Need to do as much as possible to make our world a more humane, just, equitable, loving, peaceful place

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*

On 21 January 2018 I complete two full years since I left Ahmedabad and reached Beirut, to work here with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the MENA Region. Looking back at these two eventful years, I realise that there is much to be thankful for: I have learnt and received much in my interactions with the refugees and the displaced. I think I have grown as a person: a bit more spiritually and perhaps in maturity too. I have had much opportunity to read and study; reflect and write on a whole range of issues. There have been several meaningful engagements. All this and much more!
It has also not been easy; definitely not smooth sailing, but I never expected it to be so! There have been several challenges and even some difficulties on various fronts. The contributory factors are often complicated: perceptions differ, and not everything is black and white. I certainly have my own failings and shortcomings. There is also the awareness that when one asks sensitive though pertinent questions a feeling of discomfort is natural from those who have to respond; when one stands up for justice and truth or when one seeks greater transparency- one necessarily has to pay a price. Some do not like the status quo being disturbed or the boat to be rocked or simply feel threatened. The sometimes-rough journey has also helped deepen my faith and contributed to my growth.
Nevertheless, given my limitations, I know that I have given of my best to the responsibilities which were entrusted to me; besides, to some extent I have also contributed positively to those I have had the privilege to interact with.
As I look back these past two years, I have absolutely no doubt that I said “Yes” to call; that I am here on a mission - nothing less! There have been the down moments - the shadows and the clouds, the times of not understanding and not knowing the road ahead. Yes, they were all there – but there was never a moment of regret for having come here.
My two- year contract with JRS MENA ends on 25 January 2018. Last November, the new JRS MENA Regional Director Fr Nawras Sammour requested that I stay on at least till September/ October 2018 - to head a research project on the Status of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon’ and as the Advisor in the Advocacy and Communications team of the Region.
It was once again not a very easy decision to make. I had set my sights on returning to India early in 2018 and had spoken about this to several of my companions and friends during my vacation in India last August. There was unanimity that I should return. However once there was the invitation to stay on I needed to review things. After receiving the official request from Fr Sammour, my Provincial Fr Francis Parmar wrote back saying that he had no objection if I stayed on but left the decision to me.
Christmas week was for me a time of prayer and discernment. I spoke with some of my companions and friends here. This discernment was like the one of August 2015 not easy. There were compelling reasons (including personal ones) as to why I should return to India. On 3 January, feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (titular Feast of the Society of Jesus) I awoke very certain that God wanted me to stay on here this year. Really do not why; perhaps the answer/s will unfold in the months to come.
In the meantime, I request your continued prayers and support to the work here for the refugees and the displaced. The reality is indeed extremely complex with many big players and stakeholders who thrive and profit when ordinary, innocent people are at war. It goes without saying that xenophobia, racism, casteism, pseudo nationalism, gender bias seems to be the order of the day everywhere. Some so-called leaders thrive on being divisive; discriminatory attitudes/actions and hate speeches have permeated civilized societies.
Many have no qualms of conscience to exclude others or regard the other as a threat just because of their religion or because of the food they eat or the dress, they wear.
Pope Francis (a hero and inspiration for me) in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018 (14 January) has underlined the importance and urgency to Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate them There is much more that all of us have to be doing everywhere to respond to the cries of the displaced and the excluded. We all need to do as much as we possibly can, to make our world a more humane, just, equitable, loving and peaceful place.
This letter is being sent to several of my companions, colleagues, comrades, relatives and friends and even some acquaintances. My apologies for not sending it as a personal’ mail to you. You have every good reason not to reply to it - but if you do so, I will be grateful - your insights / comments/ feedback will certainly be of great help in my journey ahead. Also request your understanding if you receive this more than once. The contents of this letter though personal (about me, my feelings) are general. Therefore, you are welcome to share it with others too. Thanks for all.
Many of you have been a source of strength and support to me during these past two years - your prayers, words of encouragement, appreciation and good wishes have meant much to me.
On 20 January 2016, just before I left India, I wrote to many of friends; a year ago, on 21 January 2017, I wrote to just some. In the latter letter, I quoted Dag Hammarskjolds immortal words for all that has been thanks; for all that will be, yes! I reiterate the same prayer today.
Last year I also shared the words of a popular song What a Journey it has been by a famous Filipina singer Lea Salonga. In 2011 when I was in Zamboanga, Philippines at the invitation of the Sisters of the Queen of the Apostles (SRA Sisters), they introduced me to that song. I have often referred to that song in my writings. The lyrics are very meaningful and the tune is haunting. Last night a close friend once again sent me a video of this song. I have spent most of today in prayer and thanksgiving and listening over and again to the words of this beautiful song (do listen to it too if you have the opportunity, I am happy to send it to you if you wish); I share the chorus with you:
What a journey it has been

And the end is not in sight

But those stars are out tonight
And they're bound to guide my way
Yes two years here and what a journey it has been!
Thank you for being part of my Journey.
Do continue praying for me and our mission here...
My prayers for you, for your near and dear ones and for all your endeavours.
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*Indian human rights activist, currently in Beirut, looking after Advocacy & Communications, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) MENA Region

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