General Intention: Respect for Children. That children may be respected, loved and never exploited in any way.
I used to think of child labour as something Dickensian, something that happened in the Victorian phase of the Industrial Revolution. However it seems that industrial revolutions in the developing world have produced their own versions of those British children who used to climb up chimneys, haul coal in mines and operate dangerous machinery for unconscionable hours for slave wages.
Today we frequently read of children being sold into virtual slavery to work in factories in Asia or on plantations in Africa. How can people allow this to happen to children? The poverty of the parents or guardians seems to be a powerful force behind this cruel trade. Even more shockingly we are told of how many are lured into child prostitution, sometimes for the sex-tourism industry which brings rich Westerners to parts of Asia and other regions to indulge their sordid proclivities in relative safety from prosecution.
Whatever the motives, the exploitation of children for profit certainly demonstrates that we live in a world where there is nothing that cannot be commercialised. Everything, including an innocent and vulnerable child it seems, has its market value. Anything, including childhood innocence, can become a tradeable commodity.
Today we are coming to the horrific conclusion that children have always been abused both sexually and economically and that it is only now that we are more fully aware of what has been going on under our noses for so long. The Church herself failed badly here in the case of clergy abuse which has obviously been happening since well before the recent stories broke.
Hence we do well to pray for this intention, partly in petition and partly in penitence.
Missionary Intention: Christ, Light of the World. That during Christmas the peoples of the Earth may recognize the Incarnate Word as the light that illumines every person, and that every nation may open its doors to Christ, the Saviour of the world.
Thanks to the process of globalisation, Christmas is becoming part of the universal culture. A small indication of this is that in 2008, Nepal, a mainly Hindu nation, made Christmas Day a holiday. This was done after representations from the Churches and in recognition of the work of the Church for Nepalese society. There is something rather pleasing about this example - the idea of Nepali Hindus sharing a holiday with their neighbours in the Christian minority. It speaks of a positive spirit of tolerance which is willing to make a significant, concrete gesture of genuine respect which in turn helps a small minority to feel accepted and valued in society.
Unfortunately, for many non-Christians Christmas is welcomed more as a commercial windfall than a religious festival. Certainly this seems to be the case in Japan and China. Perhaps we have only ourselves to blame for that since such the commercialisation of the Christmas season is well advanced in the traditionally Christian societies of the West where Christmas carols can start being piped into the supermarket aisles at the beginning of November!
The challenge for the Church is to help people, Christian and non-Christian, to deepen their understanding of the pivotal event in human history which we celebrate on the 25th of December. We have to take people beyond the glitz and gift-giving to a vision of what the Jesuit poet Robert Southwell described as the 'burning babe', the warm Word made flesh lying radiant in the wintry manger.
Hence we pray for ourselves and for the non-Christian world so that we may see that Christmas is not just a feast of our families, but the feast of the entire human family.