The Christian world will be celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ this week. However, as people the world over come together and celebrate, the disappeared and their families long to be together again.
Christmas brings us back to baby Jesus in the manger. In the Catholic tradition, the four candles lit on the preceding four Sundays before Christmas, or Advent, signify the hopeful waiting for the birth of the Messiah.
In today’s commercialized world,” Christmas is associated with glittering lights, shopping, and carols. Christmas eve is time for “noche buena”, when families gather to share a meal and exchange gifts.
For the families of the victims of enforced disappearances, however, Christmas can only be the happiest season of the year if, and only if, their loved ones are returned home.
For years, they have been living in anxiety, struggling for the elusive truth and justice, which is seemingly out of reach. Their hope against hope kindles and rekindles the light that illuminates the dark path to truth and justice.
There can be no better Christmas gift for them than the return of their long-lost loved ones.
In predominantly Catholic Timor-Leste, the families and relatives of the children kidnapped during the Indonesian occupation dearly cherish what was to be an early Christmas gift.
In November, 15 stolen children (now adults) who were forcibly taken by soldiers during the Indonesian occupation came back to Timor-Leste to trace their historical identity.
This is the latest group of people who were taken as children by soldiers during the Indonesian occupation and handed over to Indonesian families for adoption. Some 72 people who suffered this fate have been reunified with their families over the past three years.
Among the estimated 8,000 stolen children in Timor-Leste, 15 children — 12 boys and three girls — were forcibly taken from their families between 1977-1998.
The girls were taken when they were 8, 12, and 13 years old. The youngest child among them was taken when he was six.
Baptized with Christian names, they were renamed by their adoptive parents in Indonesia.
Each of these children had to deal with issues of identity and adopt to living in a foreign land. The treatment by their adoptive parents varied from child to child. All the same, for decades, they were denied their real identity.
Having been forced to live a lie, what is important for them is knowing the truth of their family histories and identities. This reconciliation is integral to matters of transitional justice in a country notorious for its history of grave human rights violations.
In another war-torn Catholic country, El Salvador, the Asociacion Pro Busqueda de Ninas y Ninos Desaparecidos gladly announced the reunification of a disappeared child who had been forcibly taken from her family during the Salvadorean war.
Maria, who was brought to the United States as a child, was reunited with her biological family on Dec. 14 after more than 38 years apart.
Just a couple of weeks before Christmas, the hopeful sisters and brothers of the long-lost Maria wore shirts bearing the message: “Never did we lose the hope of finding each other and we succeeded.”
Back in 2002, a woman approached Pro-Búsqueda with the hope that its founder, the late Jesuit priest Jon de Cortina, would help find her granddaughter.
In the following years, the Investigation team Pro-Búsqueda facilitated the resolution of the case.
In its 25 years of existence, Pro-Búsqueda has resolved 451 cases. In 85 percent of them, the disappeared were still alive.
Of the 1,005 cases reported, 554 children remain missing. That led to the government’s approval of a law on the creation of a National Bank of Genetic Data.
Indeed, these reunifications in Timor-Leste and El Salvador were the most beautiful Christmas gifts to both the desaparecidos and their families.
Every other desaparecido and their family ardently long for the same dream: To realize the joy of being reunified.
Sadly, while the Christian world savors the joys of the Christmas season, countless families of the disappeared wait for the return of their loved ones.
How long will they have to wait?
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is former secretary general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. She was awarded the 2019 Franco-German Ministerial Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law. In 2013, the Argentinian Government awarded her the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize.The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LICAS News.