2017 Justice First Family Day . "Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, is reported as having been told by a Bishop: " up until now we used to say that we should do good to the poor. You are saying that the poor are doing good to you!" The Bishop continued "The people we are healing are in fact healing us, even if they do not realise it. They call us to love and awaken within us what is most precious: compassion." This may not have been uppermost in the intentions and drive of the 35 or so helpers and contributors at the Ampleforth's Justice and Peace Group's 'Justice First Family Day' on July 16th., but such was their experience as they welcomed the approximately 55 visitors, asylum seekers and refugees from Teesside. The 'healing' they, perhaps inadvertently, offered, apart from the glorious shared meal, was a day's respite for our visitors from Africa, from Eastern Europe and from the Middle East, from what the Germans call "den grauen Alltag" - the colourless daily grind of life in one of our ex industrial conurbations, where communication with neighbours is impeded by language and cultural barriers they are often unable to surmount, where communication with their fellows and access to public amenities is impaired by distance without the funds to pay for transport; where diet, entertainment, clothing for themselves and their children is similarly limited by available resources; where pride in their own worth and ability to provide must make way for the gratefully received charitable handouts and the allowance our state grants them. They may not work, they may in general not volunteer, they must 'sign on', usually weekly, in order that the authorities might keep tabs on them, they cannot afford to educate themselves or their children beyond school age. This is the reality of life for five, ten, fourteen of a human being's most productive years as the interminable wait persists, with no guarantee of a successful outcome to tribunal and appeal. In the glorious sunshine of our valley, our group was able to offer for part of a day what it perhaps has so little of - its time, its willingness to listen and empathise, its readiness to offer and to play - God's ears, God's giving.
St. Teresa of Avila wrote beautifully - "CRISTO no tiene otro cuerpo que el TUYO; no tiene MANOS ni pies en la tierra, excepto los TUYOS. Tuyos son los OJOS a través de los cuales El mira a este mundo con COMPASSION." (Christ has no body but yours, nor has he hands or feet on earth other than yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks with compassion upon this world.)
We were privileged indeed to host such a gathering in Our Lady and St. Benedict's Church Hall and School playing field, and remain grateful to our guests for showing us their lives and stories, for revealing their desire for friendship."