The monthly Intention, that Pope Francis shares with us all through his personal Prayer Network, reflects the challenges that face humanity and the mission of the Church. The Holy Father asks, in February, that we pray, with him, “that all may welcome the victims of human trafficking, of enforced prostitution and of violence”.
Our prayer, especially our daily Morning Offering, places us on a pathway, with Jesus, that mobilises us and increases our apostolic readiness according to our individual circumstances. The Morning Offering, that has been at the heart of this ministry since its very beginning, has been described as “a great way to start our day before we get too busy, too distracted — to offer every waking moment to the Lord,” in the words of Fr.William Blazek SJ, the regional head of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network-Apostleship of Prayer for Canada and the USA.
We can, by praying in this way, make ourselves more available for this essential part of the church’s mission, which is to humanise the world; or, in other words, to resist dehumanisation. The Latin American theologian Jon Sobrino has written that a core message of Christianity is that “it is possible to be human” – ours is a deeply humanist faith! All of us (and the Church is all of us) need to recognise dehumanisation, when persons, individuals who are in reality just like us are robbed of their humanity.
Another way of putting this is to use the language of respect for life – all human life. People trafficking is a horrid contemporary example of this disregard for human life, as are enforced prostitution and violence. Enforced prostitution is often a result of human trafficking and is commonly the reason for it; it is imposed by violence, usually against people least able to defend themselves. The Pope describes trafficking as “an open wound on the body of contemporary society”.
Here in Europe, at least, sadly it is easy to point to so many examples of exploitation and dehumanisation. Our attentiveness and concern for refugees can wane as news-fatigue takes over. But except for recent instances of certain politicians cynically and opportunistically using the arrivals of some refugees on our southern shores, we fail to realise how much human distress there still is. Unborn life in the womb is not respected; indeed, there are dehumanising forces in our society actively seeking to extend both abortion and so-called euthanasia. In many ways, society grows more unequal and the poor blamed for the sickness in society.
But the Intention proposed to us this month has a particular emphasis. It takes for granted that we understand that human trafficking, enforced prostitution and violence are wrong and that we know why these are wrong. That’s assumed, in people of good will. The Pope is praying “that all may welcome the victims” of these wrongs. So he is not just asking us to deplore these evils nor is he even encouraging us to campaign against these abuses. We can do that, we already know how to and many good people do so, with great conviction, even passion. This gets even more personal. The challenge is to welcome these brothers and sisters. And if we do so we will have to set aside prejudices, both in ourselves and in our communities and societies, not least the xenophobic and downright racist response we often hear.
We need to be ready to risk confrontation with those who spread hatred and lies and we should refuse to look the other way when desperate refugees risk dangerous journeys to reach our shores and safety. When a refugee is called a migrant, we should be ready to enquire if such language is intended to suggest that they are suspect, or even criminals; nobody has any warrant for saying that without good evidence. If we hear judgemental language used about victims of human trafficking or of violence, or even feel tempted to use it ourselves, we should stand ready to oppose it. Then, we will have begun to welcome these, our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Can we welcome people who do not look like us and who see the world differently from us? The biblical injunction to “welcome the stranger” runs deep in the veins of our tradition; we shouldn’t forget it or let selfishness block it.
CHALLENGES FOR FEBRUARY 2019:
1: learn about the work and mission of the Santa Marta group, an alliance of international police chiefs and bishops from around the world working together with civil society to eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery. Pope Francis and our own Cardinal Nichols are closely involved in this work.
2: Listen for examples of prejudiced language being used of victims of human trafficking, enforced prostitution and violence, who come to our communities or our countries looking for help. Reflect on how to ask people who use such language to think again.
3: In your parish, chaplaincy or other community, propose that the Pope’s Intention be prayed together, at liturgies or other gatherings and look together for opportunities to show that Christian welcome that the Pope asks us to offer.
Prayer is God’s gift to us and, as St.Paul noted, it’s God’s Holy Spirit who prays within us, if we’re open to that gift. Prayer changes us and, in that process of inner change, we become more ready to act; prayer mobilises us. Most of us, a lot of the time, make the understandable mistake of thinking that we say prayers to change a situation or to change a person. We pray to be changed and then to work for change, for the sake of the Gospel and of humanity.
A suggested Morning Offering prayer, to begin each day:
“Heavenly Father, I begin this day aware of your loving presence. Guide me along the right path today, always finding ways to cooperate in your mission of love and compassion in the concrete choices I make. I offer you my thoughts, prayers and all my works for the Pope’s intention this month. Our Father …”
This reflection was provided by the UK Office of the Pope’s Prayer Network