CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Searching for the light of Christmas

HONG KONG (SE): A longing for peace, security and the freedom to be ourselves dominated messages from religious and world leaders in the run up to Christmas in 2015, with the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, saying in his message to the city that peace is becoming more tenuous and seems to be moving beyond the stretch of our fingers.

He spoke of challenges to what he called the core value of the family in the basic makeup of our society, but said that the message of Christmas leads us not to expect a blue sky each day, but an assurance that God is always with us in our struggles.

The bishop of the special administrative region of China added that the beginning of the Jubilee of Mercy prompts us to show mercy in our lives and the celebration of Christmas is a challenge to begin this at home, within our own families.

In The Philippines, Luis Cardinal Tagle said that mercy keeps our hearts open to God and is the key to being an open-hearted person.

“As Christmas is about the heavens opening so the Son of God could come to us, so it is also about us opening our hearts and arms to welcome Jesus in the hungry, thirsty, homeless, the naked, the sick, the prisoners and those who have hurt us,” the archbishop of Manila said in his Christmas message.

He said just as God has room for each one of us in his heart, Christmas bids us to make room in our hearts for those who may upset our comfort.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas called Christmas a mission in his Christmas message.

The president of the Philippine bishops’ conference said in wishing the nation a blessed and holy day, “Christmas is a mission. Christmas is a mission to be life-givers by self-emptying. Christmas is not a holiday. It is a challenging task. As we embrace the joys of Christmas, let us also carry on the mission of the Lord.”

In Yangon, the Union of Myanmar, Charles Cardinal Bo said, “With the general election of November 8, our nation sees the dawn of a change… Forgetting the past, the darkness of hatred, we can carry out the message of peace addressed to all people of good will.”

He called good will a prerequisite for the acquisition of peace and for the building of a new Myanmar, which can only be done with the good will of everyone.

At his midnight Mass, Pope Francis said, “Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God.”

However, he went on to warn that in the attitude of indifference towards the suffering of others and the well-being of life-giving creation, an absence of love is reflected, leaving only a residue of the fear of losing something coveted for personal gratification.

He then added that amidst the intoxication of the drive to consume with extravagance, a narcissism of self-gratification is reflected, and the call of the child born on Christmas Day to act soberly, in a simple, balanced and consistent manner that focusses on what is essential to the common good, must be heard.

In his message for Christmas, the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, drew attention to the suffering Christians of the Middle East.

“In some areas of the Middle East, where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year will be silent; this silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by the Islamic State,” he said.

He called on the people of his nation to pray for God’s protection for the persecuted, so that in the words of an old Christmas carol, “The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.”

The patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, said that although Christmas is a feast of the light that shines in the darkness and traditionally celebrated with gifts, the twinkling lights on trees, hope and peace; this year he was calling on all parishes to turn off their lights for five minutes, as a reminder of those to whom the light is being denied by violent oppression.

He called the continued making of war in the world a distortion and asked for all Christmas Masses in his diocese to be offered for the victims of the violence and terrorism of war and their families.

He concluded by describing the celebration of the birth of the saviour as a sign of the mercy and joy that is promised by God, calling it a message that shines in a wounded world, that can console the oppressed and bring conversion to hardened hearts.

However, the archbishop of Aleppo in Syria found it much more difficult to touch the hope of Christmas or see the light shining in the darkness.

Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart said, “I am sad because I no longer know what to say by way of encouragement of my faithful, who are at the end of their rope and who, day by day, are losing what hope remains.”

However, he said that he can only find courage in the fact that they have managed to hang on until today, despite all that has happened to them.

He said that all this he would present to the Lord in his Christmas Mass and beg for a Christmas present that has the power to bring back a smile onto the faces of his cherished people.

“I will ask him (the Lord) with all my heart that with his birth, he gives birth to a tenderness in hardened hearts, friendship among all and peace in our country,” he told the media on December 23.

However, the bleak outlook of this Christmas also calls for a response from the Church and Archbishop Jeanbart noted, “The Church and the community of believers have to respond to the current situation. This response is the Jubilee of Mercy… Mercy is the remedy for all ills of our time. It is through mercy that we make visible to the world the closeness and tenderness of God.”

But he stressed that mercy is not limited to individual relationships, but is a political value as well, as it embraces all sectors of public life and has international, regional and local dimensions.

“Mercy is a political act par excellence, provided the policy is set in its noblest sense, caring for the human family, beginning with ethical values, of which mercy is a principal component opposed to violence, oppression, injustice and the spirit of domination.”

Archbishop Twal also highlighted the value of interreligious dialogue in responding to violence and, significantly, for the first time since 1558, Christmas 2015 coincided with Mawlid, the celebration of the birth of the prophet, Muhammad.

The chairperson of the National Service for Relations with Muslims in France, Father Vincent Feroldi, called it a fitting time for Christians and Muslims to meet in fraternity and amity.

And so it was Christmas.


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