Having visited two refugee camps in Vienna last year and now preparing liturgies for the coming Holy Week, I would like to ask the question. As members of the Divine Word Missionaries and the IBP, is our religious belief one thing and our humanity another?
Most of us are aware that there are over 13 million refugees in various parts of the world. We don’t have to imagine what life is like for them. It is a story of muddy refugee camps and terrible daily trudging through strange landscapes without adequate clothing or food. It is carrying frail old people and small crying children on their backs, the sound of little children coughing in the cold nights, the story of bodies in the sea and babies scattered like carrion in the jetsam of the outgoing tides. It is the story of machine guns and razor wire and jackboots and tear-gas. But most terribly of all is the story of rejection. There must surely be no worse pain that the pain of being rejected in the hour of most desperate need. What must it be like to leave everything you own in the world, to run from a merciless oppressor – and God knows there are no scarcity of oppressors in the world today, from Syria to the Taliban, to Isis, to South Sudan, to seek desperate refuge and meet implacable rejection. Rejection that is all the worse, all the more hypocritical for being couched in the insincerity of diplomatic speechifying and political manoeuvring.
As we lead liturgies lets relate present day events to the efforts Moses made to lead his people to safety. The struggles and suffering of Moses’s people are well documented in the OT. They were regularly hungry, cold and thirsty, felt abandoned and turned away from Moses and from God. It would be nice to think that such stories as these are part of a historical narrative that has long since been solved by civilised society. But as I outlined above this story of brutal dispossession and fearful escape has marched into the 21st century.
Jesus reminds us that the most important commandment bar none is love.
On Holy Thursday and Good Friday we recalled the love of God. We recalled Christ being spat at and crucified. I hope that we did not see these awful things and fail to see the mil-lions of fellow human beings who are being crucified daily. The truth is that just as God became flesh through the life and death of his Son Jesus Christ he becomes flesh also in the life of every frightened, hungry, cold and desperate refugee.
Christ’s journey brought him through Calvary to the agony of the cross and to the dark place of the tomb but ultimately to the glory of the resurrection on Easter Sun-day. As you and I celebrated this victory over evil and despair surely we cannot but think about the lonely, frightened and despairing refugees who daily travel on their own way of the Cross to Calvary, carrying the heavy burden of abandonment and rejection.
Do we, as Religious Missionaries, offer them only the tomb or do we have the courage to offer them the resurrection of our love and compassion as fellow human beings? Surely this is the great challenge of this time for IBP (=Irish British Province).
- JPIC = Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation
Michael Reddan SVD