‘The Contemplative Gaze’, Christian Unity, Yemen, Martin Luther King, Jr: 14 to 20 Jan 2018

In this email:

  • Peace Sunday – The ‘Contemplative Gaze’, Migration and Peace
  • Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18 to 25 January)
  • Short Notes: Yemen; Martin Luther King, Jr Day

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9, from the Revised Common Lectionary readings for this Sunday) Lord, help us  always to be open to your voice.

Peace Sunday – The ‘Contemplative Gaze’, Migration and Peace

“All indicators available to the international community suggest that global migration will continue for the future. Some consider this a threat. For my part, I ask you to view it with confidence as an opportunity to build peace.”

Pope Francis

Using materials from Pax Christi, many Roman Catholic churches celebrate ‘Peace Sunday’ this weekend. It’s an occasion to highlight the Pope’s message for the World Day of Peace (1 January). This year, Pope Francis’ message focuses on migrants and refugees as people who are in search of peace and who offer opportunities for peacebuilding to the countries in which they arrive. The 14th of January is also the Catholic church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees – a helpful concurrence.

The Pope’s message comes at a disheartening time: political leaders and news media in many countries have stirred up hostility against migrants and refugees; one hundred ninety-two people have already drowned in the Mediterranean this January; conditions in Greek camps such as Moria remain inhumane; migrants and refugees are sent back  to Libya and its detention centres, despite a known risk of abuse, enslavement and violence; the US has removed Temporary Protected Status from 200,000 Salvadorans; and repatriations to some of the world’s most dangerous countries (Afghanistan – from Europe and Pakistan, Somalia, Myanmar) continue apace.

Pope Francis’ message acknowledges and names the complex realities of today’s situation – large numbers of people fleeing conflicts, hunger, environmental degradation, oppression and poverty; difficulties in finding safe passage; the challenges of managing new situations in a way that respects the needs of all people and communities;  the possibility that not all people seeking sanctuary are people of good will; the rise of people who foment fear of migrants; and the resultant devaluation of some people’s human dignity.

The Pope calls on Christians, however, not to give into fear, but to respond in the first instance by exercising what he calls ‘the contemplative gaze’. This is a phrase which appears frequently in his work.* It signifies a way of looking at the world which is shaped by contemplative prayer, time spent with “our eyes fixed on Jesus.” One who is shaped by such openness to the self-giving God begins to see God’s presence in all that is created – and thus to value all aspects of creation not for how they can be used for our benefit, but because, beloved and precious in themselves, they reflect, each in their own way, the Creator: “For the contemplative, everything speaks of the Most High!” (Vultum Dei quaerere 10)

The ‘contemplative gaze’ Pope Francis says (going on to quote his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI) recognizes that all of us “belong to one family, migrants and the local populations that welcome them, and all have the same right to enjoy the goods of the earth.”  It sees in the places where we live not simply the issues highlighted by the news but “God dwelling in [the] houses, in [the] streets and squares… fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice.” It sees in those who change their place of residence people who “bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures.” It recognises “the creativity, tenacity and spirit of sacrifice of the countless individuals, families and communities around the world who open their doors and hearts to migrants and refugees, even where resources are scarce.” And it “should also guide the discernment of those responsible for the public good, and encourage them to pursue policies of welcome, ‘within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good’– bearing in mind, that is, the needs of all members of the human family and the welfare of each.”

The Pope calls all Christians – and all countries – to offer migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking “an opportunity to find the peace they seek” by implementing a strategy combining four actions: welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating” General definitions of the four areas of action follow: for example, “‘Welcoming’ calls for expanding legal pathways for entry and no longer pushing migrants and displaced people towards countries where they face persecution and violence. It also demands balancing our concerns about national security with concern for fundamental human rights.”

The Vatican messages are not given in isolation. This year, following on from the UN General Assembly’s New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the international community is due to negotiate two Global Compacts, one for migration and one on refugees. The Vatican has prepared material that translates the Pope’s theological imperatives and general tenets into “Twenty Action Points, policy points specifically intended as a contribution to the process of preparing the Compacts. The points repay study and are profoundly useful for advocacy.

But it is no accident that the Pope focuses his World Peace Day message on the call for the ‘contemplative gaze’  Solutions to the questions posed by today’s mobile and conflicted world will not originate in the details of policy – though getting the policy details right matters hugely and must, in the coming days and weeks, be a topic of prayer. What is first needed is a conversion of the heart – a willingness to see with eyes that have grown accustomed to looking at God. It’s a conversion which brings with it love and joy and ensures that “rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.” (Laudato Si 12). In this lies hope – for migrants, refugees, and all people.

Please pray:

  • for safety for migrants and refugees in difficult and dangerous situations
  • for migrants and refugees, that they may find peace amidst the many changes in their lives
  • for people in host communities, that they too may find peace amidst the many changes in their lives
  • that leaders may be guided by the ‘contemplative gaze’ as they seek to discern the common good
  • in thanksgiving for Christ’s offer of self-revelation to those who seek Him
  • in thanksgiving for Christ’s transforming love, which creates opportunities for peacebuilding amidst change and conflict
  • that all Christians – and all people – may see the beauty and dignity of each human being, and treasure the gift God has given us in other people

For Further Reading

  • *See Douglas E Christie, “Becoming painfully aware: Spirituality and solidarity in Laudato Si'”published in The Theological and Ecological Vision of Laudato Si’: Everything is Connected, ed Vincent J Miller (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).
  • Rowan Williams speaking to the Synod of Bishops in Rome on the relationship between contemplation and evangelisation.

