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December 27, 2016

Children who languish this Christmas in squalid "mangers" -
Active nonviolence: key to peace -
The witnesses essential for a new evangelization

In this edition:
1. Active nonviolence and peace.
2. The wrenching pain of violence.
3. Casting Christmas light on children.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Persecuted children at Christmastime.
b) Immigrants and refugees this Christmas.
c) Christmas in times of fear.
5. The witnesses evangelization requires.

1. How to Pursue Active Nonviolence

Active nonviolence is the approach to peace that Pope Francis hopes the world will adopt today. Nonviolence in an active mode is the "style of politics for peace" that he encourages in his message for the Jan. 1, 2017, World Day of Peace.

He calls attention to St. Teresa of Kolkata as a model of active nonviolence. Nonviolence sometimes is thought to mean "surrender, lack of involvement and passivity, but this is not the case," the pope explains.

"When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979," he notes, "she clearly stated her own message of active nonviolence: 'We in our family don't need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace. Just get together, love one another . . . , and we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world.'"

Violence cannot serve as "the cure for our broken world," according to Pope Francis. For "countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world."

Violence at its worst "can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all," he writes.

He urges all of us "to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values." Charity, coupled with nonviolence, needs to "govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life," he proposes.

In fact, he writes, "when victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of nonviolent peacemaking." The pope points out that "Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart."

It is sad that today "we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal. It is not easy to know if our world is presently more or less violent than in the past or to know whether modern means of communications and greater mobility have made us more aware of violence, or, on the other hand, increasingly inured to it," he comments.

However, he says, "we know that this 'piecemeal' violence, of different kinds and levels, causes great suffering: wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment."

He asks: "Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few 'warlords'?"

To be true followers of Jesus today will involve "embracing his teaching about nonviolence," Pope Francis stresses. "For the force of arms is deceptive." He describes active nonviolence as "a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict."

In this world, everything is interconnected, says the pope. He acknowledges that "differences can cause frictions," but he urges that these differences be faced "constructively and nonviolently" so that "tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity, preserving what is valid and useful on both sides."

2. The Wrenching Pain of Violence

"We know the wrenching pain of violence," Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich said in a Dec. 12 reflection on the 2017 World Day of Peace message from Pope Francis. The cardinal wrote, "We see our neighbors weighed down by grief, parents burying children gunned down in the street, victims of a culture that seems to have forgotten the precious dignity and potential of every human life."

In the face of "unimaginable pain, we must not turn away, even as insurmountable as the problem may sometimes seem," said the cardinal. Instead, "we have a responsibility to build the culture we need, a culture of peace founded on an ethic of care for our neighbor."

The pope's message, the cardinal observed, "invites us to build peace through active nonviolence and reminds us that Jesus offers a 'manual for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount.'"

The cardinal regarded this as a profound teaching that, "as the pope observes, challenges political and religious leaders, heads of international institutions and business and media executives 'to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment or seek to win at any cost.'"

Cardinal Cupich wrote that in 2017 the pope "calls us to 'dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent communities that care for our common home.'"

3. The Squalid Mangers Devouring Children's Dignity

At Christmas the child Jesus in the manger becomes the focus of great attention. But what is essential, at the same time, is to allow this child to direct our attention to all the children of today's world "who are not lying in a cot caressed with the affection of a mother and father, but rather suffer the squalid 'mangers that devour dignity,'" Pope Francis said in his homily for the 2016 Christmas Midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.

The pope had in mind children who are "hiding underground to escape bombardment" or who lie "on the pavements of a large city" and "at the bottom of a boat overladen with immigrants."

Christmas calls out, he suggested, urging everyone to allow themselves "to be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, by those who have not toys in their hands but, rather, weapons."

In order "to celebrate Christmas authentically," it is essential to contemplate the sign given by the child Jesus - by "the fragile simplicity of a small newborn, the meekness of where he lies, the tender affection of the swaddling clothes," Pope Francis said. "For God is there."

