Not unlike 1985, 1971 was shrouded in turbulence; specifically, the war in Vietnam, today remembered with names inscribed on a marble monument.
Christmas Eve of 1971 presented this writer with an indelible picture, applicable for that troubled time as well as today with lives threatened, jeopardized and lost in Central America and South Africa in the people's struggle for peace and justice.
Midnight mass at St. James' parish, 1971, was celebrated by a young priest. The service was simple, accompanied by a single guitar. As the biblical account of the birth of Christ was read, slides of classic art renderings of the Madonna and child were shown on a makeshift screen suspended from the ceiling of the church.
"Now it came to pass in those days that a decree went forth from Caesar Augustus . . . " as the works of Raphael, da Vinci, Michelangelo clicked by. " . . . and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest . . . ' "
And a slide replacing Raphael's Madonna flashed onto the screen. It was the cover from a news magazine--that of a horror-struck, weeping Vietnamese carrying the bloody, lifeless body of his comrade. " ' . . . and on earth peace among men of good will.' "
"This story has no meaning if we allow what is seen before you to go on another day," the young priest said, accompanied by no chorus of "Joy to the World," and the Mass was ended.
That priest is no longer at St. James. But it is hoped that his courage exists in the world's churches and everywhere this Dec. 24, when that gentle story is told, the slide of that tragic Asian figure will be replaced with a Latino or a South African, and not another day will be allowed to pass when we let this story of peace have no meaning--or be reduced to another black monolith commemorating war.