How can we be hopeful in this season of hope?

Jeremy Cain, Community Particiation Coordinator for Hallam diocese, is shivering in Middlesbrough today.

Snow in Middlesbrough

Even Middlesbrough looks nice in the snow! The view from our Volunteer Centre window.

It’s cold out today. You may have noticed. I’m in Middlesbrough and, whilst the view is pretty good, my toes have yet to thaw out from the journey in. Maybe I’m getting old but it’s definitely not T-shirt and shorts weather.

It does feel Christmassy though and anyone who’s dreaming of a white one this morning must be feeling pretty optimistic. But it’s still two weeks to Christmas and, given the glorious unpredictability of our weather, it’ll probably be a balmy fifteen degrees by then. At least my toes hope so.

Desert island

Christmas 2017. What are the odds?

Even so, I’m trying not to think about this too much; it’s still Advent and I’m making the effort to take one day at a time, live in the moment and enjoy what the season has to offer. And I’m trying to feel hopeful because it is, after all, the season of hope.

But it’s not so easy. My life is pretty good right now and I’ve no reason to think that this won’t continue, but when I look a bit further, and particularly towards the parts of the world where CAFOD works, things are a lot less rosy. People are struggling in situations where hope seems to be misplaced optimism. Yet listen to this:

“The journey was very difficult, but when I arrived here it felt like I had been reborn.”

Mohammed

Mohammed, fleeing from the war in Afghanistan.

This from a man who had to flee his home in Iran, with his wife and their baby, leaving his whole life behind. Yet now he has been offered shelter in a Greek refugee hostel he can begin to see a future for himself once more. If that’s not a statement of hope, I don’t know what is.

You can find his story, and many others like it, on our online Advent calendar. It’s a great way to remind ourselves what our faith teaches us about hope. As Tomas Merton says, “The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope.”

 

Welcome to Advent

Jeremy Cain, Community Participation Coordinator for Hallam diocese, reflects on a season of challenge and beauty.

No ChristmasThere were lots of people who thought our last Parish Priest was a bit of a misery- parishioners would shake their heads in sorrow whilst primary school teachers would tear their hair out in despair. The problem? He wouldn’t do Christmas during Advent. No Christmas dinners, no Christmas parties, not even Carols by Candlelight, a long-cherished parish tradition.

Increasingly, I find myself agreeing with him. The pub at the top of our road booked up for Christmas dinner sometime in September, whilst a few doors down there’s a house that’s been displaying an electronic countdown to Christmas from mid-October. If it wasn’t for my fear of CCTV and the criminal justice system, I would have stolen it by now.

Advent candles

A light in the darkness

Aside from everything else, the problem is that we’re missing out. When we jump over Advent and get straight into Christmas, we lose the opportunity to experience a season of beauty and meaning. We are culturally conditioned to be impatient, but waiting can bring us to a deeper sense of joy and reveal things that otherwise would be missed.

Our current parish priest is a bit different. He loves his parties and books Santa in for the kids every year, but he’s takes Advent seriously too. In his homily yesterday, he urged us to enter into it as a season of prayer, to renew our lines of communication with the Lord and dream of a world that should be a better place. Isn’t that the meaning of the Incarnation? Shouldn’t “God is with us” be a good thing?

CAFOD ‘s answer is an emphatic yes- making the world a better place is exactly what we are about. So Advent is a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect on the parts of the world where the answer appears to be no.

Razir

“I have nothing now,” says Razir, a refugee from Syria

The Advent Calendar on our website offers a helpful way to do this.Today’s reflection focuses on Razir, a Syrian woman who fled to Lebanon because of the war, and her experience in the light of the Old Testament promise that nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war (Isaiah 2: 1-5). It makes for uncomfortable reading, yet our faith always offers us hope and, by putting our faith into action, we can also offer hope to Razir.

Advent looks to the coming of the light even whilst we still live in darkness. Yet, if we take the time to look, we can see God present in the darkest of places right now, calling us quietly to bring about his kingdom

Have a happy Advent!

Messages of Hope in the Houses of Parliament

Angela Wood is going to meet her MP and let her know how she feels about refugees. Can you join her?

Meeting MP
Meeting your MP is the best way to let them know your concerns

From Myanmar to the Mediterranean, refugees continue to flee from persecution and violence; yet there seems to be little political will do something about it. Undoubtedly it’s a difficult issue but if we don’t look for real and just solutions now it will only get worse.

Pope Francis is certainly concerned and clearly intends to do everything he can to make a difference. Back in August, to mark the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he told us that “every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age.”

Pope+with+refugees+in+Rome+banner+credit

Pope Francis meets refugees in Rome

In September 2018, world leaders will agree two new global ‘compacts’ (or agreements) at the United Nations: one on refugees and one on migration. Pope Francis has spoken of this as a ‘unique opportunity’ for Catholics worldwide to put pressure on governments.

Europe-refugee-crisis-Greece-Father-and-baby

Father and baby seeking refuge in Greece

Next week, CAFOD are offering you an opportunity to do just that. From 4th to 8th December, we have been given the opportunity to display some “messages of hope” to refugees in the Houses of Parliament. Last year thousands of Catholics in England and Wales wrote messages of welcome, respect and love and we shared nearly 40,000 of them with refugees in the UK and overseas. Now we want to show our political leaders the strength of feeling on this issue throughout England and Wales.

Would you be willing to invite your MP to meet you in parliament and visit the exhibition together? You can find a sample letter here to help (Messages of Hope exhibition MP invitation)- just post or email it and hope for a positive response.

To make things easier, we’ve also organised a training session on “getting to know your MP” on Tuesday 5th December down in London so you might want to attend this before heading over to meet your MP. Angela Wood, one of our wonderful Campaigners from Hallam is going, so you will not be alone!

Rohingya crisis

Emergency aid is being given to vulnerable families who have fled their homes in Myanmar for Bangladesh.

If you can’t get down to London to meet your MP, you could always send them this letter to encourage them to visit on their own (Messages of Hope exhibition MP encouragement). And, if haven’t done so already, please sign our petition.

Every minute, 20 people around the world are newly displaced. Half of them are children. Let’s do something now to help.