Pope Francis has written to the Bishops of the world condemning all forms of oppression and exploitation of children.
His words come in a letter
signed on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which takes place each year
on December 28, during the Octave of Christmas.
In his letter, the Holy Father calls the Bishops to foster in hearts
of Christians the joy that comes from the proclamation of the birth of
But in moving words, he notes that the Christmas story is also
accompanied by tears.
“Today, too,” the Pope said, we hear this
heart-rending cry of pain, which we neither desire nor are able to
ignore or to silence.” He continued. “In our world – I write this with a
heavy heart – we continue to hear the lamentation of so many mothers,
of so many families, for the death of their children, their innocent
Pope Francis speaks about the millions of children who are deprived
of education and whose innocence is shattered by wars and forced
immigation. He also once again begs forgiveness for the sufferings of
children who were sexually abused by priests, saying "it is a sin that
shames the Church."
Christian joy, he said, “is born from a call – the same call that
Saint Joseph received – to embrace and protect human life, especially
that of the holy innocents of our own day.”
Pope Francis said the
Bishops must find new courage to protect children and to be more
sensitive to what is happening in the world around us.
Here is the full text of the Pope’s letter:
Today, on the feast of the Holy Innocents, as the words of the angel
to the shepherds still resound in our hearts – “I bring you good news of
a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this
day in the city of David a Saviour” (Lk 2: 10-11) – I feel the
need to write to you. We do well to listen to that proclamation again
and again; to hear over and over again that God is present in the midst
of our people. This certainty, which we renew each year, is the source
of our joy and hope.
In these days we experience how the liturgy leads us to the heart of
Christmas, into the Mystery which gradually draws us to the source of
As pastors, we are called to help foster this joy among the faithful.
We are charged with protecting this joy. I ask you once again that we
not let ourselves be robbed of this joy, for we can be disillusioned at
times, not unreasonably, with the world around us, with the Church, or
even with ourselves, and feel tempted to indulge in a certain
melancholy, lacking in hope, which can lay hold of our hearts (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 83).
Christmas is also accompanied, whether we like it or not, by tears.
The Evangelists did not disguise reality to make it more credible or
attractive. They did not indulge in words that were comforting but
unrelated to reality. For them, Christmas was not a flight to fantasy, a
way of hiding from the challenges and injustices of their day. On the
contrary, they relate the birth of the Son of God as an event fraught
with tragedy and grief. Quoting the prophet Jeremiah, Matthew presents
it in the bluntest of terms: “A voice is heard in Ramah, wailing and
loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children” (2:18). It is the
sobbing of mothers bewailing the death of their children in the face of
Herod’s tyranny and unbridled thirst for power.
Today too, we hear this heart-rending cry of pain, which we neither
desire nor are able to ignore or to silence. In our world – I write this
with a heavy heart – we continue to hear the lamentation of so many
mothers, of so many families, for the death of their children, their
To contemplate the manger also means to contemplate this cry of pain,
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 neighbours, especially
where children are involved. It also means realizing that that sad
chapter in history is still being written today. To contemplate the
manger in isolation from the world around us would make Christmas into a
lovely story that inspires warm feelings but robs us of the creative
power of the Good News that the Incarnate Word wants to give us. The
temptation is real.
Can we truly experience Christian joy if we turn our backs on these
realities? Can Christian joy even exist if we ignore the cry of our
brothers and sisters, the cry of the children?
Saint Joseph was the first to be charged with protecting the joy of
salvation. Faced with the atrocious crimes that were taking place, Saint
Joseph – the model of an obedient and loyal man – was capable of
recognizing God’s voice and the mission entrusted to him by the Father.
Because he was able to hear God’s voice, and was docile to his will,
Joseph became more conscious of what was going on around him and was
able to interpret these events realistically.
The same thing is asked of us pastors today: to be men attentive, and
not deaf, to the voice of God, and hence more sensitive to what is
happening all around us. Today, with Saint Joseph as our model, we are
asked not to let ourselves be robbed of joy. We are asked to protect
this joy from the Herods of our own time. Like Joseph, we need the
courage to respond to this reality, to arise and take it firmly in hand
(cf. Mt 2:20). The courage to guard this joy from the new
Herods of our time, who devour the innocence of our children. An
innocence robbed from them by the oppression of illegal slave labour,
prostitution and exploitation. An innocence shattered by wars and forced
immigration, with the great loss that this entails. Thousands of our
children have fallen into the hands of gangs, criminal organizations and
merchants of death, who only devour and exploit their neediness.
To illustrate this point, there are at present 75 million children
who, due to prolonged situations of emergency and crisis, have had to
interrupt their education.
In 2015, 68% of all persons who were victims
of sexual exploitation were children. At the same time, a third of all
children who have to live outside their homelands do so because forcibly
displaced. We live in a world where almost half of the children who die
under the age of five do so because of malnutrition. It is estimated
that in 2016 there were 150 million child labourers, many of whom live
in conditions of slavery. According to the most recent report presented
by UNICEF, unless the world situation changes, in 2030 there will be 167
million children living in extreme poverty, 69 million children under
the age of five will die between 2016 and 2030, and 16 million children
will not receive basic schooling.
We hear these children and their cries of pain; we also hear the cry
of the Church our Mother, who weeps not only for the pain caused to her
youngest sons and daughters, but also 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. We join in the
pain of the victims and weep for this sin. The sin of what happened, the
sin of failing to help, the sin of covering up and denial, the sin of
the abuse of power. The Church also weeps bitterly over this sin of her
sons and she asks forgiveness. Today, as we commemorate the feast of the
Holy Innocents, I would like us to renew our complete commitment to
ensuring that these atrocities will no longer take place in our midst.
Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to
protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may
never be repeated. In this area, let us adhere, clearly and faithfully,
to “zero tolerance”.
Christian joy does not arise on the fringes of reality, by ignoring
it or acting as if it did not exist. Christian joy is born from a call –
the same call that Saint Joseph received – to embrace and protect human
life, especially that of the holy innocents of our own day.
is a time that challenges us to protect life, to help it be born and
grow. It is a time that challenges us as bishops to find new courage.
The courage that generates processes capable of acknowledging the
reality that many of our children are experiencing today, and working to
ensure them the bare minimum needed so that their dignity as God’s
children will not only be respected but, above all, defended.
Let us not allow them to be robbed of joy. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of joy, but guard it and nourish its growth.
May we do this with the paternal fidelity of Saint Joseph and guided
by Mary, Mother of tender love, so that our own hearts may never grow
With fraternal affection,
From the Vatican, 28 December 2016
Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs