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My Chicago Home
How can we best live as modern, active contemplatives where prairie meets city?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pray the News in 2013

Illustration by Erin Bartholomew
My family is "praying the news" more often now that we have a friend in India. My daughter drew an "Indian Nativity," and we reached out to an Indian priest at our parish, who invited us to help him edit a newsletter to raise funds for schools he founded to serve "untouchables" in India. (See St. Patrick's Academy website here.)
As we leap into 2013, let's make a new resolution to pray the news. For some, checking daily news is as natural as morning coffee. But many become distracted by family needs and life's busyness, and lag in keeping up with local, national and international events. To impact our world in profound and practical ways, we must reach beyond the borders of our homes and communities. 

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta invited people to start within their own circles in serving the lonely and vulnerable. Sometimes we miss poverty right within our families because it comes in such everyday guise. Offering a healing touch and attentiveness to that teen in our life who is shut behind a closed bedroom door, can free them to sanely ponder life's big questions. Honoring our mother and father, especially as they advance in age and frailty, deepens us. Welcoming each little one into our midst with patience stretches us to the point of heroism. Each daily, practical act to make someone feel loved and cared for answers Mother Teresa's call to serve the mission field right in front of our noses. 

My daughter's drawing helped spread
the joy of Christmas through a newsletter 

written by an Indian priest at our parish. We never 
know what little niche we can help fill. 
We only have to show concern and ask.
But in the course of our day, we should expand our reach, exploring regional and international news. We need this context to live informed lives. Praying the news can happen in one session as we read it, or throughout the day, as we go about our tasks. We can pray for those suffering intolerance in some distant land, and pray for areas wracked by disaster, war, famine, or unrest. We can target specific nations, towns and individuals by name, and pray for world leaders, asking that they be guided by God's wisdom. 

Perhaps if we get so specific, if we yearn for peace in foreign lands, it will help feed our desire for peace within our own homes and neighborhoods. And of course, as we fuel peace in our homes, that spirit will permeate our neighborhoods and the world. In 2013, let's become active, prayerful agents of peace.

Through the years, I've prayed and sent funds for tsunami, earthquake or war victims, and the sense of connection with others in distant areas has been strong...but temporal. I pray for a time, and then the need slips into obscurity as news coverage fades. But it's different this year. A missionary priest from India befriended me about four months ago, and now that whole nation has come alive for me. As I daily pray for my new friend's needs as he serves five rural outposts around Andhrah Pradesh, I've become more sensitive to the needs of India as a whole. 

When India's  Godavari River overflowed this year,
my friend Father Varghese Kalapurakudiyil
carried people to safety, fed the hungry and housed
150 homeless at his little church. He and his people 

have inspired my family and friends, opening our eyes to a
whole world of perseverance, courage, and faith in a distant land.

Photo courtesy of Fr. Varghese Kalapurakudiyil.
I keep a binder of photos that my new friend Father Varghese emails me, and bought a map of India to study. I dip into The Times of India,  the BBC online, and other websites for news. So, when my friend mentioned flooding in his area, I turned to the internet to see pictures of the worst flooding to hit Andhrah Pradesh in 20 years. That news never seemed to make the U.S. media outlets. I needed to turn to online articles and video news reports from Indian broadcasters, to learn more about the Godavari waters that ebbed and flowed from September through November. As many as 95,000 residents were displaced and housed in refugee tents, in a Biblical-scale event impacting a vast swath of the eastern Indian coast. 

Just weeks after flood waters dried, another event rocked that nation, that actually did hit news outlets like The New York Times, and sparked debates about the treatment of women in this second most-populated nation in the world. Protests erupted across India after a 23-year-old paramedical student was brutally gang-raped then thrown off a bus in Delhi. The young woman struggled for her life for nearly two weeks, before suffering massive organ shut-down and succumbing to infection from her injuries yesterday. 

Now, don't we have enough problems without joining in so actively in the pain of a distant land? No, we should stay concerned! Our destinies in this age of mobility and connectivity are entwined. Over the weekend, articles ran in The New York TimesThe Times of India and other news outlets about a sickening hate crime committed when a 31-year-old woman in Queens, New York pushed a 46-year-old Hindu from India to his death under a subway train. Arrested on 2nd-degree murder charges, she admitted to "beating" on Muslims and Hindus ever since the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers. We can't ignore such simmering bigotry in our midst. Will we, too, join the ranks of haters, or work toward the eradication of terrorism in all its forms -- even the impulse toward racism and violence that lurks within our own breast?

Staying informed about global issues can help us relate to that co-worker or neighbor from another nation. Keeping our eyes open and our minds active in pondering solutions to problems -- both local and global --  puts us in a state of being informed and, perhaps, able to make a difference. Sometimes violent plots are foiled by people having their eyes and ears open. Other times, real, substantive help occurs after certain connections are made. We hear about a specific need overseas. We happen to know someone who is an expert in that field and give them an alert. Next thing we know, certain solutions are being offered. Such global concern has led to wells being dug for needy communities, war orphans being adopted, and medical professionals forming teams to offer services to remote villages. I was exhilarated when my friends and local contacts mobilized for my priest friend in Andhrah Pradesh, sending him funds to buy a cow for a needy elderly couple, and blankets for the elderly in his struggling villages.

So, in 2013, let's take good care of our own. Let's serve well those suffering within our reach, and in our own families, neighborhoods and nation. But then let's expand our horizons, open our minds, and ponder and pray over needs beyond our borders. Who knows? Our one small voice united to another's could spark a trend. Let's make 2013 notable for how well we respond to God's call to be peacemakers. Let's not limit ourselves to what our puny imaginations can comprehend, but let God call us forth into His vision of peace for humanity.