The Christmas of COVID-19

This Christmas season will be known as the unhappy Corona Christmas as so many will be separated from their families, unable to travel and be reunited.

But it should not be an unhappy Christmas if we are healthy and safe from the infection. We have much to celebrate and be thankful for. We can have a real Christmas and show the meaning of love and what it means to be a true neighbor by helping families who have a COVID-19 sick person or a relative who has died.

They need compassion, solidarity and support. We can call, text and talk to them over the phone. We can share a gift of money to help them out if unable to visit them — that is a true gift to a stranger. That is why Jesus of Nazareth was born to teach us by word and deed how to be compassionate, caring and loving.

The wicked damage of COVID-19 is that it isolates and separates friends, neighbors and family members. That love and solidarity is something that money cannot buy. It is what Christmas is all about, helping others in time of need.

It ought not be about parties, drunkenness, doping up, gluttony, selfish pursuits and endless pleasure-seeking. It is about caring for our family, being faithful and true to them and reaching out to the stranger in need.

There are more important things to do at Christmas like sharing food and gifts with street children and youth in shelters. Hundreds are incarcerated in sub-human jails waiting behind bars in municipal jails or Bahay Pag-asa detention centers.

The youth are sleeping on the concrete floor, eating expired foods and being beaten and abused. They may have committed, as yet unproven in a court of law, a minor wrongdoing but not one that deserves harsh cruel treatment and incarceration. They, too, need compassion, understanding, help and assistance. That is what Christmas is about, reaching out to those minors deprived of liberty.

Their poverty imitates the poverty of Bethlehem when the family of Jesus could not get a room because they surely could not afford the high prices and had to find refuge in a cave where animals sheltered.

The simple life of the grown man and his spiritual message for radical, social change and conversion to a Kingdom of generosity aims to end a corrupt and unjust loveless system. It brought him fame then and now but his love of the poor and acts of healing and kindness aroused jealousy and anger among the authorities.

His criticism and his challenge to that cruel system to change brought him to die a cruel death at a Roman crucifixion. His resurrection and power of his message lives on until today.

There are great, dedicated people today challenging such unjust systems that cause poverty because that same loveless system run by rich elites exists among us, dominated by heartless oligarchs and terrible tycoons. As they did in the time of Jesus of Nazareth, they create inequality, poverty and injustice.

As many as 16 million people, mostly children, say they are hungry and poor as revealed in a recent Philippine Social Weather Stations survey. The corrupt system is crushing the poor into downtrodden migrants and refugees, victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Christmas is a time to act on the words of that grown child and work for social justice and liberation of the youth and poor from such awful conditions.

Homeless children in the streets of Manila are not only vulnerable to disease but also to child abuse. (File photo by Eloisa Lopez)

A parish action group that believed faith without action for justice is dead was moved to help Jenny, a 14-year-old street child who ran away from home after being sexually abused by the live-in partner of her mother who ignored her cries for help. Tired and hungry, she was picked up by human traffickers and sold to sex tourists. The children in that brothel were given drugs to make them docile for which they had debts. The frightened teenage children were held in “debt bondage.” They were traumatized and distraught.

Then the leader of that social justice parish group working to help slum dwellers got a tip off about the abduction of children and took action to verify it. Then, they called the Preda Foundation that immediately led to a rescue with police help. Jenny and the other children were saved from that brothel and brought to the Preda Home for Girls. It was close to Christmas.

In the Preda Home for Girls, Jenny and the other three girls were welcomed and treated like princesses. They were given all their personal needs, new clothes, hot tasty meals, beds and friendship. The caring staff gave affirmation, encouragement and reassured the girls that they had no fault and were not to blame for what happened to them. No victim of abuse can be blamed, and no consent can be given by a child to being sexually abused.

They felt at home being part of a caring family and they felt that they belonged. They had the happiest Christmas ever. They all responded in a positive way and found meaning and purpose to their stay at Preda.

Jenny and the other children asked to join the Emotional Expression Therapy and in the padded therapy room they poured out all their anger and hurt and cried and shouted their pain and punched the cushions as fighting off their abusers.

In time, they recovered and became more self-confident and empowered and developed strong personalities. That Christmas was a happy one for Jenny and the other children. With the help of Preda, they filed their complaints against their abusers. In court, they testified with strong testimony. After a year or more, one by one, they won their cases against the abusers, most were jailed for life. The traffickers were also found guilty and jailed, too.

Eventually, Jenny was reconciled and reintegrated with her family. Many more will surely find a happier and better life of dignity. There are seventy children at present in the Preda homes and are having a happy Christmas holiday. We can all help children wherever they are and give them a happy Christmas.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of

Related Stories