Praying for peace

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 24 February 2022 triggered Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. As of 2 April 2022, almost 4.2 million refugees have been forced to flee Ukraine, seeking safety and protection. Among them are hundreds of thousands of children, many are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents or family members. Children without parental care are at a heightened risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.

Amid the horrific events unfolding, the wanton destruction of life and the callous disregard for international norms and respect, it pains me to think of all those families with young children now adrift in a sea of impossible, unimaginable choices.

With the world’s focus on Ukraine, we have to remind ourselves not to forget other ongoing crises around the world.

  • Myanmar is still a prisoner of horrific violence. The military’s February 2021 coup has multiplied humanitarian need and continues to affect 14 million people today.
  • In Afghanistan, the humanitarian emergency now stretches to every corner of the country and beyond, months after the Taliban’s August 2021 takeover.
  • In Ethiopia, civil war broke out in November 2020. Tens of thousands of refugees fled to Sudan.
  • Yemen’s war is crossing the 7-year mark this month, the UN calls it the world’s largest humanitarian crisis but it has rarely made the headlines.

Throughout the course of history, we have read of displaced people suffering the consequences of the tragedy of war, political uprising or the struggles for world domination. The JRS mission – To accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, that they may heal, learn and determine their own future – strongly resonates within me whenever I witness the atrocities unfolding halfway round the globe. I often question, what could I do? What could we as one JRS body do?

Though very few of us can effect geopolitical change in this moment of darkness, I believe we can, and should, do the following two things:

First, we must pray. Pope Francis has implored us to carry the Ukrainian people (and others facing a similar plight) in prayer and make peace a goal of our Lenten fasting. Let us pray for peace.

JRS conducted a series of Prayer for Peace Vigils during this Lenten Season. We were blessed to have six of our Jesuit Fathers Leslie Raj, Francis Lim, Colin Tan, Erik John Gerilla, Weyms Sanchez and Mark Raper lead us in weekly prayer and reflection. Let me share some highlights of what stood out for me:

Fr. Erik John Gerilla, SJ shared scriptural passages in Matthew that God’s love is gratuitous, full and boundless. His love is given to everyone, sinner and righteous alike. Fr. Erik invited us to reflect:
• How do I treasure that love freely given by God even though I am not worthy?
• Do I feel that fullness of God’s love or do I still remain wanting?
• To whom is God asking me to love unconditionally?

JRS volunteers praying together

Fr. Weyms Sanchez, SJ reflected on the parable of the prodigal son. The parable speaks of the unconditional love of our heavenly Father especially in the sacrament of reconciliation when we experience the love and forgiveness of God. As the father waited for the return of his son, so does Jesus wait for us in the confessional. When we repent and hear the priest say, “I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we know we are forgiven by God, and just like the prodigal son, we are restored to our dignity as a child of God.

Fr. Weyms then invited us to consider: “Have you allowed yourself to be embraced by the dramatic, unconditional love and acceptance of the Father in the way that the wayward sons experienced?”

Fr. Mark Raper, SJ shared and reflected on faith and how, he too, sometimes struggles with faith. But, praying together as a community fuels his faith and hope for the future. God provides us with the hope that transcends all worldly threats; and with the grace and healing we need when our hearts are broken. And He does that just by being present in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As a Catholic, prayer for me is a powerful ministry. It’s a driving force when we pray as one family; as one united community. It is by this foundation that we can grow, flourish and achieve God’s will.

Second, besides fervent prayer, we must stay informed – and help when possible. We bear witness to both scenes of suffering and dehumanization, as well as scenes of resilience and compassion. In moments like these, we cannot turn a blind eye; we cannot pretend that the agony of one part of our human family does not affect the rest of us – 1 Cor 12:26. The ways we can help as a JRS community include monetary donations, our time and effort spent to directly support the beneficiaries of our mission work.

I leave you with this thought – we must reflect on ourselves. St. Ignatius, in the “Spiritual Exercises,” makes clear the importance of discovering God’s will for our lives and subsequently choosing that good – for the benefit of ourselves and all of God’s people. In short, good choices lead us into good relationships; and good relationships are at the foundation of a world of justice, peace and reconciliation.

Collin Yap
Deputy Chair, Jesuit Refugee Service (Singapore)