Sunday was the feast of the Holy Innocents, but it was displaced this year by the feast of the Holy Family. However, we will reflect on them today. The feast commemorates 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. The century just past saw more Christian martyrs than in any other period of history, and 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, where, only 18 months after passing abortion legislation, many in public life are pushing enthusiastically for even more abortion. Secondly, we should remember today all of those children who have been 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 publicly available 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.
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.