Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men…except in the headlines.

You see headlines about NATO troops killed in Afghanistan. Yes, that nasty war is still going on. But the headlines don’t put it into perspective: the Taliban wants to stop education of girls, and any western type education for anyone. But the headlines don’t talk about positive things, like the return of the refugees, the spread of cellphones, or that maternal/child health is improving.

From the UKGuardian:

Under the Taliban, maternal healthcare dropped to an all time low in Afghanistan. Because women were excluded from education, there were hardly any trained midwives left in the country. Over the last few years, NGOs have been working to cut maternal and child deaths in the country, which remain some of the highest in the world.

The rest of the article is about training local women as birth attendants and midwives, and using them to outreach to local women to cut down child maternal mortality. No, it’s not making headlines, but it’s saving lives, one person at a time.

The war on terror is not limited to religious terror, as those “anarchist” bombings in Italy prove. But we in the Philippines already know that: communist “insurgents” killed 300 Philippine troops in 2010…and forest rangers are being killed by illegal loggers.

That doesn’t include professional hits against political rivals, human rights activists, journalists,or the occasional “amok” who goes crazy and shoots up his neighbors.

But on the whole, Christmas was quiet here in the Philippines.

Perhaps “quiet” isn’t the right word, since noise from parties, parades, wandering carolers (all asking for pesos),  and traffic (everyone coming in from the city, or traveling around town to visit friends and families) makes the long holiday weekend a bit noisy here in our small rural city.

Midnight mass was packed, and the square next to the church was packed with vendors, kids running around playing while their parents inside worshipped, and the peace of the celebration shattered by the occasional fire cracker. Afterwards, families go home and have a midnight supper, called Noche Buena.

On Christmas morning, it is busy here. Everyone visits: all the neighbors come out to greet each other. The neighborhood kids come to the house to say Merry Christmas (and are given a few pesos or candy), and the farm families whose parents worked for us before land reform (and who now own their own farms and grow our organic rice) came too, sharing a snack and greetings (and of course, their kids get a few pesos to take home). Our large extended family had a big family supper, but the real party will be for the “Three Kings” fiesta, when some of our family from overseas will be back to visit.

The really sad Christmas story is that so many millions of Pinoys are working overseas to support their families. Nearly every country in the world has Filipinos working there, and usually they try to gather and celebrate, even in countries like Saudi Arabia where Christmas is forbidden.

So you have to read behind the headlines to realize that it was actually a peaceful Christmas here in the Philippines.

Yes, the headlines blared: 11 hurt in a chapel bombing. But to put it into perspective, 66 people have been hurt by firecrackers.

Even the bombing of a chapel (in a police compound) was sort of “good” news: no one was killed. The real news was that the cops intercepted news of the threat but thought the target would be the cathedral, so they guarded the cathedral… The area is of mixed religion, and there have been attacks there in the past: the church thinks it’s “payback” for church money given to build 300 homes for the poor of all faiths, and because the church gave out a lot of charity over Christmas.

and in the meanwhile, another day, another earthquake…no one hurt.

Is Christianity under attack, as some claim? Yes and no.

There are other areas with attacks threatened, such as the “Christmas weekend violence kills 38 in Nigeria” (if you read the story, the majority of attacks were against churches or in markets where people were shopping for Christmas). But in Indonesia, although there are local disputes about new church buildings, there were no major attacks.

But not all the weekend’s attacks were against Christians. In Pakistan, 40 plus people, mainly women and children, getting food supplies from the UN were killed by a homicide bomber. The result will be the UN shutting down food aid, and people starving, but that’s the idea, isn’t it? Of course, in the long run, killing women and children makes these groups unpopular, but that part doesn’t get in the headlines either.

But again, these small groups of terrorists make all the headlines, not those who risk their lives delivering food to dangerous areas, or who help the poor.

The really big threat against religion is by governments. The one million Christians in Saudi Arabia, most of them “guest workers”, aren’t allowed any churches, but many travel to the more tolerant Gulf states to attend church, or hold private celebrations inside Saudi, hoping the “religious police” won’t attack.

But a bigger story of growing government hostility against religious freedom is going on in China. There has been a growing Chinese government clampdown on Catholics and Protestants who refuse to belong to the sham government sponsored churches in China. The excuse is that Christianity is a “western” religion, even though western missionaries haven’t been there for 60 years, and many of the vibrant and growing Protestant “house churches” were inspired by Korean pastors.

But it’s not really about Christianity (they did the same to the FalunGong). It’s about controlling the way people think…

So another peaceful Christmas, with goodwill to men. Despite the headlines, and the much over-hyped “war against Christmas”, the real story is that most of the one and a half billion Catholic and Protestant Christians who celebrated Christmas this weekend (or the half billion Orthodox Christians who will celebrate it next week) manage to do so peacefully.

Peace on earth, indeed.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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