Praying with Refugees: Palm Sunday in Beirut
01 April 2013

Altar boys light candles at St. Joseph's Jesuit Church in Beirut where many migrant workers celebrated Palm Sunday Mass by placing their hope in Jesus, the Messiah, who even today turns his heart to the poor. (Peter Balleis/JRS).
As we celebrate Jesus' triumph in the Easter feast and, as a new Pope extends a hand to us and to the poor, hope is renewed for all who reach out to those who live on the margins of society.
Beirut, Palm Sunday, 1 April 2013 – It must have been a spring day like this, bright and sunny, when long ago Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we as Christians now call Palm Sunday. Last week in Lebanon, during the procession around St Joseph's Church in Beirut, worshippers – mostly domestic workers from the Philippines, South Sudan and Sri Lanka – waved their olive tree branches.

One woman sang of the passion of the Lord as foretold in Psalm 22 – "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" – proclaiming it from the depth of her heart. The ceremony allowed them to celebrate their faith in Jesus, a faith which gives them consolation and strength.

The harsh conditions domestic workers face drive many into despair. On average, one woman among this community commits suicide every week. Despite difficulties they face in their workplaces and the loneliness of being separated from their families, many of these women find consolation and strength in the suffering and passion of Christ.

Reflections for prayer
Migrants celebrating Palm Sunday in Beirut – like other large cities in the world – are today the very same people whom Jesus discovered on the roadside when he entered Jerusalem. Just as the poor of Jesus' time turned to him for some small glimpse of hope, the migrants I met in Beirut placed much of their hope on Jesus, the Messiah, who even today turns his heart to the poor.

During the last weeks, the Church throughout the world has once again experienced real hope in the election of a new Pope, who represents the global community of the faithful and calls for the Church to be poor with the poor. Pope Francis clearly realises that the face of the Church can often be best seen in the lives of its poor migrants.

The migrant church is the people on the roadside of today. So many of them are women with unassuming faces who place their confidence in God alone, just as Jesus did long ago as he walked to his death and rose again in Jerusalem. The migrants of Beirut celebrated Palm Sunday by placing their hope in the man, Jesus. During Holy Week we celebrate the passion of Christ whose care for the poor was not understood by the powerful of Rome and Jerusalem.

They believed that they could destroy Him, and with Him the hopes of the people who cheered for Him along the roadside. As we celebrate Jesus' triumph in the Easter feast and, as a new Pope extends a hand to us and to the poor, hope is renewed for all who reach out to those who live on the margins of society.

Peter Balleis SJ, JRS International Director


Scripture for reading
Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.

As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples.
He said, "Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here.

And if anyone should ask you, 'Why are you untying it?' you will answer, 'The Master has need of it.'"
So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them.

And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying this colt?"
They answered, "The Master has need of it."

So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount.

As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen.

They proclaimed: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." 

He said in reply, "I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!"