ROSARIO, Argentina – As shown by Pope Francis during his Christmas Day address, Christmas is an apt time to reflect on the mystery of Christ’s birth. Pastors often also use these days to voice their concerns about the situation in the world, in many cases setting their agenda for the upcoming year.
Francis, from the central balcony in the basilica overlooking St. Peter’s Square had a message for the city of Rome and for the world, hence the name of the blessing which he imparted afterwards, Urbi et Orbi.
He prayed for a two-state solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, for the children marred by war in Syria and Iraq, and for peace in many African countries, among many other things.
Bishops across the world too had their own messages, but with a more local application. Here’s a round-up of where the prelates in Francis’s former backyard of Latin America were this Christmas, looking to the messages coming from El Salvador, Argentina and Venezuela.
From El Salvador, a message to President Donald Trump
“I dream that this country will soon live in peace; it is true that, humanly, it is very difficult,” said Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador during his annual Christmas speech, in which he urged the United States government to respect the rights of Salvadoran immigrants.
“We strongly urge the president of the United States, the Congress and all the authorities of that great nation, that on this significant date of Christmas they should see to it that the rights of our brother migrants are respected,” Escobar Alas said.
The fact that many are not legal immigrants doesn’t make them criminals, he said: “We are all brothers.”
Escobar Alas’s message, delivered at a press conference after his Sunday Mass this past weekend, came as the White House considers ending the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for some 190,000 Salvadorans who were left destitute after two earthquakes struck in 2001. The TPS program dates back to 1990.
TPS serves as a form of humanitarian relief, offered to nationals of countries struggling with the aftermath of war, natural disasters, or other humanitarian crises. It currently benefits ten countries — El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — though the administration has already told Haitians and Nicaraguans that the program is ending for them, and several others are in limbo, including El Salvador and Honduras.
The archbishop also referred to the country’s violence in his message, saying that asking for murders to end is “asking for very little.”
An estimated 3,500 people have been murdered in El Salvador this year, the reason why Escobar Alas said that even though the government has worked to curb the rate, he dreams of a country that “soon lives in peace. It’s true that humanly this is very difficult, but we must pray to the Lord and never lose hope.”
“It is a pity that our society has to live through another Christmas in an atmosphere of anxiety, insecurity, pain and death,” he said.
Venezuela, prayers for an end to the long-lasting crisis
Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, who’s been openly critical of the government of President Nicolas Maduro, was at it again during his Christmas Even Mass, urging all sectors, but singling the government out, to put an end to the crisis that is “causing pain, tragedy and death, especially among the weakest, as are the children of the poor.”
In his homily, the cardinal also said that Catholics are called to work for peace, by living the Ten Commandments, helping one’s neighbor to communicate to them “God’s love in a concrete way.”
“This call is very urgent and evident today, when Venezuela lives a never before seen situation of shortage of food and medicines, spare parts, and essential things for social life such as gas, something hard to believe in an oil-producing country,” Urosa said.
The prelate acknowledged that the greatest obligation falls on the authorities, who have a “constitutional obligation to protect the people, especially the weakest, and to guarantee all citizens the right to food, health, transportation, freedom, information: In short, all human rights.”
Yet responsibility also falls on the leaders of the various sectors of society, including intellectuals, academics, businessmen, media professionals, artists and the men and women of the national security forces, all of whom are obliged to “work for peace and open their hearts to the needy.”
Once one of the wealthiest Latin American countries, Venezuela is now at the bottom of most social and economic performance indexes. Holder of the world’s largest proven crude oil reserves, on Tuesday the government set limits on gasoline sales in the country’s western area to undercut smuggling that it blames for short supplies.
Critics blame the ruling Socialist Party and Maduro for the country’s crisis, alleging that they’ve insisted on implementing failed policies for too long, while turning a blind eye to corruption. On the other hand, the government blames the crisis on political opponents and right-wing foreign powers who Maduro has said are waging “economic war” in an attempt to bring him down.
Showing he, too, is concerned for the Latin American country, Francis prayed for Venezuela on Monday, saying: “To the Baby Jesus we entrust Venezuela that it may resume a serene dialogue among the various elements of society for the benefit of all the beloved Venezuelan people.”
In Argentina, a Pope Francis lexicon
The message from the local bishops’ conference in Argentina — which at times seen at odds with its native son, Pope Francis — included words from the papal lexicon such as poor, equality, periphery, immigrants and elderly.
In their message, the bishops expressed their pain for the “anguish of many” of the inhabitants of the country, committing to “accompany” those suffering as they defend their rights, and urging for no one to “feel excluded in this nation.”
“May the poor, the immigrants, the original peoples, the elderly, the children, the imprisoned, those who have recently lost a loved one, the workers, those looking for a job and the weakest of society, feel loved and valued in their immense dignity,” they wrote in a message released in mid-December, at the end of a meeting of the conference’s permanent commission.
They closed the message with a prayer to Argentina’s Patroness, Our Lady of Lujan, “who accompanies us and brings us closer to the tenderness of Baby Jesus.”
Bishop Oscar Ojea, president of the conference, also released his own message ahead of Christmas, inviting the faithful to look at Jesus in the nativity and to think of each child as the “image of Jesus,” and to ask God so that “each child has what’s needed” to uphold their dignity.
“May we not steal their childhood from our children, their dreams, their games,” Ojea wrote, praying that they don’t become “old children, grown-up children, children with no childhood, children with no affection, children with no possibility to grow, children with no horizon, children without an education. So many children in our country lack the most elemental things,” he said.
Though the latest figures from the national statistics center show the poverty levels are going down, an estimated 30 percent of Argentina’s 44 million people live under the poverty line, almost three million of whom live in extreme poverty, lacking the most basic necessities.