“Free to worship without fear”

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Inspired by Pope Francis, who began the Triduum by washing the feet of 12 refugees, I spent this morning learning a little more about the refugee crisis. A big theme of Holy Thursday is community. I wondered — how can we cultivate a community where all people are “free to worship without fear”? My reflections took the form of a letter to St. Cloud mayor Dave Kleis. I figured the local government was a good place to start.

March 24, 2016
 
 Dear Mayor Kleis,

I’m reaching out to you today to ask what is being done — and perhaps consider what more our St. Cloud community can do — to support our Somali refugees. Specifically I am wondering, how the predominately Catholic community of Saint Cloud can truly welcome the predominately Muslim community of Somali refugees? How can we work together to create safe spaces for worship? For dialogue? For community-building? It disturbed me to read the January 20th City Pages article that labeled St. Cloud “the worst place in Minnesota to be a Somali.” Islamaphobia is a real issue in our city. Religious persecution of refugees happens in big and small ways, in places far from — and very close to — home. 
 
 The suffering of refugees is on my heart in a new way this Holy Thursday. Pope Francis is set to begin the most sacred days of the Christian year by washing the feet of young refugees during tonight’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. As he so often does, the pope draws the eyes of the world to the marginalized. Good liturgy does the same. For a few months now, I’ve thought of refugees while singing the “Canticle of Zechariah” during Morning Prayer at the Abbey. The canticle shares a new way of being in which mercy triumphs hate and forgiveness leads to salvation. God’s “tender compassion” will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” Living together in ultimate peace, we will be set “free from the hands of our enemies.” We will be “free to worship God without fear.” 
 
 The plight of our refugee brothers and sisters reminds me that we are not there yet. 
 
 “Free to worship without fear” remains a dream for so many people. Fear increase every time a person professing faith in Jesus Christ is murdered in Syria. It also increases every time a window is smashed in at the Islamic Center of St. Cloud. Peoples’ lives are being threatened because of what they believe and who they worship. I think about that now as I sit in my safe choir stall in quiet Collegeville. I have no real reasons to be afraid to come to prayer. I’ve walked down the long corridor into the Abbey Church hundreds of times. Not once has anyone ever threatened me. But just a few miles away, young women at Tech High School are getting harassed for wearing hijabs. It feels so unfair. 
 
 I can’t pretend to imagine what it’s like to flee from my home. I can’t fathom the fear and sadness of a refugee. It’s not my story — but it is our story. Saint Paul reminds the Christian community that we are many parts of one body. When one hurts, we all hurt. And right now, so many are hurting. 
 
 My faith calls me to be present to that hurt. I’m seeking ways to do that. The local government seemed like a good place to start. 
 
 I spent some time this morning learning about Saint Cloud’s Create CommUNITY program. Its mission of “dismantling racism through systemic change” is absolutely necessary. Thank you to you and your leadership team for making race relations a priority. Your vision to make St. Cloud “a welcoming, non-discriminatory environment with respect and opportunity for all” is a noble one. Again, thank you.
 
 I’m wondering how these important calls for dialogue and listening could extend to inter-religious relations? Could civic and religious leaders work together to build a safe, supportive community for people of all faiths? On the Catholic side, the Catholic Charities Immigrant and Refugee Resources of the Diocese of St. Cloud strikes me as a natural collaboration partner. I noticed they reference Create CommUNITY on their website. 
 
 There are, of course, no easy solutions. Time, energy and resources are always of the essence. But I came across some wisdom from St. Benedict that could inspire a way forward. In his Rule, Benedict calls on the monks to welcome all guests as Christ (RB 53.1). In particular, he writes, “Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect” (RB 53.15). What would it look like to give preferential treatment to the poor? How might our community grow if we embraced each other as if we were embracing Christ himself? 
 
 A little food for thought on this Holy Thursday. Thank you, Mayor Kleis, for your time and for your leadership of the St. Cloud community. I’ve so enjoyed my nearly two years of living here! The St. Cloud area has become a real home.
 
 Peace,

Jessie Bazan

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