First Sunday of Advent - Fr. Peter Iorio
December 3, 2023 - 8:30 AM

Audio Recording

Apartheid is a word in Afrikaans, which is a language of South Africa, and it translates into separateness. Apartheid was a system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa and the country now called Namibia from 1948 to the early 1990s. I want to share what I consider a beautiful story of political and social change. The system of apartheid was not brought down by guns or violence or even by changing the politicians, but by changing the wind. And it was changed by hope.

Pope Saint John Paul II was an outspoken opponent of apartheid. He called for economic sanctions against the country of South Africa. Also, in the face of racial injustice, people of faith began to pray together and, as a sign of their hope that one day the evil of apartheid would be overcome, they lit candles and placed them in their windows so that their neighbors, the government, and the whole world would see their belief. And their government did see. They passed a law making it illegal, a politically subversive act, to light a candle and put it in your window. It was seen as a crime, as serious as owning and flaunting a gun. The irony of this wasn’t missed by the children. At the height of the struggle against apartheid, the children of Soweto had a joke: “Our government is afraid of lit candles!” they said.

Eventually those burning candles, and the prayer and hope behind them, changed the wind in South Africa. The government was morally shamed by its own people. So the government conceded that apartheid was wrong and dismantled it without a war or violence. Hope had changed the wind.

During the season of Advent, Christians light candles as a sign of hope. But lighting a candle in hope is not just a pious, religious act for a wreath; it can be a subversive act, and a prophetic one that trusts that the prince of peace, our Lord Jesus Christ is coming, and that we who are subject to him Hope for change in a broken world. We do what we can to bring about that change.

Hope is not based on whether the news is good or bad on a given day. The daily news, as we know, is better on some days and worse on others. If we hope or despair on the basis of whether things seem to be improving or disintegrating in terms of world events, our spirits will go up and down like a roller coaster at Dollywood. Hope looks at the facts, looks at God’s promise, and then, without denying the facts or turning away from the reality of the news, lives out a vision of life based upon God’s promise, trusting that a benevolent, all-powerful God is still in charge of this world and that is more important than whether or not the news looks good or bad on a given day.