I well remember a once-time meeting with some young men in Religious Life and, on this occasion, was asked to share with them, my thoughts and experiences of ‘community life’; addressing this subject, it is essential to point out that Christianity is concerned not just with the ‘private’ relationship I have with God.  Essentially, it must include my relationships with others – and also something of their relationships with God. The only commandment that Jesus gave, calling it ‘HIS’, is the ‘New Commandment’ in St. John’s Gospel, (13; 34): “I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you”; this alone should help us to realise that our Christian Faith is concerned as much with others, as with self.  

Many wise people – political and religious thinkers, etcetera – have pointed out that the greatest joys of our Christian Life stem from our relationships with others; concomitantly, these also provide, potentially, the greatest sufferings. Anyone, who makes living in ‘communion’ a priority, knows that it is not an easy option. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect community’ – one which could last for ever and ever on this earth. Human life is simply not like that; we are fickle human beings and change each day, oftentimes several times in a day.  Our circumstances change and so does the world about us.  We ‘changeable’ human beings have moods, misunderstandings and many limitations; sometimes we ‘fall out’, and this can lead to the break-down of relationships , for a time – or even permanently. In fact, it is God, alone, who gives us the graces to live in community, in harmony, or in unity, but we do not always accept them, and our lives (and relationships) are never static – never constant – and we must face new challenges, new problems, day after day, as we progress through life.  

Knowing that there are others, with whom I share Jesus’ New Commandment, means that the little word, ‘AS’ – a word of only two letters – assumes the greatest significance. I know that, in the literal sense, I cannot ‘love’ those with whom this relationship exists ‘AS’ Jesus did (and still does), for that would mean I would not be here to write these lines; nonetheless, that is the spirit of the relationship. Living the New Commandment is the condition for that promise of Jesus to be true: “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Mt 18:20). I may not always act in the way I should, but I can try to practice the first Gospel message of Jesus, as reported in St. Mark’s Gospel: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News”, (Mark 1: 14), for that is not a one-off message, for one occasion, but for each and every day that comes. Essentially, the Kingdom of God means living in the presence of Jesus; He is with me when I am alert to all He wants, in every present moment of life.  

To return to the young men in Religious Life, we did not, immediately and at once, come to discuss ‘community life’. I was interested to hear that, not all of them were able to feel that God loved each one of them, personally, and unconditionally. That came as no surprise, for it took me some eleven years of monastic life, for that particular ‘penny to drop’ and my young audience was of shorter vocation. My advice to them was to pray for the grace – really to know – that God loves each one of us, personally, immensely and without condition, not because the knowledge comes from parents, teachers or priests, but from within – heart, mind and soul – from within one’s own being. ONE JUST KNOWS IT! One of the young men came from the Congo, and I could not help but empathise with him in the fact that, in the east of that huge country, war seems endemic, and up to 4 million people have died in the past few years. “Oh yes,” he said, “that is the region I come from”. In an instant, the thought of much human suffering – killing, raping, injustice and hunger, etc – flashed through my mind, and not knowing him at all well, I wondered what on earth his experience was. He took me up on my words, “Knowing that God loves you personally, immensely and without condition depends,” he said, “on how you feel each day.” I remained silent!  Another of the young men came up with a challenging remark about prayer. Do you ‘feel’ God close to you when you pray? He said that, for him, a lot of the time, prayer was an empty ritual and it did not seem to change things much. He followed this by pointing out that, if this was so for him, a man dedicated to God in Religious Life, how much harder it must be for laity, without that advantage. I listened well and had to admire the honesty of that young man. 

Many people may be able to identify with the challenge he presented, and yet, by the grace of God, this emptiness is not necessarily, (or usually) the only experience. Once Jesus is alive (and real) for a person – once he becomes KNOWN – then to pray becomes a great joy. I had a conversation with Fr. Theo (an occasional fellow ‘blogger’) this week, and he, in his late eighties, will get up early each day to pray; if he does not, then he will not have the time and space to do so. He also told me how much he loves the Breviary and that, if confined to a desert island, he would take the Breviary as his one book; he would feel lost without it. What then, is the difference between the young man who feels prayer is difficult, empty and virtually meaningless, and the old monk, who cannot but, spend time with the Lord? I suggest that it is not that one is better than the other, but that one has allowed the relationship with God – through Jesus – to grow, whereas the other is, perhaps, as yet, unaware of the closeness and goodness of God; that may continue until that special moment when, God willing, he will get to know Him. To feel comfortable, at home almost, in the presence of God, who, in the final analysis, is ‘almighty’, ‘all powerful’, ‘far beyond’ anything we can think (or imagine), and, from the human intellect’s deepest reasoning, ‘unknowable’, is a gift. The ‘heart’ of a person knows God, in ways that are not expressible in words, yet in a very special way, a person can come to know, and sense, that God is very close to him, and loves him, personally and without condition.  What I am describing is something intuitive – instinctive, yet very real!  

