This is the second year there has been no blessing of toys at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the Feast of the Holy Innocents.
Fr Martin Sirju, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Port of Spain and Cathedral Administrator said he stopped the practice, not only because the toys were distracting, but because it diminished the feast’s importance.
The feast is a remembrance of the massacre of all the boys, two years old and under, in Bethlehem and its vicinity which was ordered by King Herod in an attempt to eliminate Jesus, the newborn king. It is observed annually on December 28.
Speaking to Sunday Newsday before the mass,on Saturday, Sirju said he did not know when or where the tradition started but blessing toys had nothing to do with the feast. He even questioned colleagues from other Caribbean islands and parts of Africa, but they knew nothing about the practice. Therefore, he stopped blessing toys about five years ago while he was serving in Siparia.
“After that I said, ‘This is not making sense,’ because the liturgy was, from a practical point of view, the mass or service was constantly interrupted by the children playing with toys. So you’re talking but most of the time you got the impression nobody is listening."
He said last year he had a “fair number” of children at the mass, and parents responded positively to the idea of no toys being blessed. This year, the response seemed to be similar.
Toya Fletcher from Laventille said she was fine with it. “Children get toys throughout the year and they are not blessed. They are going to play with they toys whether they are blessed or not.”
Evans Alexis of Beetham Gardens was also at the mass with his three grandsons. He said he found it was a good idea because he believed the toys were a distraction, not only to the children, but to the adults who were distracted by the children’s play.
Sirju continued, “But my main reason, I find it cheapens the feast day because the feast day is sending a powerful message to us that Christmas does not mean that I am obliged to be happy at Christmas time. There is a kind of conviction of faith that comes with Christmas that should bring a certain kind of joy. But it’s not the joy that makes me always want to laugh and eat and drink with my friends. It’s an inner contentment and conviction of faith knowing that something bigger than suffering has come into the world. I think that is worth celebrating.”
He noted that the Christmas story has many sad events including family issues, refugee woes, fear, cruelty, murder of children, and more. He said people die every day. People lose children and parents, there is murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, and many things to be upset about. However, he said that God deciding to come himself and be with his people trumped all the grief and sadness of the world.
“Today is a good day to talk to children and about the sufferings of children and about our obligation towards them. And I think all of that is lost in this noisy, restless atmosphere when you bring toys into the church. It makes the focus primarily the blessing of toys instead of the blessing that should fall upon children.”
He said in the Gospel, Jesus put his arms around children and blessed them. And in the Eucharist, Jesus said, "Do this in memory of me." He said there were many things Jesus did that people should remember, and many of these directly impact children.
He said people should focus on the protection of children. And one way to do that was to teach them matters of their faith, including God’s word, its importance, and how the word impacts their lives.
“All religions have their holy innocents and therefore all religion is obligated to protect children. So we have a right to form children in their faith. Forming them in their faith is also a way of protecting them from the evils of this world.”
He questioned if that was happening because he said about 60 per cent of people who go for communion do not “receive it properly.” He said he could tell by their body language that they are unsure of what to do. He said they and children now were not properly socialised in the faith, and not properly informed by their parents.