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For peace this Christmas here and around the world

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid.

‘And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not; for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

‘And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

This – in the words of St. Luke – is how the world learned of the birth of Christ which the Christian world celebrates today. Lowly shepherds were the first to get the news. Soon afterwards came three wise men – in the account of St. Mathew – guided by a star in the east.

It is ironic that it is in this part of the world where Christ was born that there is so much trouble and conflict and violence today. Not too far north of Bethlehem in Israel is the country of Syria, where civil war has raged for the last five years and some 500,000 people have been killed. It is in the Syrian city of Aleppo where, in the words of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, “crimes of historic proportions” are being committed allegedly by Syrian troops on civilians caught in the fighting.

To the east of Syria lies Iraq, where violent warfare is similarly raging in the city of Mosul between the Islamic State with its allies and Iraqi government forces. North of Syria is Turkey where the Russian ambassador was assassinated only last Tuesday by a gunman crying, “Don’t forget Aleppo!”

In Jordan, east of Israel, the peace was broken last Sunday by an attack by gunmen on a Crusade castle in Karak, killing ten policemen, civilians, and a tourist. To the southeast, across Saudi Arabia, in the country of Yemen also last Sunday, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 Yemeni soldiers in Aden. And in the Mediteranean Sea west of Israel, thousands of Syrians and other refugees from the Middle East have drowned in their flimsy boats in their search for a new life in Europe.

There is also violence and conflict elsewhere in the world, but most of it seems to be plaguing the area around the Holy Land where the angels sang of peace and goodwill the night Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Here in our own country, we have had gunbattles in Mindanao with the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute, but peace talks with the major Moro forces and the Communist New People’s Army have raised peace hopes in that troubled part of our country. President Duterte has appealed to all for a peaceful Christmas. “Maybe we can resume fighting some other day,” he remarked.

On the day Christ was born, the angels sang in praise: “Glory to God in the highest.” And they sang with hope for mankind: “And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.” On this Christmas Day, we join President Duterte and all other leaders in hoping and appealing and praying for peace – here in our country and in the rest of the world, particularly in and around the Holy Land in the rest of the Middle East.