Life today is exceedingly complicated – I suppose it has always been so, but, with the changes that have taken place over recent decades, in technology, communications, travel and the movement of populations – I could go on and on – the changes we experience are accelerating.  Life changes so very quickly, ideas change and this means that the way we do things must change, correspondingly. For some people, the ‘old’ ideas – our traditional certainties about knowing God – are no longer certain, and so it becomes all the more important, in this present day and age, to have some kind of ‘evidence’ of a loving God. I believe that one can take this a step further, and, with careful observation, it may be that God is trying to help us accrue this evidence, if only we take time to reflect and look.  

The rescue of the Chilean miners, from their ‘rock’ cave 2,000 feet below the Atacama Desert, has deeply affected the peoples of the world during the last few days.  I believed this to be a prime example of God, at work, in the world today.


The Chilean Miners – in ‘Captivity’ and in Thanksgiving for their Rescue 

Some parishioners have commented that the BBC has not broadcast quite so many examples of reverence to God and prayer – graphically illustrated by television pictures of rescued miners falling to their knees in humble thanksgiving – since the Pope was here. Millions have seen the faces of the rescued miners – and their loved ones – in circumstances of supposed tragedy, in hope, and in the joys of deliverance – and these are sincere, simple people of peasant stock – not your sophisticated intellectual with all his well-developed tastes and assets.  One of the miners, describing his ‘captivity’ and rescue said; “I was with God and the devil.  They fought and God won.” The emergency – involving the lives of 33 men – led to a cooperative effort from many nations, all helping in the rescue that demonstrated a sense of world-wide solidarity and unity. Certainly, people all over the world, have prayed for the trapped miners and are now rejoicing and thanking God for their rescue. 

However, there are more examples of God at work in the world.  Today, I received an account of the tragedy of the Pakistan floods.  Again, the misery and suffering has been almost beyond imagining, but there is more … . strangely, the report, though it brought tears to the eyes, it also speaks of hope. It was sent to me by a friend, Tomeu Mayans, who received it directly from his friends in the Pakistan Focolare community; they, in response to many enquiries, were desirous of sharing their experiences of the flood and its effect on the communities.  (Tomeu, a Majorcan, and myself have holidayed together several times.  He has worked in London for the last 18 years or so, and has been waiting for his visa to re-enter Pakistan, which has now been granted.  We share the same desire to live ‘in communion’ – in ‘unity’.)  

“These floods have created a mass of water on the move equal in size to the land mass of the whole of Great Britain. 78 of the 121 districts of Pakistan are affected. 14.1 million people are directly involved in the disaster which indirectly has affected another 6.2 million people. 1.1 million homes are destroyed and another 800 thousand damaged. 

As we slowly analyse what has happened and come to terms with it, we realise the disaster is without any precedent, and that the number of vulnerable people in need exceeds the capability of any single institution to help them. Only a common effort of a lot of people and organisations can possibly help to alleviate the sufferings of these people. Because of geographical reasons and the numbers involved in this natural disaster, it is the biggest and most complex situation that the world community has ever had to face.  The majority of those suffering are poor peasant people and unskilled workers who live on the threshold of poverty already.  To give you an idea of the situation we (the Focolare community of Pakistan) thought it would be helpful to share with you some experiences that have come from the Karachi community which is in the South of the country, and a city of 16 million people, and in the midst of the tragedy.” 

“We are poor people but we realised we could share with the others the little that we have and look for further help. God would certainly help us because we were doing this not for ourselves but for his children in need.  

On September 13 a small group visited a school that was completely full of people who had lost their homes. Some government volunteers were there doing a good job but there were still many things needed. I told my Muslim supervisor at work and he donated a lot of medical supplies, while other colleagues helped collect money and new clothes together with some neighbours.  

We split into two groups, one for the school and other for victims some distance from the city, because things in the Sindh province were even worse. The Bishop of Hyderabad encouraged us and was pleased with our initiative. 

In the end we managed to get together 20,000 rupees (about 181 Euro), a good sum considering our situation, but too little to help the 70 families and in particular the 200 babies we wanted to help. But we got other help from friends from all over the world and we were able to buy many other things to put together some good parcels for each family with essential ingredients including the ingredients to make a nice cake!  

During the three of the four days of the Muslim festival at the end of the fasting time of Ramadan, we worked preparing everything.  

Along the road to reach the refugee camp in the heart of SIndh we became aware of the harsh reality: many groups of people were waiting along the road and they ran behind the cars that passed. We were unable to stop because we knew that many lorries with supplies had been attacked and destroyed before arriving at their destination. A child ran behind us for almost a kilometre and only further ahead when we sure we were safe could we quickly stop and give him something.

Pakistani Floods – In the School 

But the real shock was when we reached the camp. Instead of the 70 families we had been told about there were 105. The class rooms of the school were packed with people, men and women, some expecting babies, many just newly born and children. They were all wearing the clothes they had on when they had escaped from the floods leaving all their things behind.  

They told us the waters had washed away all the crops and the farm animals. 

We gave out the 70 parcels which had some clothes inside and we managed to give to the 35 extra families at least some new clothes. What touched us was that these people were quite delighted with what we gave them, in fact they hugged us when they got their parcel. Even the children were delighted with their little parcels. We will go on helping them.” 


