By Sr Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, D.Min.
I listened to an interview on the BBC News with a young man originally from Africa, adopted by a US family who eventually became an American Olympic Champion.
He recalled, as a very small child, being ripped from his mother’s arms by a rebel army surging through their African village, forced into a children’s rebel warrior training camp, escaping and eventually entering another African country where an American family found him, adopted him and fulfilled his dream of becoming a USA Olympic runner and college graduate. Pondering his story, I found myself immediately reflecting upon our recent Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28).
While this young man’s story has a happy ending, how many children around the world are ripped out of their mother’s arms, forced into camps, gangs, trained to be child warriors, or forced into the sex trade industry?
We only need to listen to stories from Africa, Central America, Latin America, the Middle East and the USA. Children are ripped from their parent’s homes and arms, used as weapons, abused for sexual pleasure, living in declining economic contexts, broken and anxious families, and many on the streets or poverty-stricken inhumane conditions. These are today’s Holy Innocents.
I travel around the world and frequently have conversations with women, men and faith communities who are courageously working to save the—our—children. Each and every story breaks one’s heart.
There are times I feel powerless in the face of this tragedy that is sweeping across our planet. Yet, none of us with a moral conscience can stand by and say ‘there is nothing I can do’.
The future of our diverse civilisation is imprisoned in these forced conditions by adults who have no or limited respect for human life. Their own distorted views perhaps by their own childhood abuse continues the cycle of oppression, suppression, and violence.
Recently, I read an article by a colleague on the life, writings, and impact of St Archbishop Oscar Romero. Quotes from St Romero’s pleas to end the El Salvadoran war and the oppression of children, women, and men resonated all morning within me in light of the BBC account. His message ended in his martyrdom.
Let us recall that the last Beatitude is: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness‘ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”. Speaking out for the rights of children who are already born and crying out to simply have a meaningful and productive life, is this too much to ask of us?
Pope Francis consistently strives to raise our moral conscience to these issues. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Rejoice and Be Glad: The Call to Holiness in Today’s World, Chapter Three indicates that “Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card. So if anyone asks: ‘What must one do to be a good Christian?’ the answer is clear.”
Pope Francis uses the term parrhesia: “It is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world.” Evangelising is not limited to preaching. He says: “We need the Spirit’s prompting, lest we be paralyzed by fear and excessive caution, lest we grow used to keeping with safe bounds. Let us remember that closed spaces grow musty and unhealthy.”
He goes on to say: “Complacency is seductive; it tells us that there is no point in trying to change things, that there is nothing we can do, because this is the way things have always been done yet we always manage to survive. By force of habit we no longer stand up to evil…Yet let us allow the Lord to rouse us from our torpor, to free us from our inertia. Let us rethink our usual way of doing things; let us open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be complacent about things as they are, but unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord.”
We each need to pray for parrhesia in the face of violence enacting upon the children of the world. We cannot stand by complacent. We need to awaken to the reality of our innocents who are enslaved, imprisoned, abused and living in poverty in our towns, country, and the world.
As we pray and hope for a future of peace and justice, it begins with how we inclusively support and care for all our children in the world.
Come Holy Spirit, may our hearts and moral consciences be moved with a parrhesia for boldly speaking out and responding to the cries of today’s Holy Innocents in a proactive way, we pray. Amen.
Sr Angela Ann, a frequent visitor to Trinidad & Tobago, is a member of the religious community known as the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. She is the Director of the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives and Professor in the Department of Religious Studies of the University of Dayton, USA. Involved in different aspects of communications and with distance education for over three decades, Sr Angela Ann was a member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (Vatican) 1994-2002.