“The condition to be ready for the encounter with the Lord is not only faith, but a Christian life rich in love and charity for our neighbour.”
– Pope Francis
When I started visiting people in detention every Thursday, lighting a candle soon became a habitual pattern before leaving my house. It has become my personal daily prayer, through which I am strongly convinced that the energy of ‘light’ will reach and comfort each person I visit. This has been an important task for me each day. By lighting a candle, I know I will be guided during my visit to be a listening presence and show a loving attentiveness to those I see. This is an ongoing learning attitude that is growing in me and challenging me. Each encounter with someone in detention has deepened and strengthened my faith in God and my commitment as a witnessing presence.
I remember Andreas*, who was released four months ago from an immigration detention centre. He was previously detained for a couple of months in different locations. He had a difficult journey to the UK seeking refuge, but life here has been very difficult for him. He became very ill and has been suffering from mental health issues too. After a few weeks staying with a friend at his house, he was evicted on the streets. He started sleeping rough and felt so lost.
One day, he phoned me: “It’s so cold out here. I felt so sick and I don’t know where to go. Please help me!” Since the time I knew he was on the streets, being homeless, I felt so broken and struggled too. More than anything else, I feared for his safety and felt helpless to respond to his immediate need for shelter. I started feeling desperate: where to find help? I tried a few times to ask different charities, but with no success. In the end, I could only pray and offer a lighted candle for him every day, hoping that he could get an accommodation soon.
“I thank my God every time I remember you.”
Two weeks had passed; I met him once and he told me this while he was still sleeping rough: “Linda, there was one guy who gives me food every day and provides clean clothing and shoes for me. Then, there was a family who accommodated me and allowed me to stay in their house for a few days. Someone is watching over me.” He pointed his finger up and gave me a big smile. He looked so happy and felt grateful for every little thing he received from people around him. He embraced me to show his deep gratitude that I was there, present and available.
The poor save us because they enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.
-Pope Francis, World Day of the Poor
I felt happy and thankful too for that encounter. I was then moved by his vulnerability and by his resilience too. For him, I am someone who could listen and accompany him through mere phone conversation. I felt blessed and relieved. Truly, God listens too to my prayers and I felt so humbled by this momentary experience. It is a grace to see how God’s Spirit works on people’s goodness and humanness. God never abandons His beloved children, including us who are made instruments and channels of His compassion, mercy, hope and justice.
Today, Andreas has finally been accommodated in a safe place. William Neal, JRS Detention Outreach Officer, who coordinates the JRS post-detention project, meets and assists him carefully in accessing the services and benefits intended for him, in collaboration with other charities. Andreas is still suffering from his health issues and continues to need support to improve his living conditions. He has emerging needs to be met and provided by appropriate support groups, like JRS.
Time and again, as we celebrate this Advent season, let us be mindful that when we light the Advent candle we remember Andreas and many others who are struggling to live their life, with our prayerful wishes and blessings of love, joy and peace. May this season brings God’s transforming light in our hearts through our encounter with the marginalised poor.
*Real name not used
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