Christmas is a time that challenges us to protect life.
Pope Francis underscored this in a letter he sent to the bishops of the world on Dec. 28, 2016, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. In the same letter, the Pope urges them to hear the cries, especially of the most vulnerable, around them.
Moreover, Francis begs forgiveness for the priests who abused children, or covered it up, urges all “necessary measures to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated,” in order to “adhere, clearly and faithfully, to ‘zero tolerance.'”
Foster Joy, No Matter What
Francis begins his letter saying he feels compelled to write his brother bishops and reminds them that marking the feast of the Holy Innocents, all pastors, are called to help foster, and protect, joy among the faithful.
“I ask you once again that we not let ourselves be robbed of this joy, for we can be disillusioned at times, not unreasonably, with the world around us, with the Church, or even with ourselves,” he said.
Christmas, the Pope also noted, is also accompanied, whether we like it or not, by tears. Pointing out that the Evangelists did not disguise reality to make it more credible or attractive, Francis highlighted that nowadays, “we also hear this heart-rending cry of pain, which we neither desire nor are able to ignore or to silence.”
“In our world – I write this with a heavy heart – we continue to hear the lamentation of so many mothers, of so many families, for the death of their children, their innocent children.”
The Pontiff acknowledged that bishops must realize that that this sad chapter in history is still being written today.
“Can we truly experience Christian joy if we turn our backs on these realities? Can Christian joy even exist if we ignore the cry of our brothers and sisters, the cry of the children?” the Pope asked, noting Saint Joseph was the first to be charged with protecting the joy of salvation.
The same thing is asked of us pastors today, Francis said, “to be men attentive, and not deaf, to the voice of God, and hence more sensitive to what is happening all around us.” Francis then illustrated various sufferings which shouldn’t be ignored.
After lamenting how we hear the world’s children’s cries, Francis said: “we also hear the cry of the Church our Mother, who weeps for the pain caused to her youngest sons and daughters. She recognizes the sins of some of Her members, of priests who sexually abused minors, and those who covered it up.
“It is a sin that shames us,” Francis said, noting, “Persons responsible for the protection of those children destroyed their dignity. We regret this deeply and we beg forgiveness.”
Saying we join in the pain of the victims and weep for this sin–“the sin of what happened, the sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of the abuse of power”–, Francis added: “The Church also weeps bitterly over this sin of her sons and she asks forgiveness.”
“Today, as we commemorate the feast of the Holy Innocents, I would like us to renew our complete commitment to ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully, to “zero tolerance.”
Protect, Defend Life
Noting that Christian joy is born from a call, Francis said it is the same call that Saint Joseph received, namely “to embrace and protect human life, especially that of the holy innocents of our own day.”
“Christmas is a time that challenges us to protect life, to help it be born and grow,” he added, saying, “It is a time that challenges us as bishops to find new courage. The courage that generates processes capable of acknowledging the reality that many of our children are experiencing today, and working to ensure them the bare minimum needed so that their dignity as God’s children will not only be respected but also, above all, defended.”
Pope Francis concluded praying, “Let us not allow them to be robbed of joy” and may we do so following Saint Joseph and Mary’s example.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Pope’s Letter to world’s bishops on Dec. 28, 2016, on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-letter-to-worlds-bishops-on-feast-of-holy-innocents-martyrs/