Three wishes for Christmas

No, this is not another cloying compilation of children’s letters to Santa. Rather I would like to share excerpts from three letters I’ve recently come across that reflect the best of the human Spirit at this precious time of year.

The first, as befits the season and the reason, is from Pope Francis’ letter in September that announced the forthcoming Vatican Year of Mercy which actually commenced on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8.

In his own words, Pope Francis shares his wishes for a renewed sense of what mercy can do for the human heart and the human condition. He writes: “I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the Spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus Himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. Hence the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the grace of complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father Who excludes no one. The Jubilee indulgence is thus full, the fruit of the very event which is to be celebrated and experienced with faith, hope and charity.”

The second and third wishes come from individuals who have never met, don’t practice the same faith, are culturally and Spiritually diverse but share an understanding that mercy and respect for each other’s dignity are at the root of any authentic expression of Divinity. The first letter is a soldier’s Facebook post written in response to the latest spate of hatred and thuggery masquerading as Islamic fundamentalism. The second letter is from a Muslim woman responding to the soldier.

Dear Muslims,

I am an American, a Christian, and a U.S. Army soldier. I’m white, I grew up in the South, and I love Jesus, as well as the life of freedom and prosperity that my country has enabled me to have. I have fought in Iraq and lost several really good friends there.

I don’t hate you. I don’t fear you. I don’t want you to leave this country. I want to know you, your heart, your struggles, and your joys. I want our children to be friends and play in the back yard together. 

We share a common enemy in the radical Islamist. They want to drive us apart and to fear each other. They want your children to grow up hating my children. They want you to believe our way of life is evil and that we must be punished for it. They produce a barrage of Internet propaganda aimed at isolating your children from those not like them in an attempt to recruit them to do evil on their behalf. Every terrorist attack against innocent people in this world is an attack against peace and normalcy. It’s designed to stir a violent response from those attacked and create more hatred between “us and them.”

Sadly, it’s working. It is producing the full range of human fear responses toward Arab-looking people  —  from a subtle sense of suspicion and unease communicated with sideways glances at each other on the street, to full-scale Islamophobia and racism. I want to believe that we, as Christians, could follow the example of Christ and show love to you as well as your people suffering through this refugee crisis in Syria by opening our homes and communities to you. We are failing at this because of the fear and distrust our enemies are willfully creating. This growing divide between our cultures makes recruiting more disaffected Muslim youth even easier for them.

To anyone reading this letter — Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheist, or whatever. We simply cannot let them win. We can’t allow them to make us hate each other. Fear and hate are their most effective weapons and we must neutralize them in order to break the cycle. If you truly want peace, I challenge you to befriend someone “on the other side.” Let’s have a joint church/mosque cookout in a park where our kids can chase each other around and argue over who gets to be Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, and Prince Hans. We need to learn about each other’s lives and differences. I believe we will find that there aren’t as many differences as one might think. We all want to make a living, raise our families in a safe place, and live in peace.

Unfortunately, there are some wolves out there that will not stop killing sheep until they are put down. Please do not blame us for using our staff to protect the flock. Please know that when it comes to terrorism, I consider all peace-loving people part of the flock, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. That includes you, of course. War is hell but as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

A greeting from a Muslim woman:

In this season where peace, love and joy should be in the air, the air that I breathe is redolent with negativity, doubt and fear.

I am tired of all this negativity, so hopefully this post will bring in some positive vibes to you. I just needed to put this out. I am just a mom and am not interested in political debates, so if you don’t like this message, please feel free to move on or delete the post. I will not be pulled into a debate or an argument.

I look like a stereotypical Muslim woman. Olive skin, head scarf, the works. If I were not a Muslim, I may be afraid of me! But in the 15 years I have been here, I have yet to be subjected to any discrimination. And by God, am I thankful for that!

Good people are everywhere. I know because I live with them every day. Neighbors who extend friendship without any hesitation. In-laws and extended families who opened their hearts to me and strangers who have now become dear friends. I have met and befriended 9/11 survivors without knowing they were victims until I hear them speak at the memorial events. These people (all of you!) are the testament of the good people around us.

So, to my former and current neighbors, friends and families  —  near or far away; THANK YOU. Thank you for extending your friendship, kindness and love. I sincerely hope this continues. I hope I have, and will continue, to extend the same generosity to you. Thank you for seeing me as me. Thank you for not brushing me with the same tainted brush as those barbaric terrorists. I sincerely hope and pray that if I were in your shoes, I will also be as generous in thought and as kind in action.

May this season turn once again to the season of peace, joy and love. May your Christmas be filled with joy and laughter. May the light of your Hanukkah be filled with hope and love and may your Kwanzaa be filled with harmony. Have a wonderful and safe holiday. God bless everyone!

The pope, a soldier and Muslim woman; imparting wisdom and mercy borne of love of neighbor. May these sentiments overwhelm the simplistic bombast that passes today for civil discourse. Merry Christmas to all and a very enthusiastic welcome to the Year of Mercy.

Anchor columnist James Campbell is director of the diocesan Development Office/Catholic Charities Appeal/Foundation to Advance Catholic Education.

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