Time for a carpet of stars this Christmas

The familiar Nativity scene from the Gospels shows wise men in search of a newborn child who offers hope for a fallen world and a new kingdom of justi

Dec 21, 2016

By Anil Netto
The familiar Nativity scene from the Gospels shows wise men in search of a newborn child who offers hope for a fallen world and a new kingdom of justice, love and compassion.

It is significant that the wise men search in the blinding darkness of the night led by a bright flickering star.

The night in the Gospels may symbolise the darkness of the time. An autocratic despot, fearful of losing power, beholden to a foreign power. A land ruled via local proxies in collaboration with the religious elite of the local territory. Fear and repression by a brutal military occupation.

It was a time when many had lost hope and had sunk into the despair of poverty and hopelessness.

But the flickering star led the wise men to find hope in the most unlikely of places for a king — not in an ostentatious palace but in a dingy manger among humble shepherds and their smelly flock.

Under the flickering star, the child Jesus brought new hope and new life for a fallen world.

In every age and time and place since then, if we pull aside the curtains of time and peer into the darkest periods of history, chances are we may see little stars lighting up the night.

Only recently, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, a Franciscan, passed away in Brazil at the age of 95. In the darkness of the military dictatorship in that country from 1964 to 1985, Arns shone like a beacon for the cause of truth and justice.

Three years after he became archbishop of Sao Paulo, the archbishop stunned the faithful in 1973 when he sold the grand episcopal mansion which had its own park. He was said to be shocked by the utility bills and the 25 staff assigned to look after the place.

He used the money from the sale of the mansion to support those working among the poor and set up a social service and health centre in a Sao Paulo slum. What a prophetic witness for the Church of the Poor.

“How could the archbishop live in a palace if his most faithful and dedicated collaborators lack a minimum of comfort and of the resources indispensable to carry on their work?” he famously said

This was long before the era of the present bishop of Rome, who wants the Church to be a field hospital for the poor. In that sense, Arn was one of the great pioneers of the vision in Latin America, setting up community centres and ministries for homeless children and prisoners in his archdiocese.

Arn’s star shone most dazzlingly when he stood up to the brutal military dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985), chronicling human rights violations and denouncing torture and the killing of activists, unionists and journalists.

In one celebrated incident in 1979, Arns turned up at a morgue to take custody of the body of a labour leader, Santo Dias da Silva, who was killed by police.

A lawyer, an eyewitness, recalled:

Cardinal Arns came out of the automobile and waved his hand with the (bishop’s) ring, to the side. The cops backed away (from the entrance) and we passed. We went in and Cardinal Arns looked at the bullet holes on Santo’s body. He pointed his finger at the policemen and said, ‘Look at what you did.’ And all of the officers lowered their heads in shame.” (Catholic News Service)

“Every age, and sometimes every event, must have its Christ, because only thus will the fellow workers remain united and will not lose hope,” Arns preached at the funeral Mass, in terms that, in hindsight, could well have applied to the role he himself played.

This was the same time that another star, the late archbishop Oscar Romero, was shining a light in the midst of brutal repression by a US-backed regime in El Salvador.

In these dark times we live in too, given the scale of the problems we are confronted with, it is perhaps not enough to have one or two bright stars to light up the firmament.

As the vigils we have seen in recent times have shown us, a sea of candles, their flames dancing like so many flickering stars, can sometimes lead to unexpected results like the freedom of captives. The sudden intensity of light can lift the shroud of oppression, even if only temporarily, and offer much needed hope.

This Christmas, more than at any time before, when all appears dark and many in our midst are in despair at what is happening around us, let us be inspired by that bright star on that first Christmas, which heralded the coming of the Messiah. And then let our own lights flicker like a carpet of stars to dispel the darkness of the oppression and corruption of our time.

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