During Advent Catherine Gorman from our Theology team remembers Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and reflects on the journeys that thousands of people still face today.
As we count down to Christmas we can get caught up in all the merriment and festive preparations. But what is this Advent season really about?
Use our Advent calendar throughout the season for daily prayer and reflection.
Advent is the time when we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ, now and at the end of time. We are reminded that Jesus is the Emmanuel – God with us. God is with every person, in every situation. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love.
Throughout all the festive hustle and bustle, I try to hold on to the idea that this is what we are really journeying towards – God’s love.
Richard Sloman is CAFOD’s Middle East Programme Officer. Here he reflects on his time in Lebanon where almost 40 per cent of the population are Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Richard visited one of Lebanon’s twelve Palestinian refugee camps – home to 450,000 people, one in ten of the country’s population.
Bourj el Barajneh in Beirut, Lebanon is one of the world’s oldest refugee camps. Established in 1948, it’s home to more than 31,000 people. These women, men and children live in just one square kilometre of land. That’s roughly 31 people for every square metre of earth.
It’s midnight. The wedding attendants have been waiting for a long time for the bridegroom. At last, he arrives. The five sensible ones are admitted to the feast, but the other five suddenly find they are unprepared. They scrabble around in a panic, and set out to find oil for their lamps.
After some time, the wedding attendants come back, knocking on the door and calling for the bridegroom to let them in. But it is too late. The doors are shut.
Like the five sensible ones who take oil with their lamps, we are called to prepare for the kingdom of heaven and to keep our gaze fixed on Christ. We must be prepared to show our love for Christ through our actions.
Mary Lucas, our representative for the Middle East, describes what life is like for one young boy living in Gaza.
Mohammed was just nine when he and his sister, Doha, were orphaned. It was a hot summer in 2014 and the people of Gaza were struggling to survive an extreme military bombardment. Apartment blocks were falling in clouds of dust throughout the territory. Some nights, entire neighbourhoods were given a few minutes’ warning to leave – fleeing their homes to find safety wherever they could.
Mohammed’s family had to leave their home as it wasn’t safe. They were evacuated to a nearby school and like so many caught up in the conflict, struggled to get the essentials. Water pipes were damaged and food was expensive and running low in shops because of the bombing.
To ensure the family could survive, Mohammed’s parents would wait until there was a ceasefire and run to collect water and food.
That day, they decided to check on the house that they had spent years investing in for their family. As they approached the house, an explosion killed them both instantly. Shortly afterwards, another bomb reduced the house to rubble. Continue reading “Christmas in Gaza”
Sue Cooper, a CAFOD supporter from Corpus Christi parish in Wokingham, reflects on what Advent means to her as a time of hope and light amongst the winter gloom and darkness.
How I dislike this time of year. The dark nights and the cold, wet weather force me inside, and living in an area of the South where it rarely snows, there’s not even that brightness to lighten my mood. The news, too, speaks of horror in Syria and tumult in Iraq as well as an uncertain future for us here. It is miserable, but amidst the gloom there is hope.
The Sunday Mass readings throughout Advent warn us to ready ourselves and our anticipation of future events is filled with light and expectation. We have not been abandoned in the darkness, there is one who is coming to us who brings peace and cares for those on the margins. And in preparation to welcome the one who comes, we must respond to the call of John the Baptist and “repent” and change our ways. As the weeks unfold the anticipation and the excitement grow: the Word is made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, is coming!
As we prepare for Christmas, Advent is a time to take stock of what has happened in the past year. As a family, we post up pictures on our website with short captions to share with our extended family and friends what we’ve been up to. It’s a time to consider those who have died during the year, our achievements and perhaps ponder the “might have beens”. Continue reading “Advent: Hope amidst the gloom”
CAFOD volunteer Trevor Stockton, from St Anthony of Padua parish in Wolverhampton, reflects on the significance of Advent in his life, past and present.
Advent was a word I didn’t know about until I started going to church in my teens. The period before Christmas and Christmas itself really took on a new meaning for me thereafter.
Before then, as a child in a working class family in the 1940s, Christmas was simply all about having a few treats that we didn’t get all year round. Having an ordinary stocking filled with nuts, dates, a tangerine and other similar luxuries was amazing. A few, and I mean a few, simple presents followed by a family Christmas meal made the day. There was no television and the day continued with playing games. So, the weeks before Christmas were spent in anticipation of this special time.
Now, Advent means trying to put the religious significance into perspective against a backdrop of a society which seems to see Christmas as a purely commercial, money-making, money-spending time, whatever the cost to self, others and the environment.
After I have had the annual tussle with myself about the negatives of this commercial approach, Advent’s true significance to me is as a time of preparation for the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus – who forms the basis of our Christian faith.
Rachel McCarthy, who works in CAFOD’s Theology Programme, reflects how we can continue to bring the mercy of God to our global family throughout Advent.
On Sunday 20 November, Pope Francis sealed the Holy Door on the Year of Mercy. This past year has been a wonderful opportunity for us to experience the richness of God’s mercy. And the Jubilee has moved us to bring the tenderness of God to all, especially the most vulnerable.
It is worth reflecting back on the Year of Mercy, to understand how we can continue to make mercy a meaningful part of our lives. For me, mercy is a fruit of prayer. Earlier this summer, I walked through the Holy Door of a cathedral in southern France. It was a beautiful shrine: on the entrance of the door I admired the painting of a tree, reminding me of how God holds all of creation in the palm of his hand. Kneeling before the statue of Our Lady, the Mother of Mercy, I felt God’s tender closeness, holding me tight.
