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Advent candles for these dark times

TODAY is the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Hope to Christians, and it comes at a time of great troubles and problems in our world and in our country.

There is no end in sight for the vicious fighting in Aleppo, Syria, and in Mosul, Iraq. A hospital was bombed last week in Aleppo’s rebel-held territory, while Islamic State fighters in Mosul continued to hold out against Iraqi military, Shiite and Sunni militia, Kurdish, Turkish, and Assyrian Christian forces seeking to liberate the city. All the while, victims of the Middle East conflicts and violence in the hundreds of thousands continued to seek refuge in Europe and in other lands.

In the Philippines, the headlines this past week were dominated by a Senate hearing with drug operator Erwin Espinosa testifying about the involvement of high officials and police officers. In the House of Representatives, a senator’s driver and alleged lover also testified about receiving drug money. In Mindanao, another kidnap victim of the Abu Sayyaf, a German yacht owner, was shown surrounded by his kidnappers demanding R5-million ransom, or he would, like their other victims, be beheaded. And street protests continued over the burial of President Ferdinand Marcos’ remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

These are truly troubled times but in the face of it all, we light the Candle of Hope today for the first Sunday of Advent which for Christians is both a looking backward to the historic birth of Jesus Christ and a looking forward in preparation for his Second Coming.

In the Vatican, Pope Francis has just presided over the closing of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy and issued an apostolic letter entitled Misericordia et Misera – Mercy and Misery. He extended a number of initiatives he had begun in the Holy Year, including letting priests absolve the sin of abortion. The Jubilee Year may have ended, the Pope said, but the work of mercy must continue.

Many of our officials now engrossed in the bitter exchanges in Congress might want to heed this appeal for mercy, especially as we enter the Season of Advent. In the next three Sundays, we will be lighting the Candles of Love, then Joy, then Peace, and finally the Christ Candle on Christmas Day. They embody the light and spirit of Christmas which should see us through in the darkest of times.