It’s always surprising how generous people who have suffered can be. How freely they give of their time, prayer, encouragement and, yes, their money.
So, when a former refugee helps current refugees, you begin to question your own definitions of altruism.
A 2017 newsletter, produced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), tells of Angelica Lamos Ballesteros, a Columbian woman who opened up her home to Venezuelan refugees.
She knew what it was like to truly have nothing, not even a country. Back in 2003, she was forced to flee Columbia when guerillas began their bloody surge through the mountain region where she lived.
One of thousands, she’d crossed the border into Venezuela on foot with only a bag of clothes. Finding welcome and support, she slowly built a new life, even starting a family there until, 14 years later, the Venezuelan government ordered a deportation of Columbian refugees.
Back in Columbia, Ballesteros settled in her own hilltop home and, three years ago, began opening her home to refugees fleeing poverty and increasing violence in Venezuela.
“It’s time to give something back,” she said, simply, to the UNHCR periodical. Ballesteros offered food, shelter and solidarity to the Venezuelan refugees – the three things any human in trouble would need – helping them get their papers in order to simply live, as she once had to.
This week, May 3, we celebrate the Feast of the Apostles Sts Philip and James.
In John’s gospel, we discover that Philip was from Bethsaida in Galilee. Bethsaida is Hebrew for “house of fishing” or “place of hunting”. Interestingly, in the Jn 12:20-22 account, some Greeks asked the Bethsaida native to arrange an audience with Jesus. Was John portraying Jesus as “fishing”?
The discourse that follows tells of the single wheat grain that produces nothing unless it dies. Only then, does it richly produce (Jn 12:24), as Jesus’ death would richly produce life for all people.
St James the Less, not the brother of John or the son of Zebedee, was the first bishop of Jerusalem and the author of the epistle in the Bible. That letter has the distinction of being addressed to all the churches, not just one in particular, and for presenting the argument that faith without works is dead (Js 2:14-26).
In a June 2006 General Audience, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “St James’ letter shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be fulfilled in life, above all, in love of neighbour, and especially in dedication to the poor.”
In these days, when people so very different from us are in such great need of the things we ourselves need – food, safe shelter, clothing – how can our exercise of that “practical Christianity” be other than to share?
We are not all law-makers or power-brokers. But, we can all share something: a prayer, a bar of soap, a safe room for a child in a strange country all alone.
The option absolutely not open us, is to do nothing.