It is Advent – a joyful time of preparation and waiting for the birth of Jesus. This is the time of year when we think of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and also of the holy family fleeing to Egypt so soon after Jesus was born to avoid the slaughter of the innocents. So it seems an appropriate time of the year to think of refugees and in particular refugee families.
Over the last few months there has been a lot of media coverage of refugees coming to Europe and the difficult journeys they have taken. There has also been a lot of coverage about the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the UK; 20,000 of them over the next 5 years.
I happened to be in Scotland recently and was able to see the joy of those arriving and the efforts local communities made in welcoming them. It was encouraging and heart-warming; but this really brought home to me the fact that we really need to think about and act on is a better vision of the world. With the birth of Jesus a promise of the kingdom of heaven being brought to earth was given to us. What we need to do is to welcome each other, to look after each other and stand together in solidarity, to challenge unfair law and policy, and of course to remember to pray for our refugee friends.
With this in mind, if you happen to be in London, you may be interested in participating in the following event: 20,000 welcomes: an Advent Vigil for refugees. This event is arranged by the Churches Refugee Network, of which Jesuit Refugee Service is an active member. It will take place on Tuesday 8 December, from 10.00 to 4.30 pm, at St Margaret’s Church Westminster. There will be three main themed sessions: Re-member, re-member: exodus and exile (10.00 to 12.00); Blown by the winds: conflict, climate change and current pressure (12.00 to 2.00 pm); Consider yourselves at home (2.00 to 4.00 pm); with an epilogue from 4.00 to 4.30 pm. All are invited afterwards to attend evensong (5 pm) in Westminster Abbey afterwards.
A range of distinguished speakers, interfaith, ecumenical and from the continent, will give talks and meditations, with contributions by refugees themselves. There will be space for silent reflection, opportunities for discussion and associated activities.
All are welcome for the whole or part of the day.
For those of you not in London, Jesuit Refugee Service has put together a prayer pack for Advent: The Star Still Shines. The pack was produced because many people and parishes have been in touch with us asking what they can do to respond to the needs of the refugees they have heard so much about at this time. While sometimes we might be in a position to help out with material or financial donations or to volunteer or become engaged in campaigns and advocacy initiatives, we can always pray in solidarity with refugees. Time and time again, the people we accompany and serve at JRS have told me how much comfort they get from knowing that there are people “out there” praying for them, helping them to feel that they are not alone. They are strengthened by such prayerful support. Prayer also brings us closer to that vision of a better world. It is a spiritual engagement with people we might not otherwise ever meet, but who deserve our attention and welcome.
Louise Zanre is Director of JRS UK. This piece first appeared in The Universe newspaper.