In his Christmas message of 1944 – the fifth year of a Second World War that spanned the globe with its suffering – Pope Pius XII offered these words:
The Church has the mission to announce to the world . . . the highest and most needed message that there can be: the dignity of man, the call to be sons of God. It is the powerful cry which, from the manger in Bethlehem to the furthest confines of the earth, resounds in the ears of men at a time when that dignity is tragically low.
The holy story of Christmas proclaims this inviolable dignity of man with a vigor and authority that cannot be gainsaid. – an authority and vigor that infinitely transcend that which all possible declarations of the rights of man could achieve.
Christmas, the great feast of the Son of God who appeared in human flesh, the feast in which heaven stoops down to earth with ineffable grace and benevolence, is also the day on which Christianity and mankind, before the crib, contemplating “the goodness and kindness of God our Savior,” become more deeply conscious of the intimate unity that God has established between them.
The birth of the Savior of the world, of the Restorer of human dignity in all its fullness, is the moment characterized by the alliance of all men of good will. There to the poor world, torn by discord, divided by selfishness, poisoned by hate, love will be restored, and it will be allowed to march forward in cordial harmony, toward the common goal, to find at last the cure for its wounds in the peace of Christ.
Today, a lifetime of 75 years later, the world is infinitely different and implacably the same. Different in its marvels of medicine, technology, and science. Different in its deliverance of many millions of people from illness, illiteracy, and poverty. But the same in the millions more who are homeless, or persecuted, or refugees, or locked in poverty, or killed casually on an industrial scale by abortion. Times and circumstances change. Human nature doesn’t. The world still needs – urgently needs – “the birth of the Savior” and “the cure for its wounds in the peace of Christ.”
This will be my last Christmas as the serving Archbishop of Philadelphia. Ministry in this archdiocese is one of the great gifts and joys of my life. My memories of Philadelphia’s priests, deacons, people, and religious are and always will be a treasure to me. I thank you for welcoming me among you — I arrived as a stranger, and you made Philadelphia my home — and I hope that all of us will remember throughout this season to thank God for our baptism, for the Church, and for each other.
May God bless all of us and our families on this wonderful Christmas feast of life. And may he grant us a happy and holy new year.
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