A child’s face, no matter what nationality, is naturally, an attention grabber. The photographer knows this. A child’s life, regardless of the environment, is presumed to be first protected by the gentleness of their parent’s tender love and within the sanctuary of a secure and stable family. But often this is not the case.
Recently, there has been much attention in the news about children. Children separated from their families, children made vulnerable to political and moral exploitation. Children caught in the crossfire between rockets and missiles in the Middle East. Children caught in no-man’s-land between Mexico and the U.S, or the 90 Christian schoolchildren kidnapped in Nigeria by muslim fundamentalist extremists.
Some will say, “Why should we be looking after someone else’s kids when we can barely look after our own?” And maybe that is indeed the reason - that, regardless of the photo op, we are not every good at looking after our own children. Sometimes, we have to be taught a lesson. And God is, perhaps, giving the class an opportunity for a fieldtrip to learn how it’s done!
Maybe, when we are forced to care for the stranger, the child and the abandoned, then we might be rudely awakened to the fact that even our own laws at home, particularly regarding marriage and family life, are not as secure as we thought.
Saturday (June 25th) was the feastday of St. Joachim and Anne, the parents of our Blessed Mother Mary - they were the grandparents of Our Lord. Grandparents, like no others, (probably because of the grace of years and wisdom they have often built up in the world) have a unique perspective on the battles children get drawn into. In these situations there is no photographer waiting to catch the heart-melting look, nor a supply of volunteers to give a needed hug or hot meal. There are many wars where children get caught in that don’t become front page headlines.
There are children who get drawn into custody battles, children who battle for attention from parents who are sometimes overworked or constantly distracted, children who battle with mental illness and sickness, children who are exposed to violence, to abuse and neglect. In a world of facebook and instagram, these are the faces of the children we forget or ignore, because its easier to “overlook them” than actually “see them” in front of us, staring at us without us even noticing.
Christ has told us in no uncertain terms, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16. Christ even got angry with his disciples when they were preventing this from happening.
There are times, in our own charity and goodwill towards the children in our care, that Christ is angry with us - when we put our own needs and neediness first and forget too easily, especially of we are parents, the promise that was made at the baptism of our children, when promising to raise them up according to the commandments of the Lord and the practice of the faith. Our children are watching us. We are teaching them first by our example in what we do and in what we fail to do.
Catholics should also take note that when vulnerable families arrive in the United States, (particularly if they are Catholic children), if the first Christians to meet them, who clothe them, feed them and offer them an embrace of love, is a battalion of Latter Day Saints, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses or other types of fundamentalists, then Christ is justified in His anger against us for neglecting our own brothers and sisters, our own children.
So, where do we go from here? I offer to you an example of two priests. One close to home, whom we may know, the other in South America whom our local Emiliani Project discovered.
The first is Father Joe. We are familiar with his work with the homeless throughout San Diego county. We are not so familiar with his work with our own local homeless teenagers. In the heart of downtown he set up a house called the Toussaint Academy http://www.toussaintacademy.org/index.html to take in homeless and vulnerable at-risk teenagers who were found wandering our own streets, abandoned. Patiently and carefully these teens were connected with caring adults, given a safe place to live and learn the basic life skills necessary to one day succeed as future adults -providing scholarships, job placements and the necessary mentoring to break them out of the often repeating cycle of poverty and homelessness.
The second priest is Father Jorge Villalobos, a priest from Mexico who was ordained by St. John Paul II. He was sent to Colombia. His ministry took him to the ghettos of Medellin, to rescue children from lives of destitution and neglect. Like Father Joe, Father Jorge has set up special homes and schools - they called themselves Gente Unida http://www.genteunida.org.co/ a united people - this is what a true family is. Padre Jorge would literally enter into the ghettos of Colombia and take vulnerable children away from danger so that they can grow up in a safe environment, away from the drugs, violence and neglect.
When every Catholic at home or abroad, responds to the Lord’s demand that the children be protected from evil and from the barrage of impure influences now very much common in our world, then we are moving towards the salvation of humanity rather than just moving dust around our home. Let us pray that when children do get lost or abandoned, and the wolf chases them through the dark forest, that they will find not just a place to hide, but a safe place to call home.
St. Joseph, Protector of the Family, Pray for us!
St. Jerome Emiliani, Patron of Abandoned Children, Pray for us!