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Minister’s Letter

Dear Friends,

As you receive this issue of the franciscan, I am beginning a month in Calais working with a friend of SSF, Broeder Johannes Maertens, in a house of hospitality.

Calais has been a focal point for the controversy about the refugees in Europe. Many people have said they support the people but oppose the policy that allows huge numbers of people to come into their country. It isn’t clear as I write in October 2016 if there will be a refugee encampment at Calais in January 2017, but one thing is certain: the refugee crisis will still exist in Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, Africa, the Middle East — and other places. Even if the encampment is gone, I believe I will have work to do: the traditional works of mercy: offering to those in need food, clothing, shelter, visiting those sick and in prison. Who knows what I will be called on to do?  My first obligation is to show up.

For the past several years the stories of refugees from around the world have made a great impression on me. Their stories are heartbreaking tales of danger, violence and death, extraordinary perseverance and (some—far too few) lucky breaks. What is needed, in addition to the power of world organizations and governments to bring peace to the war-torn areas of the world, is the convincing influence of ordinary people serving their fellow human beings.

Eight years ago I went to Iran as a ‘citizen diplomat’ with The Fellowship of Reconciliation. Citizen diplomacy is grassroots-level meetings, sharing life experiences, and returning to talk about these things with other ‘ordinary people.’

It is through caring and creating bonds with refugees that any one of us can contribute to a transformation of consciousness. Informed by personal relationships we can encourage the development of the political will to stop these injustices.

Refugees and asylum seekers are a global problem. There are people fleeing to Europe from Syria. Other refugees and desperate people are trying to find better lives in the United States. People are braving the seas to reach Australia. The fact that so many of these people are turned back, or put into detention centres and become the objects of suspicion and hatred, is a scandal. It is necessary that Christians do whatever they can to reach out a friendly hand of fellowship, and advocate on behalf of the refugees and asylum seekers.  For all who watched the Olympic Games there was the powerful story of the Team Refugee: men and women who competed as stateless persons. Their stories of overcoming huge challenges to be there were staggering. Refugees are not helpless people with nothing to offer. They have the same dreams and aspirations as all of us, and the world community must act to ensure the universal human rights to peace, justice and a decent life.

In addition to the political, and economic refugees, there are what we call climate refugees: people who are now or will soon be fleeing their island homes because of rising sea levels.

More people are fleeing their homes now than ever before.

A drink of cold water, a blanket, a friendly conversation are humanizing initiatives, and Christ commends them. Writing letters, telling stories, meeting with others to bring political pressure to influence leaders is a natural corollary of the acts of mercy.

Above all, pray for the refugees, and pray that God will use you in some way to make a difference in your community and our world.

With every blessing for the New Year.

Br. Clark Berge SSF

(Until 2017 Br Clark Berge was Minister General of the First Order Brothers)