The Year of Mercy has ended, but the Lord’s mercy is everlasting. From generation to generation, God shines out his faithful love to all creation. From the child in its mother’s womb to the woman who has reached the end of her life, God raises us up in infinite mercy. This is a gift given to all- no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we have done.
Mercy opens my eyes. Christ opened the eyes of the disciples through acts of divine mercy: through his blessing of the adulterous woman, his tears for Lazarus, the washing of the disciples’ feet. Today, we see the need for mercy all around us. In our own neighbourhoods and across the world, many are cold, hungry, troubled, and longing for love. Rivers are polluted, forests are stripped bare, and beautiful creatures are being killed for profit.
Olwen Maynard has been working on CAFOD’s Middle East Desk since 2006. Here, she looks back at what the generosity of CAFOD’s supporters made possible in the two years following the last major military offensive.
A cup of clean water
Gaza’s tap water is heavily contaminated and dangerous, but buying bottled water is expensive, and can mean having to cut down on food. CAFOD has been working since 2013 with Islamic Relief to provide Reverse Osmosis Units to poor women-headed families, so they can filter their water and make it safe for drinking and cooking. Over the two years since the 2014 airstrikes, which caused massive further damage to the water supply infrastructure, the project has been extended to another 220 families and also to 65 kindergartens, providing clean water for thousands of children, along with hygiene education to help them stay healthy.
On International Migrants Day, CAFOD’s Susy Brouard reflects on the Jubilee of Mercy and compassion for refugees.
Susy Brouard from CAFOD’s Theology Programme reflects on the new Doors of Mercy which are being opened around the world, and the ones which already exist…..
Last week Pope Francis launched the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy by pushing open the normally bricked-up bronze doors of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This was the very first Door of Mercy to be opened this Jubilee year, which began 8 December. The Holy Father asked Catholics that as they walk through it, they should take on the role of the Good Samaritan.
Throughout England and Wales, dioceses, schools and parishes have taken up the Pope’s initiative in diverse ways – my personal favourite is the Jubilee of Mercy double-decker bus which will tour parts of Greater Manchester and Lancaster come February next year. Inside, priests will be available for confession, a blessing or simply a chat.
Opening new Doors of Mercy is a fantastic idea which will open up spaces where people can find healing and reconciliation. However, last week, in conversation with a Religious sister who works with vulnerable women, she raised the fact that there already are, within and outside the Catholic Church, Doors of Mercy, which people walk through daily and find places of healing and sanctuary. How true, I thought!
As a CAFOD member of staff I began to reflect on where the Doors of Mercy are in our work. I thought immediately of the work that our sister agencies in the Caritas network are doing with refugees. Surely any entrance to a building which provides a safe refuge for those who have nothing is a Door of Mercy? Surely any entrance to a building which provides sanitation facilities, psychosocial support and above all, a warm and genuine welcome, is a Door of Mercy? These Doors, as well as the new ones, need to be highlighted and celebrated.
Hannah Patterson is CAFOD’s World Gifts Co-ordinator
I have to confess that I started planning for Christmas in July. Not because I’m super-organised, or because I was hoping to bag some bargains, but because that’s when we started to create the World Gifts Christmas catalogue.
We start work on the World Gifts catalogue early because we want to present a really fantastic list of gifts for our supporters to choose from. At any time of year, researching examples of the impact of CAFOD’s work is inspiring, although it was more of a challenge to choose between snowflakes and stars in the summer!
A gift that stands out for me this year is Motivating music. Costing £20 for an instrument and lessons, the certificate that comes with this gift tells Marcos’ story. Marcos, 14, from Brazil, had to take on the responsibility of caring for his father while he was unwell, and then suffered feelings of guilt when his Dad passed away. Learning to play the cello has given him an outlet for his feelings and boosted his self-esteem. Marcos now wishes to become a professional musician.
Motivating music is already on my gift list for my brother because he loves music. In fact, many of my loved ones will be receiving a certificate from me on Christmas morning! I think that at this time of year, when it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of present-buying, food-planning and Christmas-jumper-wearing, World Gifts are a simple way to choose something more meaningful. Like many of you, I’ll also be showing my family and friends I love them this Christmas by making a special effort to spend time with them and I’ll be helping to bring other families together by buying the Water for a family gift for my Mum and Dad.
Hadas Hailu’s family in Ethiopia used to suffer a lot due to a shortage of clean water. Not only did they have to spend time fetching water from a pump far away, but the water wasn’t clean and caused diseases. Thanks to World Gift donations, CAFOD’s local partner were able to construct a borehole in their remote village. Now the whole family has clean, safe water to drink, and instead of fetching water they now have more time to spend together.
Having clean water to drink seems like such a basic need that it’s hard to imagine not trusting your water supply won’t make your family sick, or spending time away from them collecting heavy containers. The water gifts that are available through World Gifts are a great way to make a practical difference for families.
Perhaps I’m biased, but I think we have a wonderful range of World Gifts this year. Gifts like Water for a family are examples of the practical work that CAFOD’s partners carry out daily. Presents such as Motivating music bring hope to those living in poverty mean you can share this hope and joy with your own loved ones. I hope you enjoy reading through your catalogue or browsing our website as much as I’ve enjoyed putting together the World Gifts range.