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JRS Online Retreat: Day 17 – With the Crucified Jesus: Accompanying the Suffering Tamil People
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“The Society cares for those persons who are totally neglected or inadequately attended to. This is the basic reason why the Society was founded; this is its power; this is what makes it distinctive in the Church.”

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 the Father to help you to accompany Jesus in his suffering so that we may learn to grow in the ability to suffer with those in need.

Reflections for Prayer

Fr. Joseph Joel, S.J.
Country Director
Jesuit Refugee Service Sri Lanka

Colombo, 17 November 2010 – One Sunday morning in early 2009, I stepped out of my residence in the Tamil north of Sri Lanka with a toothbrush in my hand. I was planning on celebrating the 6:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at a nearby church. But all of a sudden government artillery began to spit fire and I rushed into a bunker with many other Tamil people. By the time I came out of the bunker, it was already 9:00 a.m. Usually, my daily schedule was well planned, but in those days the pounding of heavy weapons determined everything—when we got up, when we washed ourselves, when we celebrated the Eucharist, when we ate, when we went to bed.

In 2009, during the last phase of the so-called “Humanitarian Operation” the entire population of the Vanni — about 330,000 people belonging to 81,000 families — was caged in a “safe area” about 12 kilometers long and one kilometer wide that had been established by the government along the eastern coast of Mullaitivu district. Many of these Tamil families had already lost many dear ones as well as hard earned belongings during multiple displacements caused by previous heavy shelling and bombing.  

I was just one among the many Tamils who were witnesses of the horrors of this “war without witness.” Aerial bombardments, artillery, multi-barrel rocket launches and mortar poundings, cluster bomb explosions and gun fire took their daily toll. Like swatted insects, people were maimed, wounded and killed. No one was spared — men, women, children and even unborn foetuses. Added to all this savagery, were severe shortages of food, shelter, water, sanitation, medicines, making human survival close to impossible.

Our daily routine as priests consisted of assisting people with our limited resources, visiting the wounded at makeshift hospitals, burying the dead, consoling the bereaved and celebrating the sacraments whenever possible. It became clear to us that the Sri Lankan armed forces were determined to wipe out the Tamil Tiger forces at any cost. As a group of priests, however, we pleaded on behalf of the innocent Tamil people with the Sri Lankan government, with international humanitarian organizations, and with the U.S. government to save the lives of the people. We also confronted the Tiger leaders about their abuses and pleaded with them to put an end to the brutal war. All our appeals failed. In fact, we were labelled as supporters of the “terrorists” by the government and were threatened by the Tigers. The war continued unabated and the people continued to suffer. Two of our brother priests were badly injured and thousands of people were killed.

I lived this way of the cross feeling utterly helpless. But it was precisely this helplessness that gave me a sense of purpose and direction. Jesus, the innocent one, abandoned by his disciples and apostles, unjustly condemned by the religious and military leaders, carried his cross with total resignation to the will of the Father.  There in the Vanni I was willing to share my life with the abandoned innocent people unjustly condemned to death by the powers that be. In faith, I shared the life-giving sufferings of Jesus re-enacted in the lives of such helpless Tamil people. 

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

Matthew 25: 32-40

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.' 

"The Society cares for those persons who are totally neglected or inadequately attended to. This is the basic reason why the Society was founded; this is its power; this is what makes it distinctive in the Church." ~ Jerome Nadal, S.J., first generation Jesuit.