While parents here run to buy Christmas presents for their children, parents over there, in far too many countries, run under threat to protect their children from danger.
The arrival of Christmas is good news! – So the hymns tell us – news which bears the promise of peace and of love. However, Christmas has become a threat in innumerable countries for many Christians, some of which are in the very cradle of Christianity itself. Though it is difficult to do an exhaustive assessment of all the countries where conflict is being lived, or whose dramas have taken the stage at Christmas time, we cannot silently over-look any of them.
Let us think about the conflicts in Syria which forced hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee to safer areas and leave behind all of their belongings. What kind of future do you believe Syrian children are destined for? What kind of Christmas will they have?
And what of their neighbouring country Iraq – 10 years ago they Christians numbered 900,000, and today their number has dwindled down to 200,000. Perhaps you recall the massacre of a Syrian church in Baghdad, on October 31, 2010 last – which left 46 dead, and among the fatalities, two priests. This also foreshadowed events that would follow. Another attack was to take place during the Christmas season, and numerous bombs were placed close to Christian homes in Baghdad killing two people and injuring dozens more. This year, will these children be surrounded by gifts or surrounded by threats?
What shall we say of Nigeria, where Christians became the victims of murderous attacks three Christmases running, for these, the Islamic sect – Boko Hararm- claimed responsibility for the last two. In 2010, bombings left at least 32 dead and 74 injured in Jos, in 2011 – Boko Haram perpetrated several attacks against churches killing dozens of the faithful; and in 2012, armed men attacked a church in the North during Midnight Mass, killing six people – a priest among them – before setting the building aflame. Do you believe that these children: Yakubu, Murtala and Olusegun will be surrounded by gifts this year? Or rather, is it more likely they will be surrounded by threats?
In Pakistan, 50 extremists Muslims armed with sticks and axes, attacked church buildings in Chak while a film was playing called ‘Jesus’; and while in Pakistan – how can we forget Asia Bibi? This woman stagnates imprisoned in a confined space, her only visitors being her lawyer, her husband and her five young children. Add to this list: the Philippines. In the chapel of the Sacred-Heart in Jolo, a bomb explosion injured 11 during a morning Christmas Mass. And in Sri Lanka, again on Christmas day, bombs fell from the air destroying a Christian center which cared for orphans and disabled girls. Do you believe that these children will be surrounded by presents of by threats this year?
In Bosnia–Herzegovina, the faithful saw the Orthodox Cathedral’s flag burning on Christmas Eve by unidentified arsonists. Do these kinds of acts allow them to believe that they will be surrounded by presents or by threats this year?We could extend our list with a situation in Egypt, when at the end of Midnight Mass – several Copts were gunned down. And in China, while a wave of persecution swept over Christians of Uyghur and Han ethnicity, between Christmas and the New Year – or again in Bangladesh, when the popular Democratic Front ordered Church leaders not to hold Christmas celebrations.
THEIR FAITH DOES NOT PROTECT FROM THEIR SUFFERING
If we are to rejoice for children for whom Christmas will bring presents in a joyful way, perhaps might we all, all the same, commiserate with those for whom Christmas might transform into threats, injustices and sadness? Let us take of leave of the vengeance wishing to take up residence in our hearts, and let us call on forgiveness to assuage the pain.
Certainly, this requires a living faith to traverse the challenges of persecution.
Similarly, if Christians are people of faith, faith does not protect from suffering. Each action posed on their behalf signifies to them that we are thinking of them, and that they are not alone.
Does this accompaniment not give them access to forgiveness and to allowing for an opening on to the path towards hope?
Pray for those, everywhere, who are in need of YOU, to stay true to their faith;
Inform all those here who wish to help THEM too, they who fortify us in our faith;
Let us give, to all those who are in need of US, hope for a better life.