“When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.” —Rev. Martin Niemöller
By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.
I met my newborn grandnephew Jack for the first time last month. To be honest, I had mixed feelings that night. On the one hand, our family celebrated the 60 years of life of my brother Jerome and his wife Corinne and the birth of Jack, the first child of our family’s “next generation.” On the other hand, I have been feeling very distressed about the plight of refugees in Syria and Iraq (my dad’s parents were born in Syria, a portion which is now part of Lebanon), the flood victims in Louisiana (I have a first cousin in Baton Rogue and friends inside and outside of Catholic Charities throughout Louisiana), violence inspired by the country’s racial divide (including the neighborhood that was the home of my grandmother and her surviving descendants for about 40 years), and the general “in the gutter politics” demonstrated by many presidential candidates this election. What world is this innocent and beautiful baby entering?
I was introduced to Rev. Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came” about 10 years ago during an immigration rally in Milwaukee. It has haunted me ever since. As I discussed the world situation with some family members that night, on topics ranging from the racial divide to domestic poverty to the 2016 election, the words of the German Nazi era clerical opponent of Adolf Hitler kept coming back to me. And, how will my family and I respond to Jack in a few short years when he begins to ask, “Where were you when rioting overtook your former hometown, how could you have allowed orphan children in Syrian hospitals to be bombed, and is it true that we ‘really get what we deserve’ whenever we choose leaders?”
It might be easy to ask ourselves, “How can we proceed ‘business as usual’ when the world and morality seem to be crumbling around us?” But I step back and remember that God has loved us so much that he not only sent his Son, but also sent the Savior as a babe, to redeem us. And praise God, too, that my niece Maggie and her husband John made the mature decision to share in the creative role of God to also bring a new life into this world.
As I believe that every child is created in the image of God, may the joy of Jack’s birth outshine any tensions and maladies facing our communities. And may Jack grow up to help alleviate injustices faced by future men, women, and children.