Thoughts for December 28 (Feast of the Holy Innocents) from Fr Willie Doyle

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents; those innocent children slaughtered as a result of King Herod’s lust for power and hatred of Christ. It is a feast of great relevance for us today, for there are still plenty of those who hate Christ and who persecute those who follow Him. We think in a special way of those who were killed when attending Midnight Mass in Nigeria just a few days ago. Let us also remember that the century just past saw more Christian martyrs than in any other period of history, and that even today, in the West, those who follow Christ face a dry martyrdom of scorn and insults and damaged careers.

We should also remember the holy innocents of our own era. Three particular categories come to mind. First there are those who are never given a chance of life and who are killed through abortion. Let us pray for an end of this crime, and let us pray in a very special way today for all of those mothers who feel that they have no option but abortion – may we always be ready to help them to choose life and to treat them with compassion. In particular we pray for Ireland – elements within the Irish Government are intent on introducing abortion during the year 2013. May they be thwarted in their aim. Secondly, we should remember today all of those children who have damaged by abuse, especially abuse by priests and religious. Even though only a small amount of abuse occurs in this way, it is a true outrage. May this scourge be finally and completely eradicated within the Church and within society in general, and may those who have suffered find peace and healing. Finally today we should pray for all of those children who have the innocence of their childhood destroyed by forces of materialism and early sexualisation. Many children lose their innocence so early these days. It is corny, but it is true – our children are our future and they need our prayers.

 I can find no mention of the Holy Innocents in Fr Doyle’s writings. However, today is an appropriate day to reflect on another one of Fr Doyle’s missionary initiatives, his work for the Association of the Holy Childhood. Fr Doyle is well known for his work in the war, but these two and a half years were really just the culmination of an active and fruitful life of practical evangelisation.

Perhaps we might describe this work slightly differently today. The terms used by Fr Doyle were typical of the time, and we are all to some extent products of the culture in which we live (though it must be remembered that Fr Doyle was considerably less captive to his own culture than many others – for example he was a pioneer in the field of retreats for lay people, a position that was subject to some scorn at that time…). Nonetheless, despite the somewhat anachronistic descriptions, Fr Doyle’s Black Baby Crusade shows us his missionary zeal, practical effectiveness and pastoral creativity.

Here is the description from O’Rahilly’s biography.

His interest in the foreign missions took a very practical shape, namely, that of helping the Association of the Holy Childhood. This Association, founded in 1843 by Mgr. de Forbin Janson, Bishop of Nancy, has for its object the rescue of children in Africa and Asia, who have been abandoned and left to die by their parents. By its means more than eighteen million little babies have been saved and baptised; most of these neglected mites did not long survive baptism. The members help the work of the Association by their prayers and offerings. Fr. Doyle was able to collect considerable sums by his zealous and ingenious methods. He had attractive cards printed each with a picture of a rescued babe and an invitation to buy a black baby for half-a-crown, the purchaser having the right to select the baptismal name! “I do not know,” he wrote from the Front on 31st July, 1916, “if I told you that the Black Baby Crusade, though now partly suspended, proved a great success. I got well over a thousand half-crowns; and as in some places a poor child can be bought for sixpence, there should be a goodly army of woolly black souls now before the throne of God. In addition, two priests, one in Scotland, the other in Australia, have taken up my card-scheme and are working it well. The idea of buying a little godchild from the slavery of the devil and packing it off safe to heaven, appeals to many.” Like every other available method of saving souls, it appealed to Fr. Doyle; and he brought to it his characteristic humour and energy.

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One thought on “Thoughts for December 28 (Feast of the Holy Innocents) from Fr Willie Doyle

  1. It was still half-a-crown when I was growing up in the 40s and 50s! I didn’t know that Father Willie had started this but as far as I can recall it was the same Sister Stanislaus of the Irish Sisters of Charity in Stanhope St whom I have mentioned before in comments here who introduced me both to Father Willie and to the ‘Black Babies’.

    Father Willie was surely filled with the same zeal as his great fellow Jesuit St Francis Xavier. In one of his letters to St Ignatius of Loyola, used in the Office of Readings on his feast day, he writes, ‘I have been going from village to village and every child not yet baptized I have baptized. So I have brought redemption to a very great number of children who, as the saying goes, cannot tell their right hand from their left. but the children would not let me say my office or eat or rest till I had taught them some prayer. It was then that I really began to feel that of such is the kingdom of heaven’.

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