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Refugees — Images of God (March 2009)
Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sarah Kiden, 18, plays the adungu, a string and drum instrument, in the local church of Ocea in Uganda’s Rhino Camp. (Don Doll, S.J.)

God reveals himself to us through nature, human reason, and divine revelation, but the most immediate encounter we have with God is often through the men, women, and children we share our lives with.

Learn about the images of God Fr. Gary Smith, S.J., encountered while working with South Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda.

Reflections for Prayer
In early January 2003, I celebrated the Eucharist in a village called Olujobo, one of the 44 villages of the Rhino camp refugee settlement. There were 18 chapels scattered over a settlement of 25,000 people, primarily Sudanese refugees. The liturgy was typically full of booming singing and dancing, even more so since it would be a long time before I returned again. On my return to the JRS compound I gave two Catechists, Luate and Asega, a ride to their home village, Wanyange. The afternoon was hot as the three of us arrived; it was the dry season, the dust blowing into our faces and leaking into our clothes.  Asega and Luate embraced me. This was it. I was leaving. As I was heading back to the JRS compound reflecting on the final Wanyange embraces and the excitement of the bittersweet liturgy of Olujobo, I thought of what the people I served had taught me. I had learned a raw and sinewy trust in God in a situation where every thing could and often did go wrong, where poverty and malnutrition were part of every day and where life was at best fragile and uncertain. They taught me that in Africa, for all its breathtaking wealth and grinding poverty, there survives the inner force of the human spirit. I learned that their faith embraced the Church, in spite of its weaknesses and warts, and that the Church finds its meaning and purpose in Christ’s fundamental message: human beings are made in the image of God and the least of our brothers and sisters are to be the focus of the best expressions of love. It was among the Luates and Asegas that I saw more clearly the size and power of the Society’s mandate to itself: the poor are our preferential option and they hold the key to understanding who we are and what we can be.

Adapted from God in Exile, 2005, by Fr. Gary Smith, S.J.

Suggested Reading for Prayer
James 2:5

Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?

Matthew 25:31-46

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.'

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'

Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'

He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."