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A modern-day Mary in Mozambique - the real meaning of Christmas

NOT long ago, in Mozambique, I met a woman who profoundly touched me. The memory of her is deeply etched in my mind and heart; and now I realize why. It is because there was something about her and her experience that brought home the real meaning of Christmas. The name of the brave African woman I met could have been Mary. Like the biblical Mary, she was a refugee. She was pregnant. She was homeless. There was ``no room in the inn.''

This modern-day Mary was a wayfarer from the incomprehensible brutality of our time. The only thing in life she could be certain about was uncertainty: The present was bewildering and the future unimaginable. She was on the run from civil war in Mozambique - displaced from home, farm, and familiar territory.

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Her hopes and dreams lay shattered. Her husband was gone, perhaps killed, but more likely impressed by one of the armies. Four of her five children were scattered among strangers who agreed to take them in. She carried her youngest - too small to be parted from its mother - on her back. She was heavy with child and alone in a camp for deslocados.

This Mary had exchanged dignity for dependency. As a late arrival in an overcrowded camp, with no husband to fend for her, she ranked as the least significant human being in a camp consigned to the insignificant.

She was given no shelter, only a space of bare earth 10 feet square. There she could keep her three small cooking pots. And there, with her baby and unborn child, she would sleep in wind and rain and dust until their circumstances somehow changed or until they all died, whichever came first. This woman - much assailed and endangered - was solemn, cautious, frail, and frightened, as the Mary of 2,000 years ago may have been.

The question that arises again and again in my mind is, would you and I, centuries ago in Bethlehem, have helped Mary find a room at the inn? Would we have helped her save her infant son during her days of flight as a refugee? Would we have thrown her a lifeline of security in her turbulent and uncertain world?

The Mary struggling so desperately for survival today in that camp in Mozambique is no less real, no less precious, as a human being than her counterpart was many years ago.

Today's Mary, and thousands like her - mothers torn from home and family - are not shadows, though much of the world seems unwilling or unable to make room for them. They and their children desperately need the love that Christmas represents and the extra measure of care the holiday places in our hearts. They need shelter, food, clothing, and medical help from anyone willing to love and care for them.

Too often we forget what Jesus' mother must have felt as she was turned away from shelter while her labor began. We neglect to consider what she was thinking as she and her small family became refugees, fleeing to Egypt to save their infant boy from a king who slaughtered babies. Rarely do we reflect on how she must have felt when she lost her marvelous child to the unreasonable, incomprehensible brutality of her time.

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We can help the Marys of today in Mozambique, in Ethiopia, in Bangladesh, and yes, in Armenia. Throughout the world desperate mothers with fragile, hungry babies cry out for help.

Many humanitarian agencies stand ready to convey our help to these victims of war, famine, and crisis. Now, while the holiday spirit is upon us - and while they remain alive - is the time to act!

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