FINDING THE CRUCIFIED CHRIST IN THE MIGRANTS
Prakash Louis, SJ - Patna Jesuit Migrant Service - Patna Province
[From “Jesuits 2022 - The Society of Jesus in the world”]
The spiritual experience of giving relief to migrants on their journey.
Finding God is one of the fundamental spiritual paths laid out by Ignatius to help everyone to discern God’s presence, to find God in all things, reaching out to a difficult and diverse, a grace-filled yet a groaning world. Finding God in everything is rooted in our growing awareness that God can be found in every one, in every place, in every situation, and in everything. When we learn to pay more attention to God, we become more thankful and reverent to him and to his creation.
Concretely, we find God at work and in worship, in normal and difficult circumstances, in our success and failures, in our togetherness and loneliness, in our pains and pleasures, and thus in the world at large. Not just the Jesuits but all those who were introduced to Ignatian Spirituality have tried to integrate finding God totally and fundamentally in their daily lives. For those of us who were involved in responding to the migrants who were forced to return home from where they were eking out in India, it was finding the crucified Christ in the migrants.
The Book of Deuteronomy narrates the existential and spiritual experience of our ancestors by stating that Yahweh migrated with the people, carrying them along the way and going ahead of them to show them the way. Moses says, “the Lord your God... went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go” (Dt 1:32-33). Further, the book states, “he executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Dt 10:18).
Thus, the God we believe in was a migrant himself and understands the sufferings and the hardships the migrants are subjected to. We, Indian Christians who accompanied the migrants who were forced to return home due to the pandemic, found Jesus’ consoling and comforting words, “Come to me all who are weary and are burdened; I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). In April 2020, when we began to provide relief to the millions of innocent and distressed migrants, we found strength and sustenance in Jesus, who was subjected to passion and death like a criminal.
The migrants who faced untold agony and anguish, distress and defeat, motivated the Church in general and the Jesuits in particular to accompany them. In collaboration with the Varanasi Diocese, the Patna Jesuits provided relief to over 21,000 families and responded to over 14,000 migrants on the road.
We agonised with the migrants undergoing agony and misery for no mistake of their own.
When we distributed food to the migrants they said, “We did not have food for many days; you have come like God giving us food.” But we in turn found in them the crucified Christ. This is all the truer of women who were being supported by their husbands’ salary and had nothing to feed the family when the father was forced to go back home. They themselves saw the crucified Christ in their crying malnourished children. And I remember this toddler who became an orphan when, returning with his migrant mother, the woman died of exhaustion on the road. This shocking incident reminded me of the cry of the crucified Christ, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (Mk 15:34).
Fr. Julian, who distributed relief to the migrants in Cantt Railway Station along with Fr. Susai and a government official, a Hindu, stated, “In the migrants, I found Christ exhausted by the weight of the cross.”
The Bishop of Varanasi, Rt. Rev. Eugene Joseph, captured the experience of accompanying the migrants by the Christian community as follows: “The situation of the helpless migrant labourers is like that of Jesus himself who had to fly to Egypt to save himself from a different ‘plague.’ Rejection, passive indifference, hunger and thirst, homelessness, the fear of the impending death, that the Son of Man suffered is a prelude to what the migrants of Indian labour class suffered. Uncertain of being received in their own village, they groped through the darkness of the night, heat and dust of the day as it were in a new Exodus. As followers of Crucified Jesus, we, Christians, drew closer to those abandoned and crushed by dejection and fear.”
We learned a pastoral lesson in accompanying the migrants: for us, this was not just a relief work but a personal, pastoral, and spiritual response to be with the afflicted humanity. We see immense possibilities for accompanying the high-risk persons and families in the future too. In the midst of distress, defeat, and death, we find rays of hope: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8). With this trust and confidence, we have initiated self-employment programmes for the migrants.