Three days after Christmas, the church commemorates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the child victims of Herod’s pursuit of political and military power in Matthew 2:1-18. In our day, children and other innocents continue to be the “collateral damage” of political policies of power and control.
We gather each year to remember these contemporary innocent victims of Australia’s pursuit of power and control – in our wars, in asylum seekers, in foreign policy, and more.
This is the sixth year we have comemorated the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and it continues to be a significant event. This year there were fewer than usual of the antiwar crew, but a number of Love Makes A Way crew came along.
As usual we gathered out the front of Victoria Barracks, where we read the story from Matthew 2, and shared in prayer together. Strangely, no less than three wedding parties turned up during our brief time there, to have photographs taken in front of the bluestone walls and cannons of the base. Perhaps a hopeful sign that love will eventually overwhelm these places until there is no need for them anymore? I must say it felt incongruous with the serious nature of the place and its activities, particularly given our reason for being there. Is our warmaking now just a background prop in the privileged drama of our Western lives? Consumerism and miltarism seem to have combined to make war a lifestyle accoutrement, decoration for an otherwise drab existence.
We had an opportunity to share a prayer for contemporary Holy Innocents, and to write their names on white crosses to carry with us. In particular, I was remembering the many babies of asylum seeker families who are being held indefinitely in immigration detention, with little hope of ever obtaining permanent residency here. These children, born in Australia, are being held hostage for the government’s purposes. Their families suffer enormous mental and physical anguish and distress.
Others remembered the victims of drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (amongst others). Also the victims of terrorist attacks in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Then we walked together, first to Federation Square, through the crowds of people milling for Boxing Day sales and cricket matches. As we walked, the reaction of passersby was as telling as ever. Mostly eyes averted, little acknowledgement. A brief interruption to their disconnected reverie.
For me, this is the importance of this event – not for others so much as ourselves. In the midst of a society content to live with superficial pleasures, we try to open a space for connection to the deep pain of the world. It’s an opportunity to puncture the illusion of our peaceful, secure land – a peace and security built on the subjugation of others, from the First Peoples to whatever country we’re invading and bombing next. In remembering and connecting to this reality, we lament, and commit ourselves to continued resistance.
Finally we returned to the Shrine of Remembrance – this time no police or guards stopping us from entering, we walked up the wide boulevard and approached the Shrine. Pausing in the shade of adjacent trees for a final reflection, we were able to bring remembrance in that place to the usually forgotten victims of war – civilians and refugees. One participant reminded us that our discomfort from the heat we were experiencing was incomparable to that experienced by those incarcerated at Manus Island and Nauru.
I’m always deeply appreciative of folks for coming along in this time of year that we fill with so many other activities, and holding the space open for reflection and lament. May we continue to commit ourselves to resistance to the further victimisation of our innocent brothers and sisters, children and adults alike.