For Action
Sign the CAFOD ‘Share the journey’ petition, asking the Government “to make global commitments which place the human dignity of people on the move at their heart.” Or take a more specific online action – such as Amnesty’s on Libyan refugees.

Donate to organisations that are working to protect refugees and migrants. Last week, for example, we published links for supporting appeals to assist the  Rohingya.

Are you interested in finding out more about how churches locally are helping to welcome refugees? Take a look at our new pages on refugees and forced migration to see the location of local groups, case studies of how they work, and opportunities to engage with them. If you’d like more information, contact our Churches Refugee Networking Officer, Joanna Schüder.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18 to 25 January)

Each year, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’s international materials come from Christians in a particular region, who choose the Biblical passage that forms the week’s theme and who develop the theme in prayers and reflections.

This year, the region is the Caribbean, and the Biblical passage they have chosen is Exodus 15: 1-21, the Song of Moses and Miriam following the crossing of the Red Sea.

Why this passage? The organisers note the historical context:

“The contemporary Caribbean is deeply marked by the dehumanizing project of colonial exploitation … [which] attempted to strip subjugated peoples of their inalienable rights: their identity, their human dignity, their freedom and their self-determination”

But while “Christian missionary activity in the region, with the exception of a few outstanding examples, was closely tied to this dehumanizing system and in many ways rationalized it and reinforced it,” nonetheless, those who were enslaved encountered the liberating power of God. The same Bible that colonisers used “to justify their subjugation of a people in bondage [became] in the hands of the enslaved … an inspiration, an assurance that God was on their side, and that God would lead them into freedom.”

“Today Caribbean Christians of many different traditions see the hand of God active in the ending of enslavement. It is a uniting experience of the saving action of God which brings freedom. For this reason the choice of the song of Moses and Miriam (Ex 15:1-21), as the motif of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018 was considered a most appropriate one.”

The choice of passage, however, is more than a reflection on God’s liberating work in the past.  The authors name current threats – such as injustice, poverty, violence, addictions, and unjust economic structures – that still keep people in bondage and imperil human dignity. Their reflections outline a theological response to these threats, discuss the ways in which God is working through the churches to heal people and societies, and call on God for help – that God’s power may once more be seen in the redemption of God’s people.

From the 18th to the 25th, please consider using the materials for daily reflection (either the international version  or the UK version).Pray for the unity of all Christians, and pray that all people enslaved by oppression, poverty, injustice and sin may be liberated by God’s righteous power.

Prayer from the materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
(Main text from the international version; responses from the UK version)

God of the Exodus, you led your people through the Red Sea and redeemed them. Be with us now and free us from all forms of slavery and from everything that obscures human dignity.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God of abundance, in your goodness, you provide for all our needs. Be with us now, help us to rise above selfishness and greed and give us the courage to be agents of justice in the world.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God of love, you created us in your image and have redeemed us in Christ. Be with us now, empower us to love our neighbour and to welcome the stranger.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God of peace, you remain faithful to your covenant with us even when we we wander from you, and in Christ you have reconciled us to yourself. Be with us now and put a new spirit and a new heart within us that we may reject violence and instead be servants of your peace.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God of glory, you are all-powerful, yet in Jesus you chose to make your home in a human family, and in the waters of Baptism have adopted us as your children. Be with us now and help us to remain faithful to our family commitments and our communal responsibilities, and to strengthen the bonds of communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.

God, One in Three Persons, in Christ you have made us one with you and with one another. Be with us now and by the power and consolation of the Holy Spirit, free us from the self-centredness, arrogance and fear that prevent us from striving towards the full visible unity of your Church.
Lead us by your hand, that we may live.


Short Notes: Yemen; Martin Luther King, Jr Day

  • Yemen
    Please continue to keep the people of Yemen in your prayers. Looking at the latest humanitarian updates, please give thanks that shipments of fuel and food have been allowed to come into Yemen’s Red Sea ports and pray that the ports are allowed to remain open. Pray for all affected by the cholera epidemic and the diphtheria outbreak – and for all working against the odds to maintain public health services.The UN has accused Iran of violating the UN’s arms embargo in Yemen, and has also criticised the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes, which have killed numerous civilians. Concerned by the coalition airstrikes, Norway has recently suspended its arms sales to the UAE over concerns that the arms could be used in Yemen. Give thanks for Norway’s decision to use the precautionary principle and pray that countries everywhere may seek justice and a stable peace for the Yemeni people.At a time when we hear so much that is a cause for sorrow, it’s good to be reminded by Yemeni journalist Afrah Nasser that there are also causes for hope. Read her story on coffee entrepreneur Hussein Ahmed and pray for the well being of all who are working to build up rather than to tear down.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr Day
    The US will celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr Day on Monday. To mark the occasion, below are one of Martin Luther King Jr’s most well-known reflections and two of his sermons. Please pray for racial justice. Pray, too, that by God’s grace churches may be places where people from diverse races and ethnic backgrounds can come together, genuinely listen to each other’s thoughts and experiences, recognise and repent of their own prejudices, rejoice in each other as brothers and sisters, and work together for justice and mutual love.