Praying for those who are afraid

I’ve been on Facebook for a long time, and I spend some time each day looking through my newsfeed — mostly to catch up on what’s happening in the lives of people I know. Occasionally I come across posts that tug at my heart, but never have I felt such sadness as I did yesterday.

There, in a photo, a small helpless child, lying face down in the sand and water. Dressed in shorts and a shirt. Tiny sneakers on his feet. Dead. Yes, dead. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. How? Why? Those are the obvious questions. As I read the article, I learned that this child was a part of a refugee family who found it safer to leave land in two rickety life rafts with 19 other people than to stay where they were on land. Such desperation! The parents had to make that awful choice. Can you imagine? And the choice, in this case, turned out to be a devastating one for the family. 

The drowned boy was three-year-old Aylan, from Syria, part of a group of 23 trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. They’d set out in two boats on the 13-mile Aegean journey, but the vessels capsized. Aylan’s five-year-old brother, Galip, also drowned, as did the boys’ mother, Rehan. Their father, Abdullah, survived. In all, five children from that journey are reported dead.

Perhaps I was struck by this as the little child resembled in many ways my own grandson. I cannot even imagine the grief the father is feeling. But what choice did he have when surrounded by war and poverty? It was a no-win situation for this family and countless others. 

I just have to ask, what the heck is going on? One tragedy after another. When will it all end? Every day we read about another terrible tragedy. When overcome with fear and tragedy, where else can we turn, but to God in prayer? When faced with fear and tragedy, perhaps the title of this weekly feature, “Be Not Afraid,” might give us some encouragement. It is probably a phrase that we’ve heard many times in our lives. It is a phrase that, I have learned, is repeated more than 300 times in the Gospels. And it is a phrase that was sounded by the late Pope St. John Paul II, especially in his consistent message to the youth of the world over the last quarter century of his life, “Be not afraid, young people. Get up, Jesus is calling you! He’s your Creator; He’s your Redeemer; He has a plan for your lives. Give yourselves to Him; give yourselves to others out of love for Him, and discover the truth that will set you free — the truth that will guide you through this earthly existence and into God’s eternal Kingdom.” Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have echoed the same message to us.

I believe that our young people — and all of us for that matter could relate to what Pope St. John Paul II said because he so fearlessly practiced what he preached. He dodged Nazis and then the communists when he grew up in Poland. He studied for the priesthood in secrecy. He challenged communism, suffered an assassination attempt and went home to the Father after facing a long and debilitating illness. He was tough — physically, mentally and morally. He was unyielding in his beliefs. 

It is also an ongoing message that needs to be repeated today and every day, to everyone, but especially the young. Be not afraid. Today we live in a society where even the most innocent are sometimes treated as disposable objects — like little Aylan. Be not afraid. Our Christian brothers and sisters are being persecuted in more than 50 countries today. Be not afraid. Many abuse themselves with food, drugs, sex and alcohol. Be not afraid. Many live with broken relationships and broken promises and broken lives. Be not afraid. Hungry and lonely. Be not afraid. Out of work, out of savings, out of time. Be not afraid. Afraid. Be not afraid.

There is no doubt that things are tough right now. We always seem to be waiting for the next shoe to drop. We’re all a bit afraid. Time and time again, however, when we join together as a people, as Christian people, we can make a difference in the world! It is this very Spirit of prayer, self-giving and of caring and service to others that will get us through these difficult times. But to make it through, we need to set our sights on Someone greater than ourselves. The reason Pope St. John Paul II was not afraid is that he set his sights on Christ. We must do the same. Pope St. John Paul II also stated in his first address, “Be not afraid to welcome Christ. Be not afraid. Rather, open wide the doors to Christ! Open the frontiers of your states to Christ’s power of Salvation, your economic systems as well as the political ones, the wide fields of culture, of civilization, of development. Be not afraid!”

Let’s pray for all of those who desperately need our help and our prayers, and especially for Aylan and his family; for all of the desperate refugees and for all of the persecuted people of the world; and for all who are afraid. 

Amen.

Anchor columnist Frank Lucca is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Fall River, a youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea, and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 37 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and a 19-month-old grandson. 

DeaconFrankLucca@comcast.net

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