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Away from home, at the edge of the world, to keep peace and restore hope among peoples which have been afflicted by wars and deprivation for years. There are ten thousand Italian soldiers who spend Christmas away from home, in tormented lands where, thanks to them, Jesus will be born in these places where suffering and tragedy are people’s companions  in everyday life. It is a message of peace and hope conveyed by the military men and by the tricolor.

There are twenty international missions in which Italian soldiers are involved. From Kosovo and Bosnia where we have been present for several decades now to the most recent missions in Somalia, Iraq and Mali, as well as Afghanistan and Lebanon. In three theaters, Italy is leading the mission.

It is a different Christmas, but traditions and especially the testimony of faith are not forgotten here. A hot situation, due to temperature and due to the situation of the contingent in Mogadishu, engaged in the Eutem mission, training Somali security forces. “Christmas holidays are always a moment of reflection on the value of the family, the loved ones and all those who are suffering and need to be sustained in their everyday life – the Brigadier General Antonio Maggi, commander of the European Union training mission explains – . The Italian soldiers in Mogadishu, even at 5,500 kilometers away from home, kept the feeling of solemnity of the moment alive, surrounding themselves with symbols that recall festivities. They have decorated the Christmas tree, it will be possible to vary the menu of the lunch and there will be an exchange of wishes”.

What gives more meaning to the holiday and strengthen their bond with Italy and faith, at the  Eutem base will arrive Monsignors Giorgio Bertin, Bishop of Djibouti and Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu, who will officiate Holy Mass on Christmas day. “On December 25, besides – the general Maggi says – they will be able to reach those they love through the use of computerized media, which will shorten distances with their families. Despite the festive season, we will continue our daily activities of training and consultancy to the institutions”.

Going northwards, on the margins of the Holy Land, in the defense of peace in the battered Middle East, Italian soldiers, under the blue banner of the UN, put barriers between Hezbollah and the Israelis to prevent new escalations. Italy has the guide of the UNIFIL mission, whose division general Portolano Luciano. They are the alpine troops of the Taurinense brigade, currently deployed in Lebanon in the UNIFIL mission to spend Christmas and the holidays of the Christmas period away from home and from their families. “It is not the first time this happens. Aalready in the past, during previous missions of peace the brigade carried out in the winter period, our soldiers helped to make Christmas safer for our fellow citizens working away from their homeland, without stability, in countries devastated by humanitarian crises and belligerence. Yet they do not fail to celebrate, soberly albeit significantly, a holiday which is so important for us, Italians”,  the captain Marco Di Lorenzo, spokesman of the contingent, recalls.

The Christmas spirit, lived on a peace mission, is intense, almost contagious and celebrating it with an extended family of 13 contingents, which constitute the West sector of the UNFIL mission, assumes such a strong character that it almost succeeds to compensate the distance from home and from their families. “The numerous operational and support activities for the Lebanese population never stop – the captain Lorenzo explains – patrols will monitor the blue line (the line of demarcation between Israel and Lebanon ndr) in support to the Lebanese Armed Forces, even on the night of Christmas and our health team will be ready to relieve the sufferings of the Lebanese families and of the many Syrian  refugees present in our area of responsibility that they will ask our help; nevertheless the Italian contingent together with much of the blue helmets of the foreign contingents who exist in our bases will have the chance to celebrate Christmas by attending the religious functions which our don Mauro, the military chaplain of the Brigade Taurinense will organise in Each base that hosts Italian soldiers.

Don Mauro, accompanied by the commander of the Italian contingent and some components of the Brigata Alpina Taurinense, will spend the Christmas eve at the advanced operational bases, located close to the blue line where small Italian units work continuously to control the cessation of hostilities in the area and the protection of the base 1.32 alpha, the location of an extremely important tripartite joint meeting, the official dialog between the Lebanese and Israeli delegations, which met thanks to the mediation of the  UNIFIL commander. An outpost in this no-man’s-land where Christmas Mass will take on an even greater importance.

