A displaced person’s prayer

A displaced person’s prayer

The other day to a female associate of mine (which is modern speak for my wife) who remarked to me that she had a clear recollection of a prayer used in her Dublin convent school in the early 1950s, she thinks about 1953, which the diocese had asked to be used in both schools and churches.

The idea of such a prayer seemed so appropriate, so very much of the present moment in this country, I thought it ought to be looked out and revived.

The term ‘displaced person’ came into use to describe those many, many thousands of people whose lives were disrupted, by World War II, which involved extensive aerial bombardments of cities and railway junctions and bridges across Northern Europe from Rennes to Berlin.


Some were people made homeless in their own countries, but mostly they were people from Eastern Europe. They fled not just the actual fighting between 1939 and 1945, but also the advance of the Russian army across Eastern Europe, which promised not so much liberation and enslavement, and which led to the creation of the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ and the establishment of Communist regimes in eastern European monarchies and democracies.

(The term ‘iron curtain’, while not his creation, was popularised by Winston Churchill in a speech at Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946. But this Communist dominion was an outcome of the talks he and President Roosevelt had with Stalin at Yalta in early February 1945.)

Ireland accepted many displaced persons at that time, especially those who could establish a connection with Ireland. The term passed out of use after the Hungarian Revolt in the autumn of 1956 – which also brought refugees to Ireland, many, but not all, hoping like the Jews earlier to pass on to the USA.

Our own national history depended on millions of Irish people finding refuge and new lives in the USA, Canada, Argentina, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. We were not always welcome in these places, especially in the USA and Australia. They too saw themselves as ‘full up’.

It ill behoves us now, in our new but lasting prosperity to reject those who have come here hoping for aid and shelter.

In any case Patrick Pearse, in his vision of the Ireland of the future before 1916, thought that Ireland would not be complete till it once again was home to eight million people, the population before the Famine.

He, of course, envisaged for them lives of frugal comfort on small farm holdings of few acres – but then Pearse was a poet and not an economist.

The idea of an Irish prayer from the past for the kind problem now facing us interested me greatly. But a search turned up nothing. The Catholic papers back then seemed not to mention it; research continues. But in the interval here is a suitable prayer current among the world wide Jesuit community. The prayer speaks for itself:

Strangers in a Foreign Land

Lord God, help us to remember those who tonight will go to sleep unfed and unwelcome,
strangers in foreign lands, people who have fled for their lives and are far from their homes.
We lift up to you those who are escaping persecution and conflict, having fled death, torture or ruthless exploitation.
So many carry wounds, mental and physical. So many have suffered greatly.
Lord Jesus, give us more of your compassion for their plight, soften our hearts to their situation,
and help us follow your lead in seeking justice and mercy on their behalf.
We pray for an end to the wars, poverty and human rights abuses that drive desperate people to become refugees in the first place.

We give thanks for people working in troubled countries and ask for more of
your blessing so we can bring life, dignity and hope to those that remain.
We thank you that you are Lord of all the earth and all its people are loved by you.
We pray these things in the name of your Son who was himself born into the troubled life of a refugee.

– Author Unknown (abstracted from Jesuitresource.org)

As a footnote I might add that readers should read Flannery O’Connor’s short novel in her 1955 collection A Good Man is Hard to Find (Faber and Faber, €14.00). Miss Flannery is regarded as one of the most distinguished Catholic writers in the USA.

The story is entitled ‘The Displaced Person’ and in her own personal manner O’Connor explores the whole experience of being a displaced person, as the central character in the tale is.

Strangely the author considered the tale a failure, but that was by her own exceptional standards, which involved not merely literary qualities, but also theological concepts as worked out in a small town in the American south (she lived much of her adult life in Milledgeville, Baldwin Co., Georgia).


The gothic qualities so characteristic of Southern life and literature are also reflected in her work – for the South has been a morally challenged region since the earliest days of its history.

Here the Polish refugee Guizac is brought to the town by a Catholic priest at the request of a local farm owner to work on her holding. He is eventually killed as the outcome of the fears and resentments of the local people.

It suggests bleakly that displacement can end for a refugee, far from the war torn country that he comes from due to a failure of acceptance. It suggests a bleak view of life which Irish people would home is not ours.