By Most Reverend Gerald Barnes
The coming months are a time of year that many look forward to; moments of family gatherings and no shortage of celebrations in our Church. We have All Saints and All Souls, Thanksgiving, major Feast Days for the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and, of course, the liturgical seasons of Advent and then Christmas. We look forward to the relaxation of Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, gift giving, eating delicious foods and spending time with friends and family.
Whether or not we choose to think about it, this fond anticipation is not a reality for many of our brothers and sisters both around the world and close to home. They have more immediate concerns; how to feed their family, deal with life threatening illness or escape the threat of violence because of the political situation in their country, or perhaps because of their Christian faith. They are coping with the aftereffects of natural disasters such as the recent hurricanes and fires, or the pain and loss due to violence in our nation, such as the horrific shooting that took place in Las Vegas.
So even as we partake in the blessings and joys of the season that God provides us here, He also calls us to solidarity with those who are experiencing suffering, upheaval and great change. Our Universal Church is providing us with two important ways to do this. We are in the midst of the “Share the Journey” program, coordinated by Catholic Relief Services to help us get in touch with the migration experience that at least 65 million people around the world are going through right now. Beyond the statistics and studies that have been publicized about this phenomenon, let us take a moment to imagine the stories of these brothers and sisters of ours; what it would be like to have to leave behind everything you know, to make a journey to some other land for the survival of your family? Imagine the fear, the desperation and the determination it would take for one to enter this journey.
You might feel that this migration experience is a world away from yours, but it’s closer than you think. There are dedicated people of faith right here in our Diocese who have embraced the ministry of refugee resettlement. The Share the Journey campaign has allowed us to hear some of their challenging and inspiring stories, as families from places like El Salvador and Syria come to our communities having escaped dire circumstances and searching for a new start.
The second opportunity we will have to align our hearts and prayers with brothers and sisters in crisis comes on November 26, the Feast of Christ the King, when our Church will hold a Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians. This day begins “Solidarity in Suffering,” a week of awareness and education about Christians in the Middle East and other places around the globe that face increasing hostility and threats of violence. As a recent report from the Center for American Progress stated, “some of the oldest Christian communities in the world are disappearing from the very lands where their faith was born and first took root.” Another study suggests that as many as one of every 12 Christians around the globe lives under the threat of violence. So again, this kind of suffering may not be as far away from us as we think. And we recognize the very obvious cause and effect relationship between these issues of religious persecution and migration.
Let us take these moments, even among the blessings that God provides us at this time of the year, to put ourselves in solidarity with those living in fear and in pain; those in the midst of a journey on which they are carried only by hope and faith – and in the prayers of us, their brothers and sisters in Christ.