From the Director - After all these years we are still afraid

Columban Fr Gary WalkerThe Berlin Wall was meant to be a symbol of peace signifying the end of the Cold War. But when it was dismantled in 1989 peace still eluded us, even though communism had collapsed and democracy ruled.

Today we are still anxious and afraid, particularly with the unprecedented movement of peoples around the world driven by drought and war, seeking safe homes in another country.

It is reported that one of the main reasons that people in Britain voted to leave the EU was the tremendous influx of ‘foreigners’ into Britain. The locals were anxious and fearful of losing their identity.

Currently there is a great deal of criticism of Muslims who are the new strangers. Sounds a lot like those criticisms in the 1950’s, which I am old enough to remember, when Italian, Greek and Maltese immigrants arrived in Australia. They were accused of taking our jobs, of working at weekends, of keeping to themselves, of eating strange foods and playing soccer. Fear changed to familiarity but it took time; they conquered with their strong work ethic, family values and fine food.

A present fear for many people is that Muslims will eventually overtake us in terms of numbers and impose Sharia law on us. Among one of the many disciplines of Sharia law is that it establishes the patterns believers should follow in worshipping Allah: prayers, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. I have received many letters and emails telling me this will happen.

Accepting the strangers in our land

The phenomenon of people on the move in millions is the context for the Church’s mission in the world today. This is a challenge for all of us. As Columbans we have some experience and understanding of the dynamics in this crisis.

We have opted to become foreigners, immigrants for the sake of the Gospel, by working overseas in different cultures. What we have learnt is that people have other understandings of reality. When we, as missionaries, return home either permanently or temporarily we become conscious of the changes which have taken place in ourselves from living in another culture. We have a richer experience of life from being a ‘stranger in a strange land.’ This can often cause misunderstandings with family and friends. Our sense of belonging has changed.

The Church’s mission today is to do our best to welcome the stranger in our midst, to make them feel at home. There are several references in the bible about welcoming the stranger in our midst. The one that many of us are most familiar with is, Matthew 25:35: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

In this Year of Mercy, let us listen to the words of Pope Francis who said: “It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger".

I pray that we can all overcome our fear of welcoming the stranger.

God bless you.

Fr Gary Walker SSC

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Read more from The Far East, August 2016