(International Day in Support of Victims of Torture)
I was very moved recently when a friend of mine welcomed two Ukrainian refugees, a mother and daughter, into her home. My friend is a widow in her early seventies whose four grown-up children have all moved out she had space in the house. I was surprised when she said that she had registered with the Irish Red Cross to accept a refugee family into her home. Over the years she and I had had several challenging conversations about refugees and asylum-seekers, about Direct Provision and the Irish International Protection system. I argued for a more compassionate and open system – and she listened, but I always had the feeling that my views were falling on deaf ears.
We both attended a group that met every couple of months to reflect and pray together on the readings of the day. During lockdown the group began to meet online and even more regularly. Some in the group were very good at making honest and often vulnerable connections between the gospel stories and their lives and what was happening in the world around them. They could see the call of Jesus and their own sometimes obvious shortcomings in light of that call. I could see my friend listening, and in that safe, non-judgemental space, sticking a metaphorical toe in the water. She began to share about her own struggles and fears, about being a widow and missing her husband, about not being sure if there was a heaven, and gradually realizing, gratefully, that it was okay to be where she was. I think that she also realised that the call of Jesus was not to do everything, but to take the next small step in trust and hope.
When the war broke out in Ukraine the group watched, horrified at the brutality and the developing humanitarian crisis. Everyone wondered what they could do and how they should respond. Questions like ‘What am I/ What are we being called to do’? / ‘What would Jesus do?’ / ‘What are our hearts prompting us to do?’ helped to move the reflection to a deeper level. It took a while, but over a period of a few weeks each person came to a decision they were comfortable with. All wanted to continue to pray for peace. Some decided to donate to charities working with refugees and two, including my friend, took the brave step of offering their homes to welcome refugees.
It’s hard to figure out what the phrase ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (quoted by Paul in today’s reading from Galatians) might mean. But, if the experience of our group is anything to go by, then reflecting on it with the support of others and believing in a God who loves us unconditionally will help face what we are afraid of and take the next small step.