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The 2019 World Day of Prayer

We celebrated the annual World Day of Prayer on 1st March 2019, the Feast of St David, patron saint of Wales, in the Catholic Church in Abergavenny. We were part of a great wave of prayer encircling the globe from the rising of the sun in the East over Samoa and ending some 38 hours later in the Pacific as the sun set over American Samoa. We were praying and sharing with people in over 120 countries and islands around the world, including the DHS Family on mission in three continents.

It was the turn of the Catholic Church in Abergavenny to host the event for the whole town and what a privilege it was, and also what a memorable event! A group of ladies from the different denominations represented their churches: Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, United Reformed, Salvation Army, Quakers, Cornerstone, and the Family Church (Pentecostal). The words “Come -Everything is Ready!” was the title of the service, and it was based on the parable of the banquet -in Luke’s gospel, chapter 14 vv. 15 -24-.

As the prayer took place in the Catholic church, I was invited to lead the service, and my first thought standing in the pulpit was the words of Jesus himself in his farewell discourse to his disciples : “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, as we are one.” (John, 17:20).  

The service for this year was prepared by the women of Slovenia, a new country which became independent on the 27th June 1991. Till then it was part of Yugoslavia and under communist rule. It is one of the smallest countries in Europe, roughly the same size as Wales, with a population of under two million people, sixty percent of whom are Catholics.

The service began with placing a table in front of the altar, and food for a feast was placed on it. Four ladies dressed in colourful costumes to represent the women of Slovenia, and each gave a brief testimony of what life is like for women in Slovenia. --- The first lady spoke about the fact that religious people were regarded as second-class citizens, so she went to Switzerland to find work, and there she found that foreign workers were looked down upon, so she returned to her own country. --- The second lady was 34 years old and went into higher education. Her boyfriend left her when she had a child. She said that the balance between family care and work could be more favourable to families and less restrictive to women in the workplace. Despite full legal equality, women have still to bear a double burden. --- The third lady was born into a family where the father was often drunk and became violent, and her mother also drank. She got married and built a house for the family. Then her husband lost his job and he also turned to drink. He became violent with herself and her children. Neither did she want to bring her children home to see her drunken father. She prayed that her own husband would face his addiction and improve their life. --- The fourth lady belonged to the Roma ethnic minority and she spent her time in a loving and caring family in a Roma village. She never experienced rejection because of her ethnicity. She said that many of the Roma people, however, live in impossible situations, with no running water or electricity in their homes. Access to school is limited and Roma children are often mocked and excluded. They are not able to obtain a good education, which affects their job prospects and their ability to free their family from poverty.

These testimonies were followed by the gospel passage from (Luke 14: 15 -24) on the banquet to which many had been invited, and the man sent his slave to say to those who were invited; “Come, for everything is ready now.” But those who were invited gave excuses and said they could not come, and they made various excuses.

The second part of the service was devoted to the invitation to the banquet and concentrated on the picture of the banquet prepared for the people who were invited. On the table there were grapes (Slovenia is a wine-producing country), there was a cake in the middle of the table, and there were biscuits made with honey from Carniola bees and the table was decorated with a carnation. These biscuits are often given as gifts, and at weddings, as an expression of love.

Then the question was: "What does the food on the table say to you about God’s invitation: “Come, for everything is ready.”? --- A number of questions were raised about the picture on the front of the booklet which was divided into three sections. In the middle was the table where the banquet was laid out, and above it was the group of ladies invited to the meal. These Slovenian women wore national dress and traditional lace caps and scarves. They were invited to the celebration, but their main focus was getting on with their own lives, and they were not concerned about the poor people beneath, the people who are side-lined, on the edge of society, people unseen, ignored and vulnerable. --- Other questions were put to challenge those present: "Are these poor people the “leftovers” in society?" The ladies were asked which people they would be least likely to invite to a celebration: a homeless person? a drug addict? an alcoholic? someone who had been in prison? and so on. Perhaps it is a warning to us, too, and a reminder that we are all God’s children – that everyone is valued, and God’s kingdom is open to all. The last words in the reflection were “Come, share this feast in the Kingdom of God.”

The final part of the service was an offering of money from all present. The vision of the World Day of Prayer is a vison in which all women can make decisions about their own lives. The offering is one of these signs as it is used to strengthen communities throughout the world by supporting programmes which enables women and children to have a better quality of life. When the offering was taken, four young pupils from the parish school were dressed in Welsh costumes and carried baskets of daffodils. They offered a daffodil to all those who attended. This was something that we learned from the event, namely that when the people of Slovenia receive a gift, they always offer a red carnation to the one who gives it, but as it was the feast of St David, we used the daffodil instead.

By sheer coincidence, as the ladies left the church those who attended the service were invited to go to St Michael’s Centre adjoining the parish church with the words: “Come, everything is ready,” as the ladies of the parish had prepared a meal for all those who attended the service.

Sister Josephine Egan DHS. Published on 9 March 2019.

Filles du Saint-Esprit 15 bd. Sebastopol 35101 Rennes Cedex 2 France

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