Pope's Intentions for August
General Intention: Refugees and Displaced Peoples. That public opinion may address the problems of the millions who have been displaced or become refugees in order to find real solutions to their often tragic conditions.
Public opinion normally wants refugees and displaced people just to go away. When that public opinion turns ugly, violent elements in society take their cue from it and can turn on the strangers in their midst. We learned the truth of this in the xenophobic fury that racked South Africa last year. Hence to ask the Lord to turn public opinion in the direction of finding good and humane solutions to the global problem of refugees and displaced people is asking a lot.
The scale of the problem often numbs us into insensitivity. To paraphrase Stalin, an individual refugee is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic. Over two million people were displaced by the Pakistan government's offensive against the Taliban in the space of a few days. Millions are routinely made homeless by flooding in Bangladesh. The number of people living in refugee camps in Africa is another mind-stunning statistic. These figures cause us to switch off and disengage mentally and emotionally.
However Stalin reminds us is that the way to appreciating the suffering in the statistics lies through the individual. Most South Africans have come across Zimbabweans who have been displaced, uprooted and cut off from their families by the necessity of sheer survival – teachers working as drivers, nurses as waiters, engineers as labourers, and labourers as beggars at the traffic lights. These individuals represent millions of Zimbabweans and other Africans, and it only takes a few words of sympathetic enquiry on our part to get a sense of their profound sense of dislocation. In such encounters our hearts can be changed, and insofar as we are part of it, so can public opinion.
Missionary Intention: Christians Suffering Persecution and Discrimination. That Christians who suffer persecution and discrimination in many countries because they profess the name of Christ, may be granted human rights, equality and freedom to live their faith.
We sometimes hesitate to condemn the persecutions of our fellow Christians because of our acute awareness of the skeletons in our own cupboard. Christians have persecuted Jews, Muslims, so-called 'pagans' and each other throughout our history. Like some modern religious fundamentalists, we also once believed that 'error had no rights' and it was in fact really only at the Second Vatican Council that we formally discarded this notion. Some cynics might say that the Church ceased indulging in religious persecution at the moment when she lost political power.
But seeing the light late should not mean that we should now be too embarrassed to walk in it. The fact is that the Church has elaborated a ringing charter of religious freedom in the documents of Vatican II and in recent years has striven to live by it in Christian ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, the service of people of all faiths and the call for global justice. Striving therefore to practise what we preach, we can pray for and indeed protest on behalf of our fellow-Christians whose rights are infringed because they are considered to be in religious error.
A Jesuit confrere recently told me that in his long experience in Sudan he has always experienced deep respect and acceptance among ordinary people of the Muslim faith. The problem has been, he said, politicians who manipulate religious differences for their selfish, power-addicted ends. This is a typical experience wherever there are attacks on Christians or indeed any other minority groups. They are being used as convenient pawns in a political game.
This means therefore that when we protest about or pray for persecuted Christians in, say, Sudan or India, we are not being anti-Muslim or anti-Hindu. Rather we are taking a stand against those who use persecution to play politics.
This article originally appeared in The Southern Cross of South Africa (www.scross.co.za) - With gratitude