This Lent, many of you will have have journeyed with us as we reflected on the daily mass readings and walked alongside some of our refugee friends as they led us to places of darkness and light.
Our friends shared the times of darkness on their journey as we heard about the terrible events that caused people to flee their homes and seek safety in the UK, only to then be greeted by hostility, detention and destitution. It was hard not to be moved by the suffering they have, and continue to, endure. However, the journey also showed us places of great light; our friends showed their passion for music and football, invited us into some of their childhood memories and shared with us their hopes and dreams for the future. They revealed themselves; showing that they are not simply one dimensional objects, that they are not defined by the difficult situation in which they find themselves, but that are human beings with the desire and ability to flourish that we all have.
This balance of darkness and light is ever present in the Lenten season: the darkness of the ashes we place on our head on Ash Wednesday to call us to repentance and the purple vestments worn by the priest are very clear examples. The darkness is deeper on a spiritual level as we reflect on our shortcomings and on our own readiness to give into temptations, as we journey through Holy Week and remember Jesus’ passion. The light is always there too as we devote our time to prayer and almsgiving and is, of course, present during Eastertide and in the joy of the resurrection.
Through our outreach events during Lent, I continued to notice the presence of this light and dark as we told people of the darkness our friends are subjected to by the hostile environment, which was met by the light of those who fundraised to support them as part of their Lenten giving.
I was struck by the poignancy of one event in particular this Lent. During a talk I was giving at a local parish I met a woman who shared her own life with the group, talking about her experiences as a refugee forced to flee violence in her home country with her small children. She told us of the darkness and difficulty she faced not only in those first days and weeks fleeing for her life but in the years of destitution imposed on her when she arrived in the UK in search of safety. She shared her light by telling how upon finally being given leave to remain and then British citizenship, she is using her many skills as a social worker, helping those who are currently enduring the darkness she experienced herself.
This encounter was one of real joy which made it clear to me how important our outreach work is. By going out to meet people and share the realities of our refugee friends’ experiences we create an opportunity to allow people to bring light by responding with love and care. We can help bring light by sharing our friends’ stories and exposing the hostile environment that is allowed to exist; shrouded by darkness and misinformation.
As we step into the light of Easter, I will take with me the beautiful gifts received on our Lenten journey and I hope you are able to do the same.
Nick is the Community Outreach Officer at JRS UK. If you would like to organise a talk to learn more about the work of JRS UK in your parish, school or community then please get in touch.