by Bishop Paul McAleenan
There is a life-sized image of the Divine Mercy on a wall opposite a church in a town in Northern Iraq. Underneath the picture of Christ with his outstretched arms there are two words, ‘Welcome Back’. It is in a town where Daesh demolished homes and churches during their campaign. I studied this poster for a long time when I visited Iraq at the beginning of November at the invitation of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee. To whom were those two words addressed? Were the returning Christian refugees expressing their jubilation that a Christian presence had been restored to their town or was it intended to display that Christ was pleased that his people had returned and were beginning to rebuild their church and homes? I still don’t know.
As I wandered through the streets of this still, silent town the only sound that could be heard at first was the sound of tools clinking upon bricks as workmen go about their business of rebuilding and restoring. Then came the sound of children chattering and laughing as the school day ended and they spilled onto roads excited and curious when they saw these Western visitors.
Among the devastation of the towns of Northern Iraq hope is surely returning. I thought of the verse in Psalm 144 when the author expressed his deep-felt longing and desire for the future following the destruction of his city: ‘no ruined wall, no exile, no sound of weeping in our streets’. It is the hope too of our brothers and sisters in Iraq.
Into the chaos of our world with all its pain Christ, the Son of God, was born. We give him many titles including the ‘Prince of peace’. We speak of this season as one of gladness and joy and with great enthusiasm we stretch out to grasp it; we long for it because we need it. We know from our own experience of life it the only thing that fulfils us and makes us truly human. The season of Christmas touches us deeply and can heal us so that we too may strive for peace and goodwill among all people.
When we gaze on the Christ child lying in the crib with his arms outstretched, in our churches, and if we have one in our home too, it may be possible, if we spend time with him, for us to hear those words, ‘Welcome back’.
Are we speaking to Jesus or is he speaking to us?