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Here’s What the Holy Innocents Teach Us, According to Pope Francis

The Holy Innocents are the patron saints of babies.

Today, December 28, the Church commemorates the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

During this day, a few days after Christmas Day, the Church celebrates the memory of the small children of Bethlehem put to death by Herod. These little boys, innocent lives, were witnesses to how Jesus Christ was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him.

While the joy of Christmas is tempered by this feeling of sadness, let us look to the glory of these children who are now in heaven.

The Story of the Holy Innocents

The traditional way of picturing the massacre mentioned in Matthew 2:16-18. (Photo from Metropolitan Museum of Art / Christian Iconography)

The story of the Holy Innocents is told in Matthew 2:1-18. Herod “The Great,” king of Judea, was an unpopular monarch because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Because of this, he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne— he killed his wife, his brother, and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few.

So when he heard that astrologers from the East came asking for “the newborn king of the Jews,” Herod was greatly troubled. A master politician and cunning manipulator, he told the “Three Kings” to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” The kings, or astrologers, found Jesus, offered him their gifts, and warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph then escaped to Egypt. (Read: The Three Kings: Real or Fake News?)

Herod became furious. He “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.”

What Pope Francis Says

Pope Francis greets a sick child near the Talitha Qum homeless shelter in Cartagena, Colombia, on Sept. 10, 2017. (Photo from CNS photo / Paul Haring / America Magazine)

The feast of the Holy Innocents is an excellent time to reflect on the genocide and abortion happening today.

In 2017, Pope Francis lamented the many children who suffer from war, slavery, and various forms of abuse, including within the Church. (Read: 3 Organizations You Can Donate to for Children Going Hungry)

In a letter, he said that the Church not only hears the “cries of pain” of her children who suffer from war, slavery, and malnutrition, but she also weeps “because she recognizes the sins of some of her members: the sufferings, the experiences and the pain of minors who were abused sexually by priests.”

“It is a sin that shames us. Persons responsible for the protection of those children destroyed their dignity. We regret this deeply and we beg forgiveness.”

‘Open Our Eyes And Ears’

Photos from Karolina Grabowska from Pexels and Aleteia

Pope Francis also noted the many children who suffer and die due to other forms of abuse. He said that Christians must contemplate the manger at Christmas because it means to “open our eyes and ears to what is going on around us, and to let our hearts be attentive and open to the pain of our neighbors, especially where children are involved.” (Read: Govt Plans to Provide Food Aid to at-Risk Pregnant Women, Children)

Just as St. Joseph was conscious of the events going on around him and was able to interpret them in a realistic way, today’s pastors must also be “men attentive, and not deaf, to the voice of God, and hence more sensitive to what is happening all around us,” Francis said. 

‘Protect Our Holy Innocents’

Child labour in Afghanistan. (Photo from AFP or licensors / Vatican News)

These days, children’s innocence is stolen by scourges such as illegal slave labor, exploitation, and prostitution. It is “shattered by wars and forced immigration, with the great loss that this entails,” the Pope said.

Pointing to a recent report from UNICEF, the Pope said that unless things change, there will be 167 million children living in “extreme poverty” by 2030, and that 69 million children under the age of five will die between 2016-2030, while 16 million children will not receive a basic education. (Read: UNICEF Releases Film and Book to Help Kids Cope Amid Pandemic)

Christian joy, Pope Francis continued, “does not arise on the fringes of reality, by ignoring it or acting as if it did not exist.” Rather, it is born from the call to “embrace and protect human life, especially that of the holy innocents of our own day.”

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