Well into Advent, the church’s time of waiting and hoping for the new life that Christmas brings, our thoughts turn to the families of the 29 miners killed in gas explosions last month.
Christmas in many families is a time of joy though maybe sometimes tempered with the fractiousness that can come when siblings are together for any period of time, particularly when funds are scarce.
It is hard to imagine that there will be much joy in the hearts of the families of the dead miners, but we pray that they can find hope in the peace of Christmas nonetheless.
Many groups have been working hard in the church to raise awareness of the plight of those on the edges of society. One group has just organised its second conference focusing on the vulnerability of unborn babies at risk of abortion. With almost 18,000 abortions a year, New Zealand has the second highest per capita rate in the western world. There is reason to be concerned.
This country’s record of domestic violence also gives reason to be worried especially when children become the innocent victims.
November 20 has been deemed to be World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Violence against Children. The United Nations envoy dealing with the issue stressed that much more needs to be done to ‘safeguard millions of young people around the world’.
Last year New Zealand’s Social Development Minister Paula Bennett speaking at the launch of a pilot programme in Auckland aimed at preventing two-year-olds from witnessing family violence, described New Zealand statistics in this area as ‘appalling’. She said that in 2008 there were 3456 cases of abuse against children under two and 75 babies were admitted to hospital as a result of abuse – one every five days.
The abortion statistics, child violence statistics, coupled with this country’s high suicide rate (higher than the road toll, we are told) are symptoms of a deeper malaise which has a great deal to do with a lack of respect for the human being.
One organisation drawing public attention to this lack is Welfare Justice: the Alternative Welfare Working Group. This group is sponsored by Caritas and the Anglican Justice Commission among other community groups to give beneficiaries a voice in research around revamping the welfare system.
A glaring gap which has been highlighted is that the 91 submissions which informed the alternative group’s report have also been sent to the government Welfare Working Group but do not feature in its options paper, also released last month.
This must be where this country starts in redressing its lack of respect for human dignity. At Christmas we focus on the vulnerability of a newborn child who brings new life and hope. Let us also ponder the great gift Jesus brings daily in showing us how to respect our fellow beings.
Let us pray also for the families and loved ones of the 29 that they too will be blessed with the joy and hope of Christmas.