“WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR CHILDREN?” (Mt 2:13-18): 28 December 2008 (Holy Innocents, Friday)
I don’t get to watch too much TV these days. I usually just switch on CNN to catch the news while getting ready for the day. But yesterday morning something playing on CNN made me stop what I was doing and I actually sat down to watch. The program was “Rescuing Youssif”–a continuing update on a five-year old Iraqi boy who made headlines last January.
Youssif was pllaying outside their home in central Baghdad, Iraq, when masked men grabbed him, doused him in gasoline, and set him on fire. The account from Children’s Burn Foundation is heartbreaking:
As his attackers fled, Youssif sucked his thumb and repeated, over and over, “I was burning.” He tried to put the flames out himself. Upon seeing her son, Youssif’s mother fainted, and upon coming to said she barely recognized her child.
Youssif spent two months in an Iraq hospital recovering from the severe burns; however his recovery is far from over. His mother describes the energetic, outgoing child Youssif used to be and wonders if she should not have let him go outside, not let him play. Now, she says, “He can’t play outside with the other kids. The other day they were playing and he came in crying. I asked him, “What’s wrong?” And he said, “They won’t play with me because I am burned.” (www.childburn.org)
Needless to say, as shown in the photographs, the trauma has left Youssif’s face severely disfigured, but it has also understandably transformed Youssif from a happy and active boy to an angry and withdrawn one. Youssif’s family, desperate to get help for the traumatized boy, took a risk and shared his story with the world. Last August, CNN featured Youssif’s story, resulting in an overwhelming outpouring of sympathy and support from people all over the world. With the help of the Children’s Burn Foundation, Youssif and his family were brought to the US to get state-of-the-art reconstructive surgery under the care of Dr. Peter Grossman.
Youssif has since then undergone three successful, but painful surgeries. Each time he was wheeled to the operating room, he would cry and break his parents’ hearts. His mother Zainab, wiping away her tears, said that all they want is to see their son smile again.
Youssif’s tragic story makes me ask the question: “What are we doing to our children?” It’s a question that has been asked for centuries. Today’s reading and Feast of the Holy Innocents tell us precisely how ancient this question is. Herod’s paranoia leads him to massacre all boys younger than two years old in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Jeremiah’s prophecy is chilling: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”
Long after that first Christmas, the Rachel’s of today have not stopped weeping for their children.
Yet there is hope. An American soldier reading about Youssif’s story shed tears and sent money to help, and he is only one of countless others who, moved by the story of this five year old Iraqi boy, sent whatever they could to help. Also, since Youssif and his family arrived in the US, they have received nothing but sympathy and care. While playing at the beach, Youssif was recognized by a small group from a nearby church. After getting permission, they surrounded Youssif and his father and prayed for his healing and recovery. When other beachgoers saw what was happening, they dropped to their knees to join in prayer. Watching the scene, Youssif’s mother Zainab was overcome with emotion and wept.
Youssif’s story isn’t over yet, but today’s Feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that there are countless other Youssif’s in Iraq and all over the world, children who are innocent victims caught in the crossfire of our violence and hatred. Let us say a special prayer for these helpless, hapless victims, remembering that all throughout our history, the jealousies and hatred we harbor, the wars we wage–these take their greatest toll on our children. They are our first and worst victims.
Note: CNN provides continuing updates on Youssif’s surgery.