at Allen Hall, London
on 21st December 2021
Celebrant & Preacher: Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald
“Shout for joy, daughter of Sion…Rejoice, exult with all your heart”.
We are not shouting, but nevertheless rejoicing that, despite the pandemic, we are able to gather for this celebration just before Christmas. On behalf of all of us, I wish to express thanks to the Superior of Allen Hall who has allowed us to meet here.
I welcome all of you, and especially our Nuncio, Mgr Gugerotti, whom as FACE we meet for the first time. Having worked in the Congregation for Oriental Churches, where he was Under-Secretary, he has the Christians of the East at heart.
We are invited by today’s Gospel to think of Mary in this period leading up to the birth of Jesus, Mary of the Visitation. This is a very good model for FACE.
Mary has been told by Gabriel that her cousin, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant. She is no longer young, so she will find this period difficult, and will surely welcome the assistance of her younger cousin. Luke does not describe in detail what Mary is able to do, the domestic tasks she is ready to perform. These can be easily understood. What is important is that Mary has hastened to the aid of her cousin.
The tasks that FACE undertakes to support, with the help and guidance of its elder sister, l’Oeuvre d’Orient, are as you know multiple: education, health care, support for families in need, and so on. As important as the help given, is the solidarity shown, so that Christians in the East do not feel abandoned, isolated, marginalized in the Church.
What is striking in the account of the Visitation is that it does not start with material help. Mary does not say first: “Where are the brushes kept? Show me the kitchen, so that I can know where everything is. Where do you hang out the washing?” The two women start by greeting each other in faith. Elizabeth pronounces her blessing on the one who has believed in the promise of the Lord, and on the fruit of her womb, and we know that Mary responds with her wonderful prayer of the Magnificat.
The work of FACE springs from faith and proceeds under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Moreover this faith is shared. Christians in the East are not just at the receiving end; they have much to give us in the way of prayer and spirituality. This why FACE promotes every year, on the Sixth Sunday after Easter, a special Day of Prayer for and with Christians of the East.
There is another aspect of the Visitation which seems important to me. Why did Mary “set out’ and go “as quickly as she could to meet her cousin? To help her, surely. But perhaps also for another reason. After the wonderful but also daunting experience of the Annunciation Mary must have felt the need to talk with someone. Who better than her elderly and wise cousin who was in a similar situation to herself? I can imagine Mary, on her way to Ain Karem, turning over in her mind how she would explain what has happened to her. The wonderful thing is that she does not need to give any explanation, because Elizabeth has understood everything already.
Fellowship and Aid to Christians of the East is a work of faith, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which results in a communion of minds and hearts. This is why we rejoice to be able to celebrate this Mass together, praying for all who share in this work, donors and receivers, the back-room boys and girls in London and in Paris, the directors on the spot, the members of the local Churches, praying that the blessing of the Lord may descend abundantly on them all.