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Gordon Nary

December, 1998

A counterpoint to the Christian celebration of Christmas on December 25 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, also known as Childermas, on December 28 which commemorates the massacre of an estimated twenty to thirty Jewish male children under two years of age. The children were executed in Bethlehem and surrounding areas under the order of King Herod approximately a year after Christ's birth. This act of infanticide was particularly heinous because of the reported violence which some of the soldiers used to carry our their orders to the letter. Historians report that some of the children were decapitated. Some were strangled. Some were drowned. Some had their heads bashed against the walls of their homes.

The commemoration of the infanticide of these children on Childermas appears to have been instituted very early in the Christian church. The Church calls them flores martyrum -- the ones who died not for Christ, but instead of Christ. Fragments of the intact and bashed skulls were among the relics at Notre Dame in Paris and in the church of the Augustines in Limoges. Some may recall that St. Augustine called the children "buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves."

As horrible as the image is of a soldier bashing a child's head against a wall may be, it pales by comparison with our continued silence as an estimated 600,000 infants contract HIV from their infected mothers in 1999. It pales by comparison with our failure to serve as advocates for the millions of HIV- infected children throughout the world who have no voice with which to beg for life-extending and pain-relieving drugs, or the simple nourishment to give them one more day of life. It pales by comparison with our frosty silence as these helpless little buds die such excruciating and often loveless deaths. A child's death from any cause is a tragedy. Such a death challenges our belief in a just God that denies that child the opportunity of life and often the opportunity of being loved. A child's death that could be prevented is more than a tragedy. Such a death dehumanizes each of us. Each unnecessary death diminishes each of us further until we have no claim to humanity, no claim to life itself.

We have the drugs, technology, and nutritional supplements to prevent the majority of cases of maternal-fetal HIV transmission throughout the world and to provide children with alternate sources of nutrition than the milk of their HIV-infected mothers. There are some who rightfully challenge our cultural arrogance in prohibiting breast feeding by HIV-infected mothers when we fail to provide these infants with alternate sources of nutrition, and the other resources that could give such children the opportunity of life and love -- an elitist opportunity given to one child whose birth many of us hypocritically celebrate on Christmas.

But most of us remain silent as helpless children die every few minutes from diseases which we can often prevent. Is our silence greater evidence of madness than Herod's orders to slaughter the children and deny them their right to life and love? When we refuse to speak out as advocates for the millions of children infected with a virus that destroys their chance of life and their opportunity of being loved, are we any better than the man who ordered the murder of a few children? If there is a God, and he or she is a just God, will those of us who continue to fuel this infanticide with our frosty silence be damned for an eternity of watching each of these children, these fragile tender buds, die over and over and over again?

This article was provided by International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care. It is a part of the publication Journal of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care. You can find this article online by typing this address into your Web browser:

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