The Friday Thought - Treating children with care and compassion

I was visiting friends during the week who have recently become grandparents. This was their first grandchild and the sense of excitement and joy in the house was very evident.

I was asked to call and to give the child a blessing. The infant was only days old and already the child had taken over the house. Firstly the living room was crowded as five woman fought over who could nurse ‘the wean’ as it slept in peace. I’m not sure they would have been as anxious if the child was crying.

The room was so crowded the grandparents stood in the front hall which was where the dog had been already relegated to. What I couldn’t get over was the change that the arrival of a child can make to the lives of others, I was thinking this as I was squashed next to a three storey baby changing station which was bigger than me.

From one celebration to another, the Christmas parties have started already, the celebrations have begun. For many people Christmas is already here, there is no waiting, no time for preparation. No sense of readiness, with hearts and lives full expectation or desire in anticipation of how something new is about to happen.

Instead we live in world where the more immediate the joy the better the celebration. It’s easier for all of us to live on the surface because to take a closer examination of our motivations challenges us too much.

Are we ready to hear the message telling us to repent and to change in preparation for God’s kingdom. God’s approach signals the dawn of a new age, if we are to be members of the Father’s Kingdom our lives have to be transformed and shaped by the values of peace, justice and charity. We need to allow God to make straight the paths of our crooked lives, allowing his healing and mercy to become the foundation of something new.

This week as a Church, as a diocese we are coming to terms with the report by Ian Elliot into the Diocese’s Child Safeguarding procedures. In the words of Mon. Eamon Martin: “Whilst it is encouraging to read the Review’s positive and constructive comments about current practice, it is disturbing to hear that historical practice in this diocese was weak and uncoordinated, and that decisions were taken to protect the institution of the Church rather than children. The Review Team points to poor practice in the past, stating that the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of reputation sometimes took precedence over the safety and welfare of children. This has disgraced us. It is our hope that the Review will represent a significant step for the Diocese of Derry along the path of healing and renewal. But we are very conscious that those who have been abused in the past have found little peace from its publication. It is understandable if they cannot accept that the Church is at last serious about this issue. The Review cannot take away the wrong that was done to them. Their trust was terribly betrayed. Their dignity was violated. Their spirit was crushed. The way that some of allegations were handled has also scandalised many good people, some have even stopped practising their faith. We pray today that the Lord Jesus Christ, who was himself betrayed and broken, will console and heal the abused and help to restore and renew his Church. Re-create in us, Lord, the Spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.”

Indeed, as a Church we need again to hear the voice of John the Baptist calling us to repentance, only by putting into practice the proper culture and procedures which ensure all members of the body of Christ are treated with respect and dignity can we begin to become a sign and instrument of God’s Kingdom.

In these weeks of preparation for the birth of a child, the challenge is to treat the most vulnerable members of our communities, especially children, with the care and compassion they deserve. We cannot undo the hurts and injustices of the past, apologising is not enough, only through genuine and heartfelt conversion as seen in our actions and in the way we live our lives, can we restore credibility to our witness.

The Church once more needs to learn from John the Baptist recognising that only Christ is our Lord and Saviour. As the body of Christ we have to be born anew, waiting patiently but filled with active hope, enabling all people to recognise God’s approach and the seeds of the Kingdom present in our lives.