Praying with Refugees in Uganda
01 August 2012

Refugees earn a little money by selling rice and other crops they have grown outside a refugee camp in northern Uganda. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
(Boston) August  1, 2012 — As we traveled toward Morobi in northern Uganda, Lodu informed me that Flabius, the head catechist in the village, had lost a daughter. "He probably will not be at the seminar, Father. This was his only child."

But it was a much deeper tragedy. This good man had lost not only his 21-year-old daughter—and his wife a few years ago—but seven children to war and disease over time. This happens in the bush.

During the seminar, Flabius appeared. He is a frail, gray-haired man of about fifty, small of stature, and respected by his people for his wisdom, which is born of years of suffering and deep faith. I went over to him, greeted him, and put my arms around him. I held his head to my heart and whispered into his ear, "I am sorry, my brother, I am sorry." I thought to myself: My God, I’m holding Job in my arms.

After Mass, Flabius said something like this: I did not feel like coming to Prayers today, but I needed to trust God, and to come and give to him all my pain, and trust that the Word of God will heal me.

We sat in silence for a long time, letting the rain of his words soak into the soil of our hearts.  It was heartbreaking. There were seven men and two women in that hut, and each one knew his or her own version of that dear man’s agony. This is part of the landscape of the refugee's life.  — Gary Smith, S.J., former Jesuit Refugee Service staff member in Eastern Africa and Southern Africa.


Reflections for prayer
The Gospel of the cross of Christ invites us to believe that God so loves Flabius and his children that He has personally entered into their suffering in the flesh of Jesus—the flesh put to death on the cross of Calvary. The paradox of the cross of Jesus tells us that God enters into the depths of the suffering of our world and embraces it. God is merciful and compassionate. To be merciful is to have a heart that shares Flabius’ struggles; compassion means entering into Flabius' suffering as Jesus did on the cross. In Christ, our merciful God takes all the struggles and suffering of the world into God's own heart. 

God's compassion embraces every victim of injustice, disease, or violence—as well as everyone who has ever betrayed or harmed another.  This is the meaning of the cross: wherever there is poverty and hurt, wherever there is injustice or human arrogance, God has already been there in Christ on the cross. God is there in Christ; embracing, loving, healing. If we can trust the Gospel’s paradoxical message about the crucified love God has for people like Flabius and his children, perhaps we can trust that we are called to work to help lift their burdens.  — David Hollenbach, S.J., Director of the Boston College Center for Human Rights and International Justice.



Scripture for reading

I Corinthians 1: 18, 23-25

The Paradox of the Cross

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . [W]e we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.