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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. It sounds like a cliché at this stage but Ireland has changed, utterly and rapidly in the last few decades. One of the main reasons for that change has been migration of peoples from other countries who have come here to live and with children who have come to our schools.

As we know, the challenge to cope has been made more difficult with the outbreak of war in Ukraine and the many refugees who have fled the conflict. Despite wonderful success stories of integration and hope, there have been problems and challenges. Raising the specifics of these challenges is important and some objections are not born of racism but genuine concern for the common good. That said, some objections are indeed born of the sin of racism and a fear of people who are different, culturally, ethnically, religiously or otherwise.

We all think that others might be racist but not me. But are we really free from the attitudes that lead to racism? Do we REALLY see people who are different from us culturally, nationally or racially as being our brothers and sisters in Christ?

The Gospel this Sunday sees Jesus and his disciples on a journey away from their home as they wander into the foreign territory of Tyre and Sidon. There they meet a Canaanite woman who would have been different from them racially, culturally and religiously. For Jesus, this is a turning point in his ministry that was remembered by the early Church. It showed that Jesus’ saving love and power was offered to all including those beyond the Jewish world. The Canaanite woman would become a disciple of Jesus as well. But would the other disciples accept her? When they meet the woman, they ask Jesus to give her what she wants for ‘she is shouting after us’. In other words, they want Jesus to help her so that she could move out of their space as soon as possible.

This is not Christian charity. Yet it is something that we can easily do as well. We want to see people doing well and receiving the help they need – as long as it doesn’t affect me or challenge me. The disciples were happy to have Jesus help her, so that she could be kept apart from them.

The Gospel urges us instead to make real friends with the poor and to see beyond any label or box we put people into. This does not happen easily and takes practice and prayer – to really see others as God sees them with a heart of mercy and as a fellow brother or sister in Christ. It also challenges how we imagine Jesus himself. Many of us see him as a white Westerner but the truth is that he was an ethnically different Asian. The only difference this should make is to appreciate even more how much the Lord loves and saves everyone.

In the family of the Church, we recognize racism as a grave sin and commit ourselves to repent of it and eradicate it from our society. Here in our parish family of Wexford, people from all over the world have come live and worship with us every week. Perhaps like the disciples in the Gospel, we are happy with this as long as they don’t come too close to my life. But being a Christian means making an effort to make them feel welcome, to know their names and take an interest in how they are, beginning with their human needs. Notice from the Gospel that the woman asks Jesus for a human need that transcends the gap between all peoples who are different – the welfare of a little girl, her daughter.

By responding to basic human needs like this, we form bonds of communion and unity as we act on the Word of God in the first reading from Isaiah that says: ‘Have a care for justice, act with integrity…foreigners who attach themselves to the Lord…I will bring to my holy mountain…I will make them joyful in my house of prayer’.

Together let us be an example and instrument of how different cultures and peoples can live in harmony in the Church as we pray and strive to eradicate the scourge of racism from our world, beginning in our own back yard.


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