Peace and Justice at Christmas
Fr. Shay Cullen
With Christmas coming, we see the shining stars and message of peace. So many need peace: peace of heart and mind, soul and spirit, in the family and in friendships, in community, and above all peace to end the violence in the land of Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine.
Over a million refugees are perishing in Jordan and Turkey huddled in the cold winter tents of the refugee camps. Their Christmas will be just a little better than that endured by the parents of Jesus of Nazareth on the night of his birth and days after.
They too were refugees and asylum seekers and fled to Egypt to escape the tyrant Herod. Today they would be arrested, jailed and likely incarcerated on an Australian Island or behind an English barb-wired camp for asylum seekers. They would be barred too from many other countries if they fled across the borders seeking shelter and safety from cruel oppressors and dictators. Today the tyrants are Assad in Syria, the IS in Iraq and in the borders of Turkey, the militias in Libya and Mugabe in Zimbabwe and many more dictators in Africa and Mexico. They would be able to enter the Philippines but the border guards would demand they give up their donkey and any other possessions.
What was denied the Holy Family and millions like them in the world today is the traditional human respect and courtesy, shelter and food and hospitality offered to travelers and outcasts for millennia. In the violent world of conflict today, we desperately need a positive caring attitude that respects human values and to which all hostile and alienated groups can aspire to embrace. A spirit of tolerance and peace-making is what is needed above all to work towards a ceasefire, peace talks and bring relief and healing to hundreds of thousands. We need to work towards a greater respect for human life and the rights and dignity of people and promote religious freedom and tolerance.
Iraq is split between the warring factions of Sunni and Shia and the IS blood thirsty fanatics have exploited this religious sectarianism and alienation of the Sunni to suit their own bloody ends. Christians and minorities are massacred, raped and decapitated without mercy or respect for human life by the Islamic state terrorist group.
Peacemaking in this situation is almost impossible. It is possible in other less violent war zones and urgently needed where social unrest is rising. It is finding a way to bring together the divided parties such as the Christian and Muslim communities in our various countries. Fostering inter-religious peace and harmony in non-violent communities wherever possible will help prevent more conflicts. It was heartening to see Pope Francis with the leaders of many religions gathered in the Vatican to declare unity, common peace-making and declaring sex slavery a crime against humanity.
That was one great step for the religious leaders to declare before the world. It certainly boosted our spirits here at the Preda Foundation where we are doing our best saving children and women from sex slavery and where some prosecutors, judges and politicians ignore it altogether. Those victims need justice, freedom and peace.
In Australia, we saw a fine spirit of unity between Christian and Muslim communities as they take a stand against extremism and violent acts like the hostage-taking in Sydney recently. Nations where racism and exclusion has been the norm must accept their bias and overcome their disgust with black people. In the United States thousands are marching demanding racial equality and justice as they protest the killing by police of an unarmed black youth.
To make peace each side in a conflict has to admit their mistakes and wrong-doing against the other. Peace-making and forgiveness will then be possible. Yet peace and forgiveness for heinous crimes without penance is not a true peace and healing. In Colombia, the people are protesting against a proposed total amnesty for the FARC rebels. They have waged insurgency and drug trafficking for decades and they want to walk free without accountability for thousands of murders, kidnappings and torture of hundreds of innocent civilians. The people demand justice and that they do penance.
Jesus of Nazareth the great Prince of Peace made it clear that forgiveness follows repentance and acceptance of penance. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near,” he said. Penance is expected not out of revenge but as the just penalty due and as a humble admission and confession of sin and a firm resolve of repentance and restitution.
That’s why Jesus said as recorded in Matthew Chapter 18 that a child abuser is better to have a millstone tied around his neck and thrown in the depths of the sea. Probably because such abusers never confess or admit their crimes against children and accept their penance in jail. Without that, they are not easily forgiven.
And so the real Christmas is about the birth of Jesus who brought the great values of human rights, dignity of the person made in the image and likeness of God into the world. He established the rightful place of women and children as being the most important in the Kingdom (Matthew 18 v. 1-7), a great truth which was quickly ignored by a male-dominated society and Church. It was buried and forgotten as a very inconvenient truth until this generation.
So that is what we have to celebrate, not only the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but celebrate the Son of God who established those rights by being born fully human.
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