April 13, 2008.
Due to a snow storm in December we postponed a talk by Cathy Breen to Sunday April 13, 2008. From 3:30pm to 5:00pm at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge, members of the Badaliya and the Lay Committee on Contemporary Spiritual-&-Public Concerns will co-sponsor Cathy's talk entitled, We Wait With Them: Advocating for the Iraqi Refugees. Cathy Breen, humanitarian activist and Catholic Worker from Maryhouse in New York City will share her experiences advocating and working on behalf of Iraqi refugees in Jordan. Please join us in person or in spirit as we pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land and hear about the daily struggles of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan at this time.
We are entering into the 6th year of American efforts to restore the infrastructure and security in Iraq after the the devastating effects of the war. The sectarian violence there has produced more than two million refugees seeking safety in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt and an equal number of displaced families within the borders of Iraq itself. We are reminded that sixty years ago, when Louis Massignon was writing about refugees in the world at the time, the United Nations Refugee Camps lining the borders of Israel were filled with Palestinian families, refugees who have now raised generations of Palestinain Muslims and Christians there. Iraq and other Arab countries provided safe haven for some but no legal status, leaving the door to persecution and displacement ever present. Every international conflict and civil unrest in our world today produces yet another wave of refugees spilling over the borders of neighboring countries and challenging the resources for humanitarian aid.
As members of the Badaliya prayer movement we have much to pray about and the need to instill hope where there is despair and life where there is desolation. Louis Massignon understood that in order to do that our faith must lead us to be able to see the sacred alive and well in every struggling human being and allow the Spirit to move us to conscientious action. That action for the Badaliya calls for a profound empathy that allows us to take in to our very souls the pain and suffering of others by first healing our own prejudices and fears. Massignon's words continue to challenge us all and I therefore will repeat them from the December 2007 letter for our further reflection and as an introduction to Cathy's experience in Jordan.
"There will always be refugees, as there are always International Statutes, but we must consider them as sacred with a supra-national character. As before every authentic manifestation of the sacred we must adopt a revolutionary attitude against intolerable things, against a forbidden sin that we must stop first in ourselves and then in others. If Nations are powerless it is because we have made our examination of consciences as Christians badly. It is not too late to do it right".
"The one to whom I owe the most in this respect is Gandhi who I saw two times. He taught me to listen to the cry of the excluded, the pariahs, the displaced persons. It is a cry of superhuman separation. This cry separates us from our loved ones, from the place that we love and attaches us to these unfortunates who were nothing to us. If we understand well this cry of separation we know that we can no longer see them as a family, because they are the sacred guests, the strangers. We must not try to assimilate them, but we must substitute ourselves to God before them, for their privation, because it is God who attracts us to Himself through our common destitution, it is to them that we make the offering of heroic hospitality that Abraham, the first Displaced Person made to God".
"How do we define Displaced Persons from the standpoint of our examination of conscience? We must not love them as we love ourselves, as our neighbor. We must love this stranger more than ourselves. It is the shadow of God on our life, a shadow that often appears to us as the enemy, this shadow is dark, dirty, contaminated by every epidemic, undesirable and even unconscious of our efforts to save it. We can thus not hope for anything else in the domain of International Rights than to succeed so that the Displaced Person be treated as outside a category, by a certain supra-national recognition of his permanent presence among us. There will always be Displaced Persons".
Louis Massignon on European Refugees and International Migration (1951)
(in Opéra Minora, vol. III, 1963. pp. 535-538).
For Massignon the displaced persons, the outcast, and the refugee are the strangers among us who are our sacred Guests, God in our midst.
In a letter written to members of the Badaliya on February 2, 1962 Massignon wrote:
"For any gesture of hospitality that is not salvific is worthless, any act of substitution that is not "healing" and liberating is only an illusion, any word of welcome that is not a "resurrection" for the alien is only literature".
Please join us in person or in spirit as we pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and for the means to offer hospitality to refugees especially our Iraqi brothers and sisters in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt and those displaced in Iraq itself.
Peace to you.