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God is Born Among Debris: A Christmas Reflection

by | Dec 31, 2016 | Formation, Reflections

Among the many messages that we share in these Christmas festivities, full of good wishes and hope, there is an image that captivated my heart: a manger set in an environment of debris and destruction. The nativity can be visited in the basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva of Rome.

Photo by Mauricio Artieda, published on

The allegory is clear: we have seen similar debris in many cities bombarded during the current wars. As much as we want to look the other way, the world we live in is passing through turbulent times, and a silent cry is raised to the sky in the reality of many innocents who suffer the violence of wars and injustices. We have become accustomed to seeing it on television, they are facts that have become part of the day to day and that, with shame, we see happening to the indifference and the little commitment of the authorities. The flow of refugees to Europe and other “developed” countries question our most entrenched values, and the words of certain politicians, wanting to close borders to pain, make us blush and feel embarrassed to be part of the privileged group that lives more or less fine; and yet, as societies and nations, and also as individuals, we close our hands to the pain of the innocent, with the most trivial excuses.

Jesus was not born in an easy situation. The Gospel account tells us of a family that had to move from Galilee to Bethlehem, where it was not welcomed, and which, at the time of childbirth, had to do so in a humble stable, surrounded by animals. Perhaps we look too much on the pious image of Jesus surrounded by angels, shepherds and animals. But let us not forget that God became a man on the margins of society, rejected, without being welcomed by those who could have done so.

One of the questions that this photograph provoked in me is: “What would Vincent de Paul do in our situation?” We know how St. Vincent acted in situations of war. We can read, in any biography of the saint, the account of the disasters of war and how Vincent and his followers got to work, for example, during the Thirty Years’ War. Father José María Román tells us, in chapter XXXI of the book “Saint Vincent de Paul, a biography,” how

the war was responsible for the exodus of thousands of people of all ages and every social class. Half the country [Lorraine] was left uninhabited. The principal centre that these poor, harrassed and destitute people made for, was Paris. Vincent poured out his tenderness on these poor exiles, too, and he started with the most vulnerable groups; young girls and children.

When economic means scarce,

Vincent sent for his bursar and asked him how much money they had in the safe.

“Just enough to feed the community tomorrow,” answered the bursar.

“And how much is that?”

“Fifty écus”

“Well, bring them to me, please.”

The bursar, somewhat displeased, obeyed and Vincent used his community’s money to make up the amount of money needed to help the people of Lorraine.

The question that quickly arises, given our present situation, is: “what can we, the followers of St. Vincent, do?” His example is undoubtedly radical: he gave the money that the Vincentian community needed to eat the next day to meet the needs of the refugees. Are we just as radical?

We celebrate these days, then, the memory of a God who becomes a child, and that was born poor, displaced and marginalized. This memory leads us to think of so many thousands, millions of people who today still live on the margins, poor, displaced, refugees … Maybe, if today the baby Jesus were born, we would see him born in a refugee camp. Shall we accompany that Jesus who is still —in some way— being born and living in the battlefields, in the existential peripheries, in the thousands faces of anguish and pain, today? Will we have the courage to act as Vincent did, even at the cost of our own security and comfort, in favor of our poor brethren?

I believe that, without doubt, that would be testimony that we live the Christmas in its fullest and deepest sense.

Javier F. Chento
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