The shepherds of the Gospel who made their way to the place where Jesus was born discovered "that all this glory, all this joy, all this light converges at one single point, that sign which the angel indicated to them: 'You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.'" This, said the pope, is an enduring sign - "not just then, but also today."

Jesus, the pope said, "was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference." Today, as well, "the same indifference can exist," and Christmas can "become a feast where the protagonists are ourselves rather than Jesus; when the lights of commerce cast the light of God into the shadows; when we are concerned for gifts but cold toward those who are marginalized."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Persecuted Children at Christmas Then and Now: "Although there is no world war [now], there are wars all over the world, and empires continue to be built and to collapse in violence. It is not even all that different from 2,000 years ago when the child Jesus came into the world in the stable of Bethlehem. Jesus was born into a violent world, into an empire founded on violence; and almost immediately that violence threatened him in the form of King Herod, the servant of the Roman Empire. . . . As then in Bethlehem, so now in Aleppo, Mosul, Cairo. The emperors of the modern world use their servants, and the little children are slain. Sometimes, in the face of such darkness, we may wonder how the world holds together at all. For Christians the answer lies with the child in the manger, the Son sent by his Father to be a light that can never be overcome by darkness." (From the ecumenical 2016 Christmas message by Msgr. Joseph McGuiness, administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Clogher, Ireland, and Bishop John McDowell of the Church of Ireland Diocese of Clogher.)

Immigrants and Refugees This Christmas: "Allow me to say a special word to our sisters and brothers who find themselves immigrants and refugees on Christmas Day. In you we see the very struggles of the Holy Family. From the angel of the Lord, Joseph heard the call to 'rise and flee' in order to keep Mary and Jesus safe from violence at home. The Catholic Church in the United States is praying for you and is working to welcome you as we would the Holy Family. We remain a people in need of God's love this Christmas, especially the unborn or unemployed, the suffering and sick, the lonely and the grieving. Let us pray the Holy Spirit will come upon us as he overshadowed the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation so that filled with the love of her Son, we will 'proclaim the greatness of the Lord.'" (From the Christmas 2016 message of the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas.)

Christmas in Times of Fear: "Into a world crowded with fear Jesus comes to proclaim an end to fear. . . . The Nativity means many things -- God became human, God is with us, God is among us, but also, as the angel declared to Mary, nothing is impossible with God. . . . Nothing -- not poverty, not injustice, not cruel rulers like Herod -- can thwart God's desires in the world. But we must participate in those desires because God acts through us. To those who lived in that world of fear, it must have seemed absurd that an infant would be the answer to their fear. But, improbably enough, it was true. For nothing is impossible with God." (From an unsigned editorial titled "Fear Not" in the Dec. 19 edition of America magazine, published by the Jesuits.)

5. The Witnesses Evangelization Requires Today

"While truth is very powerful and can change the hearts of many, I believe modern men and women are very skeptical of the truth -- and even more skeptical of those who pretend to preach the truth and do not live it out," Cardinal Joseph Tobin said in a homily during a Dec. 3 farewell Mass in Indianapolis, Ind. The new cardinal was named archbishop of Newark, N.J., Nov. 7.

In his homily, which focused on evangelization, he insisted that "those who live wedded to the truth and clearly show it in their actions are much more persuasive" than those who do not.

Cardinal Tobin recalled Blessed Paul VI writing in 1975 that "modern people listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if modern people do listen to teachers it is because they are also witnesses." A witness, the cardinal suggested, is more than a teacher.

"The world today simply will not listen to moralizing hypocrites," said the cardinal. They will, however, "listen to Christians who practice what they preach." His core message was that "the world around us will not listen to the Gospel unless we live a life of Christian joy, peace and sacrifice."

However, "if we boldly proclaim the truth but fail to live a life of holiness, our message is empty and has no weight," he added. Such a message "does not affect the people we meet, and they dismiss it without giving it a second thought."

Thus, "we cannot simply teach the truth boldly and expect that everyone will flock to the church," he said. "We must live it out first and foremost before we can become believable" and change hearts.