chaplain serving in Iraq early next year.

So how can we help those in uniform celebrate the holidays? It’s not too late to:

• Donate a calling card to help troops keep in touch with their families at Operation Uplink,

• Sign a virtual thank-you card at

• Make a donation to the Military Relief Societies: Army at; Navy and Marines at; Air Force at, or the Coast Guard at

If you know a family that will be alone this holiday due to a loved one serving oversees, reach out to them and share the spirit of Christmas by exchanging family customs and traditions - or you can try one of two featured in this issue.

Turn to page 16 for a complete guide to building a Spanish-style Nativity scene. Popular in Spain and throughout Europe, building a Belén (Spanish for Bethlehem) is a wonderful custom that provides families a real focus for Christmas. Elizabeth Gessner, a Spanish translator living in St. Augustine has traveled extensively to Spain to hone her linguistic skills and while there she discovered the art of making a Nativity Belén. She says it offers parents an outstanding teaching moment, and is simply a lot of fun. And Elizabeth’s Belén will be on display this Christmas at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine.

In our new Culture column on page 26, Michelle Sessions-DiFranco shares her recipe for making cathedral cookies for Christmas. She calls them windows of peace and they provide a message of hope, love and peace especially for people separated from loved ones during the holidays.

On behalf of the staff of the St. Augustine Catholic, have a blessed Advent and very merry Christmas!

- Kathleen Bagg-Morgan, editor