Louise Zanré, Director of JRS UK, invites us to dedicate time this New Year to pray in solidarity with refugees who face the year ahead with uncertainty. This reflection first appeared in the Catholic Universe newspaper.
For the people we accompany at Jesuit Refugee Service, a new year can be a time for dejection and tiredness, rather than filled with promise. A new year marks the passage of another year of waiting for a decision in an asylum claim; another year with no answer or certainty for the future. And they have already waited for a very long time, with no leave to remain, no permission to work and no access to benefits.
They put on a brave face, but the mood in our day centre is normally much quieter and much lower in January. The weather and the short days do not help; but the bravery is there and is for us so that we, the staff and volunteers at JRS, don’t feel too bad.
For 101 years the Catholic Church has celebrated migrants and refugees with a special day of prayer, standing in solidarity with them and offering support and hope (on 18 January in the UK is year).
The message given by the Pope for the day of prayer for migrants and refugees is challenging. This year Pope Francis takes as his theme “Church without frontiers, Mother to all”. He reminds us that the Church has no frontiers, but “a heart open to all”. And he issues us with a challenge:
“The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable. When living out this motherhood effectively, the Christian community nourishes, guides and indicates the way, accompanying all with patience, and drawing close to them through prayer and works of mercy.”
In order to be effective, this accompaniment has to be based on encounter:
“Migration movements, in fact, call us to deepen and strengthen the values needed to guarantee peaceful coexistence between persons and cultures. Achieving mere tolerance that respects diversity and ways of sharing between different backgrounds and cultures is not sufficient. This is precisely where the Church contributes to overcoming frontiers and encouraging the “moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization … towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2014).”
Many of the people attending our day centre derive a great deal of resilience from their faith and hope from the support offered to them by day centres, charities and people of good will they meet in their lives. The practical support, care and attention offered by these groups and individuals stand as a direct contrast to the anti-migrant messages we can see or hear in the media or from politicians. Without this practical support and kindness, lives would be more difficult, obstacles more insurmountable.
It is particularly important for us to show practical support and kindness, to demonstrate tolerance and acceptance, to be counter-cultural at the beginning of the year, when those we welcome find things more difficult. A good starting place is to say a prayer for migrants and refugees on 18 January, to spare a kind thought or another prayer for migrants and refugees whenever we see or hear anti-migrant stories. If we can we might also support with our time or financially a local project welcoming refugees and migrants. In this way we can shine as a beacon of hope and hospitality to those who may feel unwelcome and tired of waiting.
For more information about the work of JRS please phone 020-74887310 or go to www.jrsuk.net