My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On this 4th Sunday of Lent (SCIAF Sunday) I write to you on behalf of the Bishops of Scotland to thank you for your generous and loving support of SCIAF – our Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund.
In today’s Gospel we hear how the father: “was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly.” Despite his sinfulness the father forgives his son and loves him without reserve, restoring his dignity and sense of worth.
We too are sinners and, despite this, we too are touched by the grace and mercy of our Father. Broken as we are, our relationship with God and the experience of his unconditional love and acceptance inspires us to love one another, particularly those who are poorest and most marginal among us. Through SCIAF we can give thanks and glory to God by returning that love and mercy to those in need with joy and gladness in our hearts.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy the Church throws open its doors to the mercy of God and encourages us to accept God’s mercy, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Pope Francis asks that all Catholics show the same mercy and generosity of spirit to others. Fie asks us to contemplate “Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” (MV2.)
SCIAF is mercy in action. Through our solidarity with the poor and vulnerable we all learn to see Jesus, “the face of the Father’s mercy” in each other. In Ethiopia SCIAF works with communities, driven into poverty and desperation by drought. This Lent, they share the story of Carfi Sara who speaks of how he was once “paralysed by poverty” but how SCIAF’s support has restored his sense of dignity by enabling him to provide for his family.
We can take inspiration from Carfi’s message to the people of Scotland: “Your kindness has transformed my life, but I am just one man. Many more families are living in poverty. When they ask me, I give to the poor. Please do the same. Together, we can make people strong.”
SCIAF’s mission has always been to reach out to the most vulnerable of our global neighbours in a way that respects their dignity; giving people a hand up to help them flourish and working alongside them to tackle the causes of poverty and injustice.
In his recent encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis urges us to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. He asks: “What kind of world do we want to leave those who come after us, to children who are growing up?” This Lent, we can echo his words by adding our names to SCIAF’s WEE vote, BIG change petition calling for politicians to put people and planet first. By raising our voices on behalf of those who go unheard, we can build a fairer and more just world for future generations.
This Lent, we have a fantastic opportunity to help many more families like Carfi’s. For the second year in a row, every penny you put into a WEE BOX or collection plate for SCIAF will be doubled by the UK Government. To qualify, our donations must reach SCIAF by 4th May so please remember to count up your coins and send in the funds as soon as you can.
SCIAF is testament to the power of faith. Our thoughts and prayers bring people hope and encouragement to those in desperate need, providing comfort in the knowledge that they are not forgotten. But by living our faith in this way, our own lives are also enriched. I urge you this Lent, in your prayers and in your actions, to commit yourselves once again to the work of SCIAF. Let us share what we have gratefully received with our brothers and sisters around the world, bringing wholeness and dignity to those left paralysed by poverty.
May God bless you and your families abundantly during this holy season of Lent.
Bishop President of SCIAF
on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland