Peace on Earth, that much longed-for dream, repeated so often during this season in Christmas carols, remains as elusive as it was two millennia ago.
All around our planet, even as millions of greeting cards offer wishes for a peaceful Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year, conflicts large and small rage on. The ones that concern us most are those in Iraq and Afghanistan, where service members from our own towns are deeply at risk.
Others fly mostly below our notice. The genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan, for example, has caused uncountable deaths. Yet, despite consciousness-raising by celebrities such as George Clooney, most of us would be hard pressed to explain it - let alone conflicts in Congo or Colombia.
In Africa alone, there have been 20 major civil wars in the past half-century. Many civilians die, and those who survive often become refugees - either in their own countries or outside them. At the start of 2009, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees was concerned about 10 million refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people in sub-Saharan Africa.
At Christmas, with its story of a family far from home, forced to become refugees with a newborn baby, we might want to focus our thoughts and prayers - and contributions - on refugees, starting with a visit to unhcr.org. After recently concluded Hanukkah, the feast of a people struggling against oppression, we can renew our attention to human rights violations - and rising anti-Semitism.
And, as always, we can use this generous season to attend to the needs of those right around us who are suffering. Our concern, directed to neighbors near and far, in the form of simple giving or more complex struggles for a more peaceful world, can help make this a season of hope. hN