2,000 years ago a baby boy born in a manger in Bethlehem to a mother and father of humble means would grow to change the world forever. The scope, duration and implementation of Christianity are often the focus of modern analysis, and with good reason. The largest religious framework ever created reaches two billion souls around the globe. Its message of peace, tolerance and the divinity of humankind have flourished despite human imperfections, flawed interpretations, and a breathtaking march of time. Despite the incredible political, social and scientific advancement as well as some notable setbacks along the way, Christianity flourishes and is changing lives for Christians and non-Christians alike around the world who undertake to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and provide medical care to those in dire need. Some of the most profound stories in the Bible are those of Jesus healing the sick.
Mother Teresa said, "Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work." She continued, describing those whom she served as "each one of them is Jesus in disguise." Jesus' own teachings said as much: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
A man of different faith, gender, nationality and background undertook the work spoken of by Mother Teresa, at great personal risk in another distant part of the world. On November 17, 2010, Delmar New York Optometrist, Dr. Tom Little was given the president's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. For the last 34 years Dr. Little, 61 sojourned unpaid to the far flung nether regions of Afghanistan coordinating eye care for some of poorest people in the world, in work sponsored in part by a hometown church, the First Presbyterian Church in the updated New York City of Schednectady. Through the National Organization of Ophthalmic Rehabilitation (NOOR) Eye Care Program, medical care is provided in the far expanses of Afghanistan where eye problems are common but doctors are not. It is estimated that Afghanistan, at 2 percent, has one of the highest prevalence of blindness in the world, much of it preventable.
In one of the most horrendous acts of religious hatred against Christians this year, Dr. Little and his team were massacred in the country he loved so very much, serving the destitute and sick who were so close to his heart.
President Obama's statement about Dr. Little for his posthumous medal ceremony:
Dr. Tom Little was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan. Dr. Little and his wife, Libby, lived and worked in Afghanistan for three decades beginning in 1976, raising three daughters and providing vision, dental and mother/child care to the people of that country through the NOOR program (Noor means "light" in Persian) that Dr. Little ran for the International Assistance Mission.
One of the finest and most enduring gifts that America provides to the world is the rigorously, though sometimes imperfectly applied cornerstone concept of religious freedom to its residents, and the protection of religious practice and places through both civil and criminal law. But we must do more. According to recent reports, our Christian brothers and sisters, who many of us regard as so numerous and powerful, here in the United States, face an array of horrendous restrictions, harassment, or even violence in places around the world including Nigeria, China, North Korea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, Eritrea, North Korea, the Sudan, Uzbekistan, Kenya, Iran and Iraq. Some of these restrictions are nonviolent and relate to the forced registration of groups, bans on religious exercise or materials or degradation of faith in official texts or media, while others involved arrests or brutal murderous acts, sometimes without government sanction against Christian religious minorities.
All people of good will, must push governments to ease restrictions on Christians and other minorities, allow for open worship, and protect our Christian brothers and sisters from the violence they often face in areas of the world not as safe as ours.
Shortly after World War II, Edith Zierer, a penniless, starving and freezing 13-year-old orphaned Jewish girl who had escaped Czestochowa, a liberated concentration camp, ended up at a train station, where she sat ignored for two days in the brutal January cold. A handsome young Catholic religious scholar, Karol Wojtyla, without notice, scooped her into his arms, fed her, gave her warm tea and his coat and carried her to a train and accompanied her to Krakow, where she would find her parents had perished.
The man would later become Pope John Paul II, and he tirelessly worked to expand religious tolerance and freedom for Christians and non-Christians alike around the world.
On the celebrated birthday of Jesus, we should not forget, nor tolerate, that there are those in disparate places of the world whose observance of this joyous day is threatened by both official or unofficial restrictions and even violence. This tragic scourge of bigotry and violence that target our peaceful Christian brothers and sisters stands in stark contrast of the tolerant beliefs and compassionate acts that they pursue and must be eradicated by those with the influence to do so. We must not remain silent, simply because the victims are Christian.
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