“On the 18 September we went back to the same camp to give them dishes and clothes to wear that they asked for the previous time, because they told us the government gave them food but no dishes with which to eat the food or put it out.  

We wanted to make the best use of the funds we were given and went to different bazaars to find the best prices. In Karachi the situation did not help, because there is much violence on the streets and many advised us not to go out. We went anyway because we felt it was so urgent to do so, and people could wait no longer.  

In the first camp we found 800 people crammed into a school; we gave out what we had and were able to give some money to a mother who had just given birth to a baby via a caesarean birth. We were told there were seven newly born babies in the camp. 

We got the older children together and played some games with them and they were really happy.  

Apart from the help we can give, we realized that moral support for these people is essential, to listen to their stories and let them feel not by words but by our presence and love for them that they had some brothers and sisters, and that God loved them. 

We then left for another camp given that we still had some dishes with us. The camp was inside an open air rice warehouse. It came as a great shock to us. There were in all six thousand people there, whole families living in a very confined space without any privacy. There was a long queue of people waiting to get water from a water wagon, a lady doctor with a nurse who were administering medicines to all that they could, even to a young child all on his own. ‘We do this’ they said, ‘because it is a matter of life and death’. As there was so little drinking water they forbad us to give out dehydration tablets because the people would have come to ask for water to swallow them and there was none. The lady doctor said to us ‘do all you can that is helpful in these circumstances; medicines are insufficient, they need mosquito nets, we need a dermatologist for the many skin diseases’. The people did not know what to do, and it seemed life had ceased for them. 

What struck us is their ability to face these difficulties. The patience of these people is incredible; though they have lost everything they are not angry or rebellious, but in peace, thanking God they are alive. We feel we cannot give ourselves peace while there are these brothers there like this; we feel their suffering is ours.” 


Nasreen visited the Risalpur camps and she shared with us: “Apart from taking practical help, given that I was the only person let in to the section reserved for women, it gave me the chance simply to stay with them and share their suffering. I was the first to be able to get in, and they really need to tell somebody what had happened.


Pakistani Floods – In the Women’s Camp 

The next day we got a phone call from a family member who lives nearby this town and she told us of the joy of the people to discover things in their parcels that they really wanted, like pens and paper to write letters and some powdered mild for the little children etc. 

For Ramadan we organised some other ways of helping in another camp where they had not had much of anything yet. We got together 681 parcels for the two different camps. 

In the first where the soldiers were we had gone the first time. The second camp was run the by the local administration and it was a much sadder place. The people were more abandoned. Many children had no clothes at all, they were dirty with matted tousled hair because they could not wash. They suffered many skin problems both because of dirt and the mosquitoes and flies that infested the camp. Luckily where they were there is water, and so seeing our parcels that had a lot of things to improve their hygiene they were so happy they could at last get a good wash. The women above all could not express their gratitude, it was so great.  

The soldiers came to help us in the first camp and they told us: ‘we see that you have done everything with a special kind of love and that you manage to give to each person an equal share, giving them much happiness’”. 

Nasreen went on: “for me I felt that the merit was not ours because the largest part of the money we had to buy things we had received from many generous people; our part was something different. I do not possess much, but I can offer my time and my work to go and buy things in the large market at Rawalpindi. There was a lot of traffic and it all took a long time in an asphyxiating heat. I was happy to go even though I had a serious eye infection that I got at school and gave a lot of grief. It was a hard and dangerous journey because the people are so poor. Armed men stop lorries and destroy them. Giving out parcels is not just an external gesture but above all the way to get close to these people, to be with them, sharing those moments of suffering. Really these are small things in comparison to all these people have lived through who were directly involved in the floods; it is my small contribution, and all together we can alleviate their suffering.”  

Some of the Risalpur families who were in the school have now been placed in tents, because the school must begin again as term has started. Winter is now coming and they need adequate clothing, shoes and mattresses apart from food.”  


This account really touched me because my friend, Tomeu Mayans, is going back to Pakistan in ten days time to share this experience, in the same Focolare community. As I said, he is a Majorcan and, with him I have, ‘Jesus in our midst’ through our pact of ‘unity’. Now, I live in luxurious England, where almost every need I have is catered for, and yet there, across the world, is a friend who will be in touch, at least, with those in the front-line of this massive Pakistan flood problem. With him, I can feel ‘in solidarity’: God has given me this friend, and across the miles, we can remain united; for this reason, among many others, I can say, even as I write these lines, that Jesus is close to me. Yes, in a special way I feel his presence; but, it is not a physical thing; it is spiritual and very real.  

In conclusion, I hope, and pray, that the Religious I met on that occasion, and all who read this ‘essay’ will find the same knowledge of God and his presence. Of course, it is based on faith, but faith is knowledge, and in a way, God is thus giving us evidence of his presence in our world. May our faith remain strong, and firm, and sure, and may the good Lord, through the helping hands of many people, help the people of Pakistan, as we thank Him also for the safe rescue of the Chilean miners.