Talk 2: Finding Christ in the Peripheries

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The Zenith News, dated December 17, 2005 carried an article with the title, “pampered Pets, Hungry Kids.” Quoting the Scotsman newspaper of November 19, of the same year it said that animal owners in the United Kingdom were expected to spend 150 million dollars to buy Christmas gifts for their pets. That is not all. Quoting the Guardian Newspaper of December 1, 2005 it spoke of Pet Inn Royal, a 170 room, five star hotel that was opened for pets at Tokyo’s Narita International airport. Rooms were available for the pets at $34 a night to $ 140 a night. More startling was the information that Japan has around 19 million pets – more than the number of children under the age of 15 – and the pet care industry is around $8.8 billion a year. According to the New York Times of November 16, 2005, the US pet supply industry is now worth $ 37 billion and is more lucrative than the baby supply industry. Pet supply sales are increasing 7% annually, while sales of baby supplies are decreasing. Big money is also being spent in health care of pets. “We spend on our pets as if there’s no tomorrow, “commented Rachel Johnson in the October 8 issue of the British Weekly Spectator, and we lavish on them a level of care and comfort that the elderly in our care homes can only envy.”

Now compare this with the situation of the millions and millions of people in need. Unfortunately we find that many of the children and the destitute are not so well looked after. They are neither as fortunate nor have the same comforts enjoyed by the pets in developed nations. “The state of the world’s children 2006: Excluded and Invisible” was released by the UNICEF on December 16, 2005. More than a billion children according to the report suffer from one or more extreme forms of deprivation: inadequate nutrition, safe drinking water, decent sanitation facilities, health-care services, shelter, education and information.

Coming to our own times, The “State of the World’s children 2017, Children in a Digital World” states that the infant mortality rate is 41 for every thousand births. There are 56 million under five deaths and of these almost three million die of undernutrition. 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. And they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death. Thirteen percent of the children live in conditions below poverty line calculated at $ 1.90 that is around Rs 150 per day per family. And according to the World Bank report of April 2018, 11 percent of the total population live below poverty line. The number of children forcibly displaced number 28 million and of these 17 million are displaced in their own countries. As far as primary education is concerned we are far from reaching the millennium goals and even today there are 61 million children deprived of primary school education.

There is no doubt we need to look after the pets. They too are God’s creatures and they deserve our kindness. But should we not have our priorities right? Can we afford to spend all that amount close to 40 billion dollars on pets, in the US alone, and around 800 billion on global military spending, when a fraction of that could go a long way to assure a better future for the children in need? According to UNICEF the additional costs to achieve universal access to basic needs, that is, basic education for all, water and sanitation for all, and basic health and nutrition for all is just 28 billion dollars.

If on the one hand we are confronted by the chasm between the haves and the have nots, on the other is the stark reality of many who literally hold that there is no place for the have nots in their world. It is not only God who does not find a place in the inn today. There is no place for a lot of human beings because they are poor, they are different, they are followers of another religion, they belong to another cast, they speak another language, they come from another culture, they have an ideology different from mine etc. We seal our borders to make ourselves more secure. The refugees they are a nuisance; they are a threat to our security; they take away our jobs. When the Philosopher Sartre said the other is my hell, we considered him strange. Yet today, although we do not say the same in as many words, our actions and attitudes, betray the same philosophy, albeit with even more passion. The other has become a threat.

This advent invites us all to make place Christ in our hearts and in our lives. If we have been able to make room for the christs of the world we will be recipients of the good news at the end of our lives: “Come blessed of my Father! Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me into your house. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt. 25, 34-36). As Jesus himself assures us in Mathew chapter 25, verse 40 it is when we reach out to those in need that we reach out to Christ. The author of the letter to the Hebrews assures us in chapter six verse ten, God is not unjust; he will not forget the work you did, the love you have shown for his name, or the services you have rendered and are rendering to the holy people of God. Yes dear friends we are to encounter Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the migrant, the refugee, the ignorant, the naked, the sick, the prisoner etc. and open the doors of our inns to him. It is in serving such people that we serve Christ.

It is not only the other who is alive that makes me insecure. So we close not only our doors and boarders, but also the wombs. We are constantly being warned of the dangers of the population explosion. There is no place for more human beings in the world and in the families. Millions find no place in the inn today. Although the exact numbers are not available it is estimated that between two thousand ten and two thousand fourteen approximately fifty six million abortions occurred each year. The message is clear, there is no place for human beings. There is no place for Christ in the inn today.

I am sure none of us want to make the mistake made over two thousand years ago. We all want to welcome Christ into our homes, into our inns, and into hearts. But will we? The danger is that we too might repeat the mistakes of the past. For Christ continues to incarnate in the peripheries of the world and you and I might fail to recognise him in the last and the least. We might be searching for Christ in the palaces, cathedrals, holy places, and even in the deep recesses of our hearts, while he continues to manifest himself in the margins and the marginalised. Can we make room for Christ and the christs who live with us and who want to live with us, in our Christmas celebrations and in our hearts and homes?

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Fr Alex Kalathikattil sdb obtained his Ph.D in Theology at the Catholic University Leuven. He is currently professor at Kristu Jyoti College, (Bengaluru), aggregated to the Pontifical Salesian University, (Rome).