The perpetual cycle of seasonal change once again brings us the feast of Christmas, seeing out the old year as it draws to its close and welcoming in the new with renewed optimism and a sense of hope.
Despite the material temptations with which the commercial world overwhelms us, Christmas thankfully retains a particular significance for those of us who staunchly adhere to the age-old message centred on the lowly stable in Bethlehem, which remains the central focus of our celebration. Traditionally a time we spend, where possible, with family and friends, it lends itself to reflection of the cycle of life itself; those who have gone before us to their eternal rest and the new born, embarking on life’s journey.
As we look back over the last year at the numerous conflicts that have pre-occupied the media, it would be all too easy to overlook the advances that have been made in science, technology, and medicine, not forgetting the tireless work of unsung heroes who, in their own quiet way, perpetually strive for peace and harmony in the face of almost impossible odds. However we cannot ignore the tragedy that has unfolded in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, which has become the new benchmark by which many of us will judge the depths to which nations and individuals will stoop in pursuit of supremacy. With numerous major conflicts currently taking place across the globe, tragically, Syria is not an isolated case. The appalling loss of life, the horrific injuries inflicted by indiscriminate bombing, the consequent displacement of millions of innocent civilians resulting in the largest movement of refugees the world has ever known, and the consequent break up of families, many left as orphans, is all too familiar. We watch and listen in disbelief and anger as those engaged in the conflicts blatantly ignore pleas to bring an end to the suffering. At times it seems that, rather than encouraging peace, such pleas incite the protagonists to inflict even greater pain and misery as each side tries to outdo the other.
We have reached a tipping point where the physical and psychological trauma being inflicted on an entire generation of innocent men, women and particularly children, can no longer be tolerated. As Christians we have a duty to make our voices heard above the political rhetoric, loud enough to drown out the attempted justification for the perpetration of these atrocities. The time for watching and listening has to be replaced by action aimed at drawing a halt to this barbarity. Our focus should be on supporting the innocent victims whose pleas for mercy are met with barbed wire and armed militia set on restricting their pursuit of peace and freedom from the hellholes from which they have fled.
That’s easier said than done, you might justifiably say, when world leaders seem powerless in their attempts to broker a cease fire. How can we possibly make the slightest difference? Might I suggest that there is already a well-established, organisation which is capable of delivering the message? And it’s right here at the disposal of every diocese, parish and parishioner. I refer, of course, to the Justice & Peace Movement. With members throughout the length and breadth of the country, and with affiliation to the Commissions in Europe and beyond, it is well placed to act as the catalyst in pursuit of this worthy objective. The cessation of war and the substitution of peace lie at the very heart of the organisation. The movement also embraces issues regarding migrants, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture.
The extent to which the Justice & Peace movement promotes and achieves its underlying objectives in the Catholic Church varies from diocese to diocese depending on what congregations see as their priorities. Some are very active on a broad range of fronts, others less so, but it only takes one committed member to impart a Justice & Peace ethos on their own parish. What better time than Christmas, traditionally associated with peace and harmony, to regenerate the organisation. Think of the collective power that the voices of every parish in the land could bring to bear on those who have the responsibility for ending these atrocities. Think of how the energies of those troubled by what they are witnessing could be mustered to bring about peace and settlement.
Let us take time this Christmas to contemplate the innocent, homeless babe in the crib that it might inspire us to start the New Year with a resolution to ensure Justice & Peace is active in your parish.
If you would like more information, please contact us either by e-mail or telephone and we will be more than willing to respond.
Members of the Commission wish you Christmas blessings and extend their warm wishes at this joyous time.