A New Year challenge for us to protect children

Manila Times [Manila, Philippines]

January 2, 2022

By Fr. Shay Cullen

HAS Christmas ended? Is the story over? Did we learn anything from the Christmas nativity story, and what values did the Church draw from it and teach us? Will we face 2022 with a new determination inspired to live out and practice the values of the Gospel?

The Christmas belen (manger scene) that depicts the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and surrounded by adoring parents Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and animals will be dismantled and removed from churches. But will it and the story it tells be removed from our minds and hearts? That is the story of Jesus of Nazareth that brought the love of God into the world, that elevated the rights of children and women to the highest level and that has called us to respect the rights of children and women and stop child abuse.

That Jesus who was born to a life of poverty in a dirty animal house in the cold of a Palestine winter stood with the poor and the abused. This is Jesus who was threatened by the cruel dictator and baby killer Herod and the family of Jesus had to become refugees fleeing the death squads into Egypt.

The universal Church, every Christian, is challenged by the Christmas story to speak out during the New Year and support the many thousands of refugees and migrants as did Pope Francis when he visited the refugee camps and called for us all to stand with them around the world.

Are we not shocked that the Catholic nations of Hungary and Poland have closed their borders and have driven back refugees and forbid them their universal human rights to apply for and seek asylum? Not only is that outrage a stain on the history of the Catholic churches in Poland and Hungary, worse, the Hungarian leader Victor Orban has violated and defies European Union law and Christian values banning people from helping the suffering and the sick refugees.

His government has rushed through a law making it a crime to help a refugee gain asylum. This immoral law forbids people to help the refugees with humanitarian aid. A law that forbids Christians to be Good Samaritans, to help the sick, the hungry and the needy, is wrong and evil. What evil is this that is allowed to pass in a so-called Catholic country?

This New Year will be a bleak and sad year for the refugees and migrants seeking a just and better life as is their right. Christmas values are eroded as the commercial world has taken over and distorted the meaning and purpose of Christmas. They have changed it into a commercial Disneyland, devoid of spiritual meaning and significance and contrary to the meaning of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who said he came to found a Kingdom of justice for the poor, the downtrodden and to end oppression. Christian people and church authorities seemingly just go along with this gross commercialization and money-making charade of a sacred feast and celebration devoid of meaning. It seems that so long as people attend ceremonies and Masses and give donations, then everything is approved, no objection. No need to stand and protest and preach the real values of human rights and dignity and children’s rights and an end to child sexual abuse. These rights are being trampled on by the death squads of a modern Herod.

The meaning and significance of that image of the most revered person in history, however, is reduced to a sanitized version of a harsh, unwelcome truth. The reality of the birth, if historically true, is that it was a painful, dangerous birth of a child of impoverished parents that could not get a place in the Bethlehem Inn. The birth was difficult and infection was likely in the dirty stable surrounded by animal dung, the air filled with the stench. It was the painful dangerous birth that about 1.1 billion impoverished mothers and children endure in the world today. A million newborn babies die annually on the day they are born.

One message is clear from the Gospel — that this specially gifted person, who called himself the Son of Man, one in solidarity with all humanity, was and is a representative of all impoverished humanity. He speaks for all men, women and children who are hungry, deprived of a decent life, and that suffered torture and an unjust death. If that was not enough, then there were the death squads and murderous military, sent out by a manic ruler, King Herod, searching to kill all who opposed and criticized him, even impoverished children. There came news of a threat of assassination and murder of the child Jesus. He was a threat to political power. (Matthew 2:16) The Herod death squads and military slaughtered every newborn child up to the age of two years old in the district of Bethlehem. Thousands were slaughtered. If he had been found, Jesus of Nazareth would have been among them. Cruel and evil humans would have once again altered the destiny of the world and deprived humanity of infinite goodness and love personified.

The parents of Jesus, like millions of refugees and migrants fleeing hunger and poverty and death threats today, fled into Egypt. There, they found a welcome and what a lesson it is for the world today.

It is a story by which parents can explain to the children the truth and realities of the world we live in. Yet the people of the rich world have closed their hearts and doors to the refugees and migrants as they wallow in wealth and as the oppressed refugees continue to flee Syria, Iraq and Africa and are locked down in squalid refugee camps.

If we see Christmas and the New Year as a challenge for us to embrace the words and example of Jesus of Nazareth and teach it to our children, what a different world it would be. What a lasting Christmas gift for life if that spirit of giving and sharing and working for a more just, loving world came to be in the minds and hearts and lives of our children? It would fulfill the plan and desire of Jesus to make a just world where love of each other brings happiness and peace.