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The Church and Refugees: Healing a Shameful Wound (September 2008)
Monday, September 01, 2008

Bhutanese children in a refugee camp.

In our world there are millions of people who have been forcibly uprooted from their homes or native lands and cannot return due to persecution, war, or generalized disorder. Their lives and well-being depend on the protection of the community of nations. These are refugees. In addition to them are the internally displaced people, refugees in everything except being outside their homeland. They are, however, generally worse off, for international law makes practically no provision for them. The situation of all such people is in the words of Pope John Paul II "a shameful wound of our time".

Among these many forced migrants Pope Benedict XVI recently stated that it is impossible to remain silent before the distressing images of the great refugee camps present in different parts of the world and, in particular, of the many refugee children and adolescents who are warehoused there. With great poignancy, he asked, “How can we not think that these little beings have come into the world with the same legitimate expectations of happiness as the others? And, at the same time, how can we not remember that childhood and adolescence are fundamentally important stages for the development of a man and a woman that require stability, serenity and security? These children and adolescents have only had as their life experience the permanent, compulsory “camps” where they are segregated, far from inhabited towns, with no possibility normally to attend school. How can they look to the future with confidence?”

The Lord God, who walked with the refugees of the Exodus in search of a land free from slavery, accompanies today's refugees in order to accomplish his loving plan together with them.

As a child, Christ chose to express his love for us by walking with his family the road of exile into Egypt and, later in his life, making the journey to Jerusalem to suffer torture and death.  The Church’s service in the midst of refugees, rooted in fellowship with Christ, can be a prophetic witness to God’s love for us by making that love visible and tangible to refugees.

The Church's solidarity with refugees is a sign of God's presence. It is expressed by lay people, religious, priests and bishops as they offer hospitality, a listening ear, assistance, and protection—often at great risk. Pope John Paul II reminded us that the Catholic Church considers help for refugees as an essential work, for which it strongly urges its Christian sons to collaborate, for the Bible in general and the Gospel in particular do not allow us to leave unaided the foreigners who seek asylum. This also includes defending refugees' rights and lives, denouncing injustices, promoting laws that protect them, creating volunteer groups and emergency funds, and many forms of pastoral care.

In his recent visit to the US, Pope Benedict encouraged the American Church to continue to welcome refugees and migrants, and “to share their joys and hopes, to support them in their sorrows and trials, and to help them flourish in their new home. This, indeed, is what your fellow countrymen have done for generations. From the beginning, they have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’. These are the people whom America has made her own.”

In these days it can seem as though the refugee phenomenon is worsening while the political will to protect them declines. As believers we must persevere in prayer and never despair, for God will hear the cry of those who cry to Him day and night. That means trying to be Good News and announce it among refugees and displaced people in the confidence that God will heal this shameful wound and bring all our efforts to perfection on the Day of Christ Jesus.

The Apostleship of Prayer is a Jesuit-sponsored ministry of prayer that encourages Christians to make a daily offering of themselves to the Lord for the coming of God's Kingdom and for the Holy Father's monthly intentions.  This month Pope Benedict XVI’s General Intention is Refugees: That Christians may defend and protect refugees.

Reflections for Prayer

Lord, no one is a stranger to you,
And no one is ever far from your loving care.
In your kindness, watch over refugees and exiles,
Those separated from their loved ones,
young people who are lost, and those 
who have left or run away from home.
Bring them back safely to the place
where they long to be and help us always
to show your kindness to strangers
and those in need.

From Votive Mass for Refugees and Exile

Suggestions for Prayer:
  1. Watch the multimedia presentation, Healing the Wound, by clicking here.  How do the faces of these refugee children warehoused in camps touch your heart?
  2. Slowly read and re-read Mark 10: 13-16.  Hold the refugee children of our world in your heart and in your prayer.  Talk with the Lord, friend to friend, and ask him to send support for their families and their schools.
  3. To learn more about the Apostleship of Prayer and how the habit of prayer encourages a Eucharistic spirituality of solidarity with the Body of Christ and loving service to others, click here.

Suggested Reading for Prayer
Psalm 136: 10-17He brought Israel out from among them. 
John 1: 14The Word became flesh, he lived among us.
Mark 10: 13-16“Let the little children come to me.”