UN bases of southern Lebanon, where Italian soldiers are present, show evident signs of Christmas and holiday season; Christmas trees and Cribs remind that, although on mission and far from home, it is a festive period there.  Lebanon is an extraordinary country, the interfaith dialog exceeds the differences and no wonder if many Lebanese citizens from villages close to the bases will spend with the Italian soldiers the most significant moments of the forthcoming festivities. And it will be Christmas, with a Crib and a decorated Christmas tree also at Camp Arena in Herat.

There, in the Italian outpost for defense from terrorism and in support of the rebirth of Afghanistan, the mechanized brigade “Aosta” from Messina took last September, the leadership of the Train Advise and Assist Command West (Taac W), a NATO multinational Command  that operates in Herat in the west region of Afghanistan, in the context of the mission Resolute Support (RS). The Commandant is the Brigadier General Mauro D’Ubaldi, on whom depend all the operational units responsible for keeping security in the area of responsibility, a field health planning (Role 2) and the units responsible for carrying out the duties of training, advice and assistance for the Afghan Armed Forces, the true core business of the mission. “It is certain that Christmas 2015 – here in Herat – cannot be like a Christmas spent in Italy – the lieutenant colonel Angelo Vesto PI of the mission explains – . Yet, it is not going to be a day like any other. The Spirit will be felt especially in the heart, in the air, in the wishes we are receiving already and in the wishes we send you. Emails and social networking will be our “virtual fireplace”, next to which we will warm with photos, videos and wishes that arrive from those we love who are far away. Paradoxically, we will live in these small things a special feeling, perhaps even deeper and more felt than those we feel under normal conditions. And despite the fact that December 25 is a working day as any other, we will not renounce the symbolism we love”.

Dozens of Cribs have sprung in “Camp Arena”. There is a large tree with red flakes, just at the exit of the chamber 150, the Church. There will be organized a good lunch, Midnight Mass, hot chocolate to bring it to the staff busy in the service of vigilance. “Someone will invent, buy, or “build” a gift. – the officer says – children in some elementary schools of the Lazio, Molise and Campania regions have sent us over two thousand letters with wishes. After Mass, we will give them to everyone and it is certainly going to be a moving moment. In short, we will stay  in good company”.

“Besides, there is an unusual family atmosphere at the base these days, despite attention is maintained at the highest levels –  the lieutenant colonel Vesto continues – .  We recently had the pleasure to receive the visits of important Authorities and all of them have noticed an organization that moves in synergy, where people work, move, work one for another. An atmosphere that despite the delicacy of an inherently dangerous mission, is fundamentally serene. And between the attentive and proud gazes of our men and our women, smiles flourish which are somewhat of a constant in our contingent. Our team is a strong one. And it is nice to be part of it. Hopefully our families will forgive us for being absent; this Christmas in mimetic suits, with a secret and joy filched here and there, a difficult job, that warms our heart anyway.

An Afghan, mimetic Christmas in the country’s service. Because we have a mission to accomplish. And we are there; more than that…The slogan of the Italian Army which encloses the commitment and sacrifice of our soldiers even those in Kosovo, one of the longest missions. In recent days, the commander, the Division General William Luigi Miglietta, by turning on the lights on the Christmas tree has marked the beginning of the Christmas festivities. “In this moment of celebration, far from our families, be particularly proud of your commitment to the service as Kfor team members.” The representatives of the 31 nations engaged in the mission “Joint enterprise” united as one big family, they hope for a period of peace and serenity. A large decorated fir tree with a NATO sign soaring inside the base and the snow in recent days which whitened everything have contributed to the Christmas atmosphere.

Christmas away from home and on alert for men on ships which intersect in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf or at the base in the Emirates for the pilots of Aeronautics who work in the skies of Iraq.  A Christmas of work for all the military men, away from home to contribute to the security of all of us. Happy Holidays, lads!

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