In his 1979 address to the UN General Assembly, St. John Paul II enumerated a long list of the most important human rights that are universally recognized. We can use the Christmas narrative to illuminate four of these human rights:

The right to nationality and residence: Caesar Augustus declared a universal census, each to his own town. Joseph went up to Bethlehem because he was of the house and family of David.

The right to life, liberty and security of person: While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her child.

The right to freedom of movement, to internal and external migration: After the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee, Joseph fled with the child Jesus and Mary to Egypt to protect Jesus’s life. He was not to return home until it was safe.

The right to freedom of … religion, and the right to manifest one's religion either individually or in community, in public or in private: When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

The birth of Christ is the reason for the season, yet without the right to life and security, there might not have been a baby laid in a manger. Without the right to immigrate and emigrate, the Baby Jesus may not have lived passed infancy. Without the protection the Roman Empire accorded its citizens and subjects, there might not have been a robust Jewish faith forming the Son of David.

This memorable phrase “the reason for the season,” reminds us that the reason to celebrate Christmas is the Nativity. It reminds us that the Nativity must influence how we treat people. Christmas is not about a consumer-induced frenzy for big gifts, small packages, sparkly wrapping paper and stockings that overflow. The foundation for Christmas is the birth of Christ, an opportune time to reflect on the importance of promoting human rights. The world is not at peace when wishes of goodwill are merely empty words while people are denied the dignity that is their due. The gospel of life demands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and ensure that they are suffused with the rights that are their due. The Christmas season overflows with wishes for peace on earth and fraternal goodwill to all men and women.

Earlier in the season, December 10, the world commemorates Human Rights Day, the date when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Church champions the fundamental human rights of each person because we all share the same human dignity in Jesus Christ.

Protecting human rights contributes to a moral vision for society; where no individual is more equal than another. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of human rights, which foster a healthy community.

The reason for the season calls us to protect the human rights of every person as we would for Christ.  This is our Christmas gift: a meaningful goodwill to all peoples.

Cato is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Fr. Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, is director of pro-life activities in the archdiocese.