Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Feast of the Holy Innocents and the innocents in our world

Today our lectionary commemorates the Feast of the Holy Innocents (pulling it forward a day because St. Stephen's Day fell on Sunday).

Today at 5:30 pm we will have a Holy Eucharist at St. Paul's to remember this day; it will be the last Eucharist of the calendar year at St. Paul's, taking the place of our regular Wednesday Evening Prayer. I hope you will join me.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is meant to remember when King Herod murdered all the young children in Bethlehem because he had heard a king had been born who would take his throne.

Did it happen exactly this way? Probably not. The story appears in Matthew 2:13-18 and nowhere else. Biblical scholars will tell you it is a highly symbolic story meant to evoke Jesus as the new Moses and to fulfill the predictions of the prophet Jeremiah.

That said, I don't want us to lose sight of the Holy Innocents. It was by no means certain that the infant Jesus would survive in the world where he was born. Disease and malnutrition was an ever-present danger. So was warfare.

In our own world, the infant mortality rate is highest in places of extreme poverty and warfare. According to statistics published by the United Nations, the worst infant mortality rates in the world are in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sierra Leone and Angola -- all places torn apart by warfare.

The safest place in the world to be born is Iceland.

For several years now, I've supported an organization, The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, or CIVIC, which documents the plight of refugees in war zones and advocates for their relief. The organizations puts people on the ground for first-hand accounts, at great risk to themselves (CIVIC's founder, Marla Ruzicka, was killed by car bomb in Iraq in 2005).

CIVIC has a new report on the plight of people caught in the cross fire in Northwest Pakistan; you can read the report by clicking HERE and a summary is below:
The number of civilian casualties-meaning deaths and injuries-is significant in Pakistan, though exact figures are unknown due to insecurity and government restrictions on information. In 2009, an estimated 2,300 civilians were killed in terror attacks alone with many more injured. Counting losses from Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone strikes, civilian casualties in Pakistan likely exceed in number those in neighboring Afghanistan.

Despite the severity of losses and consequences of ignoring them, civilian casualties receive too little attention from US, Pakistani and donor-nation policymakers, military officials, and international organizations alike. Overlooking the majority of civilians harmed or displaced by combat operations is undermining the Pakistani government's legitimacy. The US, too, has an obligation to these victims, as a major supporter of Pakistan's anti-terror efforts and as a warring party itself, with small numbers of troops on the ground and drones conducting strikes from overhead.
I would commend to you support for CIVIC; you can make a year-end donation by clicking HERE. I am making a donation today. Please join me.

Photograph of refugee children in Afghanistan.

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