‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table…Dogs even came and licked his sores…’ This story is a parable given by Jesus. Like with all his parables, he is inviting his hearers to think and reflect more deeply. This parable has a message for all time. It has a message for us today. A message for each one of us when we listen. And a fresh message each time we listen.
Only the poor man lying at the gate has a name in this story. A personal name: Lazarus. Unlike the ‘rich man’ who failed to see him, or offer even a scrap. Does being rich blind this man, cause him to lose in some sense his personhood, his humanity? While in the eyes of the Creator, and of Jesus, the poor man, neglected and ignored, retains his humanity and personhood (as signified by his name), with all the dignity and nobility this entails.
That’s the good news Jesus reveals. And good news can be challenging. For those who hear.
Which takes me to a second reflection on this World Day of Migrants and Refugees. It is taken from Pope Francis’ message for this day which he has entitled “It is not just about migrants”. I want us to hear the Holy Father’s explanation of this title:
“…the presence of migrants and refugees – and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society. That is why it is not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves that we may keep hidden because it is not well regarded nowadays”.
Finally today I am very aware of the recent developments and tensions in this parish around issues relevant to the theme of migrants and refugees in our midst, and so I want to offer a short reflection:
Reflection on recent events in Oughterard.
Recent events here in Oughterard regarding the proposed location of a direct provision centre in the town are concerning. To be clear, the Christian way is to be – and to be seen to be – welcoming towards the stranger. There is no place in Jesus’ way for indifference or intolerance towards the ‘poor man at the gate’ (Luke 16:20ff). The Gospel today is clear.
With regard to the direct provision model, it is not fit for purpose. It prevents people from integrating and it contributes towards the deepening of ignorance, resentment and suspicion. In addition, there is a lack of transparency in the management of, and in the quality of operation of the centres. However this does not justify the use of inflammatory language towards refugees and migrants. Such language must always be condemned.
The State has a critical role towards those it has committed to care for as they come to live amongst us. But the State has fallen far short by inadequately preparing local communities to effectively plan for our new arrivals. There has been a lack of consultation, ineffective communication and information-sharing, and an absence of required social infrastructure and resources in health and education. The Department of Justice needs to take a cultural leap of faith and begin trusting communities at the earliest opportunity regarding this sensitive issue.
Earlier this summer I, along with my fellow bishops, emphasised our concern about the rising number of incidents of racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance in Ireland – carried out sometimes by people who consider themselves faithful Christians. At this time in the Diocese of Galway I wish to affirm again that human dignity does not depend on the colour of a person’s skin, their nationality, accent, or their religious affiliation. All people are equal, equally children of God, our sisters and brothers.
Migrants and refugees have already suffered as targets in the country of origin and are often met with hostility at their journey’s end. This is not new: the Holy Family were refugees in Egypt, and Christ himself was an outsider all of His life. In our own families Irish emigrants were often met with prejudice and violence in their host country. We must not readily expunge our own cultural memories and personal experiences.
Today I call for an end to the current system of direct provision which strips people of their independence, their cultural identity, and their dignity and has lasting traumatic impact on residents. I am also strongly urging the faithful to open the doors of their hearts, homes, parishes and communities and to welcome the stranger as Jesus would have done.
· Bishop Brendan Kelly, Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh & Kilfenora celebrated this Month’s Mind Mass for the repose of the soul of the late Canon Joseph Keogh RIP, at 7:00pm on 28 September 2019, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Oughterard, Co Galway.
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