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JRS Online Retreat: Day 3 – Refugees Lost in Big Cities
Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"But it is only in . . . vulnerability that we can form true relationship and thus gain meaning in our lives. . . . This is especially so with poor people or people who are in some way different."

As you begin your prayer today, remember that you are in God’s holy presence. Become aware of how God gazes on you all the time, how tenderly and powerfully God regards you. Ask God for what you want in prayer:

Ask God to help you experience the reality of evil in the world, its sinful structures, and your own part in the world’s brokenness. 

Reflections for Prayer

by Fr. David Holdcroft, S.J.
Regional Director, Jesuit Refugee Service South Africa

Johannesburg, 3 November 2010 – Today more than half of the world’s refugees live in crowded urban areas rather than in refugee camps that have traditionally been located at great distances from major population centers. Danisa, a young Zimbabwean man, is one of these so-called “urban refugees.” He recently came to our office in Pretoria asking for money to begin a hair cutting business. After an interview, one of our team purchased some clippers, a chair, a mirror and a bowl. This was his shop. We worked with him to get a permit that enabled him to practice his trade legally, thus giving him some insurance from police raids. Nevertheless he was still vulnerable to robbery.

Danisa comes from a village in southern Zimbabwe where he is the oldest child of a family of six children. I asked him why he had left and why he wasn’t still at school. He explained that their school had all but closed as the government could no longer pay the teachers who had begun to rely on payments directly from parents. While such an arrangement was manageable in the cities where people had access to the U.S. dollar currency, in the rural villages, like Danisa’s, this was impossible. The simple fact was that his family was starving; so he had decided to move out of Zimbabwe. It was a dangerous journey. He was robbed and beaten quite badly as he neared the border. He then lived by begging in Beitbridge on the Zimbabwean side of the border, picking up jobs until he was able to have enough money to cross the border proper. From there he walked 85 kilometres to Louis Trichardt. It took him two days during which he slept near the road trying not to be seen.

Danisa now rents a tiny verandah on the ninth floor of a high-rise building, which he shares with another Zimbabwean. He pays 750 Rand a month (U.S.$100). The verandah is completely open to the elements. There are six others in the inside of the two bedroom flat.

In the Gospel story suggested below, Jesus tells the parable of a wounded man and his encounter with a priest, a Levite and a Samaritan. This parable of the Good Samaritan is meant to confront us, his listeners, with difficult questions: “Who is my neighbor?” and “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?"  How does Danisa’s story help us answer these questions that Jesus poses?  How do we become a neighbour to strangers, near and far away, in our lives? What does Danisa’s story say about my life? How does it bring me closer to God?

Address God as a friend speaks to a friend. 

Talk to God about your response, your own needs and your deepest desires.

End your prayer with the Our Father, the prayer Jesus taught us.

Suggested Reading for Prayer

Luke 10: 29-34

The scholar of the law said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.  A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. 


"But it is only in . . . vulnerability that we can form true relationship and thus gain meaning in our lives. . . . This is especially so with poor people or people who are in some way different. They ask for money, for their needs—sure. But what they most need from us is respect, our acknowledgement of them as human beings, beings worthy of life."  Daniel O’Leary