Bishop Vincent Longs

   - Christmas 2022 Message

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

We live in an increasingly dangerous world where a spiral of violence seems to be out of control. Violence and selfishness dominate our daily news, as the ‘answer’ the world offers to us. The horrors unfolding in Ukraine and the scandal of the arms race, and even more the danger of nuclear war frightens us all. Our planet continues to be exploited and the beauty of God’s creation plundered for profit. And the ongoing tragedy of refugees continues with many people closing their hearts to compassion.

Instead of sharing, many are choosing exclusion as the solution. Only the other day Pope Francis issued a new, scathing warning against the exclusion of migrants. For him, “The exclusion of emigrants is scandalous. Actually, the exclusion of emigrants is criminal. They are dying right in front of us, as the Mediterranean is the largest cemetery in the world…”

Not opening doors to them “is revolting, sinful and criminal,” he added, off the cuff. Even worse: “We do not exclude them, we send them away to camps, where they are exploited and sold like slaves.”

This Christmas then, let’s all pledge to become committed peacemakers – as we remember the birth of the Prince of Peace amongst us. Jesus of Nazareth built his entire Gospel message on peace, and nowhere in His words or deeds did He even hint that war was actually the way of achieving it.

Indeed, peace is the stuff of the four Gospels; a constant theme of the New Testament and the ultimate goal of two thousand years of Christian vision and witness.

This Christmas, where violence and war seem so close to us on our television screens, let’s remember one of the great witnesses to peace in our Catholic tradition – St Francis of Assisi.

While many people associate St Francis with nature, not as many know the story of his voyage and witness to the Muslim world as a peacemaker.

It was the time of the Fifth Crusade, shortly after a Crusader victory at the port city of Damietta – modern Dumyat – on the Nile Delta.

Francis, who opposed all killing no matter what the cause, sought the blessing of the cardinal who was chaplain to the Crusader forces to go and preach the Gospel to the sultan. At last, the cardinal stood aside, certain that Francis and Illuminato, the brother travelling with him, were being led to die as martyrs.

The two left the Crusader encampment singing the psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’

For a month, Francis and the sultan met daily. Though neither converted the other, the sultan had such warmth for his guests that he not only spared their lives but gave them a passport allowing them to visit Christian holy places under Muslim control, and presented Francis with a beautifully carved ivory horn which is now among the relics of the saint kept in the Basilica of Assisi.

The two (Francis and Malik-al- Kamil, the Sultan) parted as brothers.

During this holy season of Christmas, we too are especially called to be witnesses to peace like St Francis of Assisi, in our daily lives.

For in many ways, we too are living in ‘war’. Often, we can be at ‘war’ with ourselves, at ‘war’ with others, especially when we ‘crusade’ against people and see them as rivals and enemies.

A life of peace, however, means daily trying to make peace with ourselves and to cultivate a daily practice of ‘nonviolence’.

I speak to you today in the peace and beauty of our chapel here at our Diocesan Chancery. Let’s make that peace a reality in the lives of all those we encounter.

This Christmas, as we contemplate the Christ child in the manger, who was born, died and rose from the dead to give us Peace – let’s commit ourselves here in Parramatta to pray and work for justice and peace so that the Kingdom will come!

For in the prophetic words of St Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice!”

A blessed Christmas to you all.

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta

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21 December 2022

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