Those that King Herod had killed at the time of Jesus, for fear of being dethroned, were just innocent children. The slaughter of all male children under two years old, documented by the Gospel of Matthew, is remembered on the solemnity of the Holy Innocents that the Custody of the Holy Land celebrates every year in Bethlehem. In the city of the slaughter, where the angel appeared in a dream to Joseph, suggesting that he escape Herod with Jesus and Mary, a grotto commemorates of the Holy Innocents. Right in the grotto, there was a mass to celebrate this feast, presided over by the vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal. Along with the other friars of the Custody, including Fr. Artemio Vitores, the Guardian of the Bethlehem fraternity was also present.
“Celebrating the Feast of the Holy Innocents so close to the holy [feast of] Christmas has led to a tradition of the Church that wished to place the innocent victims among the companions of Christ surrounding the cradle of the Infant Jesus, who are clad in robes of innocence, and who are martyrs; they are witnesses through their blood that they belong to Christ,” said Fr. Dobromir during his homily. According to the friar, although there are those who argue that the event has no historical basis, the episode must be considered by taking into account two facts: the cruelty of Herod, confirmed by various sources, which would make this act possible, as well as the calculations of a historic biblical scholar who has mentioned the number of children killed. It may have been about 20 or so from Bethlehem, and others from the surrounding area.
“The massacre of the innocents reveals how much evil power can fill the heart of man when it is blinded by his own selfishness and his own pride,” said the Custodial Vicar. The meaning of celebrating this feast becomes clear when we compare it to our time. And that is [exactly] what Fr. Dobromir did in his homily: “In our times this massacre acquires special significance because these infants slaughtered by Herod foreshadow the millions of children born and slaughtered in the course of so many conflicts around the world and that are [happening] before our eyes.” Among the faithful crammed into the cave, the comment immediately brought about images of war in recent weeks, which have been broadcast through different types of media. “The fate of the Holy Innocents,” continued the vicar, “also prefigures the huge massacres of unborn children who are condemned to death by society and the governments of many countries with laws that allow abortion as a human right.”
Songs like Adeste Fideles and Tu scendi dalle stelle accompanied the celebration, keeping alive the spirit of the Christmas feast that has just passed. The hope is that we may have the grace to carry out what was recalled by Fr. Dobromir: “Whoever receives Jesus born in Bethlehem has faith, who then with his or her life is a witness to the One who is the way, the truth and the life, and who lives in the fullness of faith.”