“May we be in this world a ray of that light which shone forth from Bethlehem, bringing joy and peace to the hearts of all men and women.” Pope Francis
This message from Pope Francis during Advent of 2013 to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square is just as relevant now as it was then, and perhaps more so. This message is important for us as we celebrate the hope and peace that the celebration of Christ’s birth brings. In times of crisis and uncertainty, I believe we look to leaders and models to guide us, to help us cope and manage in times of uncertainty and struggle. It is important that we not only hear but allow this guidance by Pope Francis to penetrate our hearts as we look to hope in the face of our fears. All Christians are called to be the “ray of that light” who is Jesus, the Son of God incarnate.
As we continue to endure the challenges and suffering from what the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our lives, the comfort and hope of our faith and our parish communities, especially during this Christmas season, is needed more than ever. I think many are very grateful for the ability to celebrate Mass with their pastors, parish ministers and fellow parishioners online, but long for the ability to celebrate together once again.
There are times that I am asked how the church’s ministry of safe environment responds, not only to the prevention of abuse towards minors and vulnerable adults but to other issues related to respecting the safety, health and dignity of the other person. As the Director for the Office of Safe Environment, I am mindful of the areas that are not directly related to the protection of minors and vulnerable adults from abuse. Still, I ensure that inquiries are brought to the appropriate office.
For instance, if there is a question about the health and safety of a parish related to COVID-19, I refer parishioners to their parish and its submitted mitigation plan. Each parish had to submit to the Archdiocese a mitigation plan to determine and commit to the best practice to reduce the risk of exposure within their parish community. Each parishioner has a role in planning to ensure that their mitigation plan is utilized in the most effective way possible.
The ministry of safe environment’s mission is to promote an environment where all are protected from harm, especially our most vulnerable. The goal is also to reestablish the trust that a parish community is a place of safety and security. As has been said many times, the only way to ensure a safe environment is to create a culture where everyone does their part to ensure that policies and procedures are followed and that our unified belief in the dignity of all persons is lived out both within the church building and in the world.
My hope for us all is that as we celebrate this Christmas season, we not only continue to be diligent in protecting the dignity of our most vulnerable but that we all will recognize that how we respond to the prevention of the spread of this virus is also respecting the value of each person.
There are countless ways that we are called to “…be in this world a ray of that light which shone forth from Bethlehem.” Protecting the health and safety of our fellow parishioners and neighbors is one of those ways.
The writer is the director of the Archdiocese of Anchorage- Juneau Office of Safe Environment.