Praying with the pope in November
As the days really shorten and darken in the nations of Britain and of the northern hemisphere, the monthly Universal Intention of the Holy Father, commended to the church though his Prayer Network, keeps us mindful of the awful suffering of refugees, many of whom have come to these nations to escape persecution and violence. We are invited, through prayer and reflection, to grow in compassion for all displaced people, most of whom experience great need and pain. We have a powerful reminder of this compassion, rooted in the pierced heart of the Saviour, as those of us in London this month get the opportunity to venerate the relics of both St.Claude de la Colombière SJ and St.Margaret Mary, brought here from Paray-le-Monial in France. We remember also, this month, Pope Francis’s second, Evangelisation Intention, about collaboration among the people of God, all of us, in our shared mission of mercy.
Pope Francis’s Universal Intention this month is for Countries Receiving Refugees: That the countries which take in a great number of displaced persons and refugees may find support for their efforts which show solidarity. We should not need reminding of the dire situation of so many refugees and displaced people in the work today. But we do, as followers of Christ, need to be reminded because there are so many voices around us who have less compassion for these brothers and sisters of ours than they should have; a compassion that should be ours but which can be weakened and undermined by selfish forces within us and around us.
This is exactly how we can pray about this, one of the greatest human concerns of our times. We really must take this tragedy into prayer, asking the Spirit of God to help us to see clearly that some countries are doing better than others at taking in refugees and are therefore showing greater human solidarity. We have a duty to observe and question government’s responses to this situation; to do so is not to play at politics. This occurs at national and government level but it’s a matter for the individual citizen too; we have the choice of choosing to support or ignore the displaced family knocking at our door; or to claim that it’s nothing to do with me; we are still free to build either bridges or walls. We can choose to indulge in the language of “invasion” of our lands by refugees or, worse still, that they are latent terrorists. We might be helped by remembering the example back in September of six-year old Alex, an American boy, who was moved by media images of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh who, dazed and confused after his home was bombed, became the face of the Aleppo airstrikes in Syria. Alex wrote to President Obama asking him to bring Omran to his house in New York State: “Can you please go get him and bring him to our home? We will give him a family, and he will be our brother." As the President said, here was a generous voice, untouched by the cynicism that is so often prominent whenever compassion for refugees is mentioned.
There is a specific request in this Intention this month – that countries may find support in their efforts of solidarity. What is that support and who provides it? We do, as followers of Jesus Christ, by speaking out where compassion and solidarity are opposed. We do, when we hear or read of refugees being degraded, insulted or even attacked. We do, when our silence makes us complicit in the hostility to refugees that undoubtedly is a feature of our society today. Speaking late last summer to alumni and alumnae of Jesuit schools, Pope Francis pointed out that the world now has the biggest number ever of displaced people, at over 65 million. That is more, he noted, than the population of Italy; we can add, more than the population of Britain too. But then he told those delegates, and tells us, that “If we move beyond mere statistics, however, we will discover that refugees are women and men, boys and girls who are no different than our own family members and friends. Each of them has a name, a face, and a story, as well as an inalienable right to live in peace and to aspire to a better future for their sons and daughters”. In his speech then, and in his intention this month, he shows that we can and should “transform [our] communities into places of welcome where all God’s children have the opportunity not simply to survive, but to grow, flourish and bear fruit”. Our governments have the power to do that act of solidarity; encouraged by us, in response to this month’s Intention, and through the intercession of Margaret Mary and Claude, we can pray that they will.
Prayer moment: ask the Spirit of God to lead you to an inner place of quiet and calm, and to ease you away from at least some of the distractions and noise of the day. Ask the Spirit to remind you of the fact that God is gazing on you. Now allow God to look at you for a moment; you will come to see that God was looking at you in love before you turned to look at God! Ask that same Spirit to help you to ponder what the Trinity sees as they gaze upon the earth and upon the biggest-ever number of forcibly-displaced people ever seen – men, women and children, each with a name, a face and a story as Pope Francis said, and each with an inalienable right to peace and prosperity. What does the Trinity see? What movement of compassion is there in the heart of the Trinity? It is that compassion that St.Margaret Mary and St.Claude recognised and wished to share with the world. Ask to be shown, interiorly, these things and notice your own interior response.
Moment for reflection: Can I bring to mind, or ask God’s Spirit to show to me, moments when I have offered solidarity to refugees, either by my own direct actions or by how I have participated in a conversation on this concern? Might there be an opportunity for me to applaud and encourage my government’s response to the refugee tragedy, or to protest where government’s response has been inhospitable or inward-looking? Ponder also where I have colluded in negativity, even hostility towards displaced people, perhaps by holding on to selfish concerns before the needs of others, perhaps by not challenging prejudice against refugees when I have heard it voiced? Is my heart becoming more like Christ’s heart?
Scriptural moment: Deut.10:19, about loving the sojourner because “you, people of Israel, were once sojourners”; Leviticus 19:33-34 (JB), “If you have resident aliens with you in your country, you will not molest them. You will treat resident aliens as though they were native-born, and love them as yourself, for you yourselves were once aliens in Egypt: I am Yahweh your God”. Matt.2:13, how the Holy Family were displaced and became refugees.
A Daily Offering Prayer (taken from the Living Prayer 2016 booklet of the Pope’s Prayer Network, a few copies still available on request):
Lord, Jesus Christ, your heart is full of compassion for all men and women, especially for those in pain and need. Help with your sacrifice in the Mass, let me not be wrapped up in my own selfish concerns, but open to your presence in all your children. This I ask, seeking to be united with the desires of the Heart of Christ.
David Stewart SJ