Jesus’ birth in poverty calls for solidarity with abandoned children


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December 20, 2010

Every Christmas we hear from Luke's Gospel of how Mary "gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn" (2.7). This is an evocative image of the Son of God born in poverty and abandoned by all except for his own family.

Yet in our society some babies are abandoned even by the parents. In October, a newborn was left in a dumpster in Calgary. In May 2007, a mother left her baby in a toilet in Prince Albert, Sask. The latter case is still before the courts as judges struggle to determine how to define child abandonment.

A recent French study identified 27 babies over a five-year period as having been murdered within a day of being born. The study described the mothers of these babies not as mentally ill, but as suffering from low self-esteem, immaturity and fear of abandonment.

One realistic response to such situations is the establishment of Angel's Cradles, such as exists at Vancouver's St. Paul Hospital. There, parents can leave a child in safety without fear of being identified or pursued. Such "cradles" are an alternative to allowing unwanted newborns to be left in life-threatening situations.

Legislators also need to look at child abandonment more broadly. Many children are not left in dumpsters, but are instead raised in situations of poverty and neglect that severely compromise their hope of contributing to society and sharing equitably in its benefits.

Since Parliament's 1989 promise to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000, little progress has been made. That lack of progress is due, not because child poverty is impervious to a solution, but to political leaders failing to take steps toward such solutions. As a result, one of the wealthiest nations in world history is failing to give a substantial proportion of its children a fair chance of leading productive lives.

Children are abandoned in other ways too. Abortion is a violent form of abandonment, one where the unborn child will never lie even in a manger or a dumpster. The powers-that-be in our society brush aside the calamity of more than 100,000 abortions a year as a "choice" with no moral or societal implications.

Other children are abandoned to their video games, TVs, computers and endless text messaging. This is a spiritual abandonment where children suffer, not from a lack of financial resources, but seemingly from an excess.

Abandoned at his birth, Jesus is in solidarity with the abandoned ones of today. He told us "just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25.40). His birth continues to cry out to us to restore full human dignity to those children whose dignity is daily denied.