World Humanitarian Day, August 19

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day to raise awareness about humanitarian assistance worldwide and to pay tribute to the people who risk their lives to provide it. World Humanitarian Day was commemorated for the first time on 19 August 2009.
World Humanitarian Day falls on the day of the attack on the UN compound in Baghdad on 19 August 2003, which claimed the lives of 22 people including the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Since then, nearly 5,000 humanitarians have been killed, wounded or abducted, and the 2010-2019 decade experienced a 117 per cent increase in attacks compared to 2000-2009.
World Humanitarian Day honours all humanitarians – many working in their own communities – who are going to extraordinary lengths in extraordinary times to help women, men and children whose lives are upended by crises and the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The dedication, perseverance and self-sacrifice of these real-life heroes represent the best of humanity as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis and the massive increase in humanitarian needs it has triggered.
First responders are often people in need themselves – refugees, members of civil-society organizations and local health workers. They bring food, shelter, health care, protection and hope to others amid conflict, displacement, disaster and disease.
But humanitarian workers are being tested like never before, struggling with unprecedented movement restrictions and insufficient resources as needs are outpacing funds.
And all too often, they risk their own lives to save the lives of others.
In recent weeks alone, despicable attacks have killed aid workers in Niger and Cameroon, and since the onset of the pandemic, scores of health workers have come under attack across the world.
According to Humanitarian Outcomes’ Aid Worker Security Database, major attacks against humanitarians last year surpassed all previous years on record. A total of 483 relief workers were attacked, 125 killed, 234 wounded and 124 kidnapped in 277 separate incidents. This is an 18 per cent increase in the number of victims compared to 2018.
A surge in attacks against health workers was recorded in 2019, including strikes against medics in Syria and shootings of Ebola workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Most of the attacks occurred in Syria, followed by South Sudan, DRC, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic. Mali and Yemen both saw a doubling of major attacks from the previous year. The UN condemns these attacks, and it calls for accountability for perpetrators and justice for survivors. Relief workers cannot be a target.
Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said: “To humanitarian workers everywhere doing important, courageous work on the front lines we say Thank You. You are saving lives every day, and as new challenges and crises are piling on to existing ones, your perseverance is an inspiration. Your protection is also paramount to making sure we can deliver to people most in need. The best way to pay tribute to humanitarian workers is by funding their work and ensuring their safety.”
This year’s World Humanitarian Day comes as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic. To pay tribute to the efforts of humanitarians, OCHA and its partners present the personal stories of some of the #RealLifeHeroes who are stepping up to meet the challenges, particularly local humanitarian workers. They include refugees who as health workers are playing essential roles in the pandemic response; Ebola health workers who are stepping in to fight COVID-19; and doctors and nurses who continue to provide critical health care to women and children. Read their inspiring stories here.

Quote: “Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, the bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose hearts could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.” Jean Donovan (David Scott, “December’s Rose Blooms Despite the Cold,” Posted 2009)
Jean Donovan (April 10, 1953 – December 2, 1980) was an American lay missionary who was raped and murdered with three nuns in El Salvador by a military death squad while volunteering to do charity work during that country’s civil war.

Quote: “When we struggle for human rights, for freedom, for dignity, when we feel that it is a ministry of the church to concern itself for those who are hungry, for those who have no schools, for those who are deprived, we are not departing from God’s promise.” Oscar Romero (The Violence of Love)
Oscar Romero (August 15,1917 – March 24, 1980) was a priest of the Catholic Church in El Salvador and became the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador. He was assassinated while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital. In 1997 Pope John Paul II bestowed upon him the title Servant of God.

Loving God, we ask a special blessing on those who answer the call to do your work in some of the most dangerous and violent situations. They risk their lives to give a voice to the vulnerable and to share compassionately in their suffering. Bless, protect, and strengthen all who serve in the struggle for human rights and let us be ever mindful to and stand in solidarity with their loving and steady examples. Amen.
(Source: Catholic Health Association of the US)

Call to Payer
Ecclesiastes 4:1 Again, I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed – with no one to comfort them!
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. – Fred Rogers
Every day humanitarian aid workers help millions of people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are. World Humanitarian Day pays tribute to the men and women who risk their lives in service to others and raises awareness and support for those affected by crises around the world. Scripture tells us there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend (John 15:13). Rejecting the myth of our disconnectedness, they offer their lives in service not for their friends but for strangers. Humanitarians make real God’s love for the world.
For the dawn of peace to dispel the night of war. We pray:
Lord, hear the cry of the poor.
May God protect and keep the tens of millions of refugees of conflict and those who are hostage to war in their countries. We pray:
Lord, hear the cry of the poor.
That decision makers consider it their top priority to enact policies that cherish and safeguard the dignity of all people. We pray:
Lord, hear the cry of the poor.
In gratitude for the helpers, may they be strengthened in their resolve, supported in their vocation and filled with the Spirit of God. We pray:
Lord, hear the cry of the poor.
For those who have died as victims of war, may they know God’s eternal peace. We pray:
Lord, hear the cry of the poor.
(Source: Catholic Health Association of the US)

World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity to celebrate the goodness of so many generous people. It reminds us also of the generosity of ordinary people and of the sacrifices they make to support others. It encourages us not to give up on the human race.
We can also be encouraged by the diversity of the backgrounds and the motivation of people who put themselves out to help and support people who are in need.
We are reminded of how much we have in common with colleagues with whose ideas we may disagree. We find ourselves humbled by their goodness. Many of us who attend rallies for refugees or concerts for sick children find ourselves surrounded by the banners of Christians from different churches, of Buddhists, Muslims, LGBT people, vegans, unionists, lawyers, humanists, and by so many people who march under no particular banner. We are united by a common dedication to humanity.
We are constantly inspired to find that the diversity of our religious background and experience flows into a common passion to accompany people who are vulnerable and into gratitude for the community that we form. That is the highest tribute to the Christian tradition that we have inherited.
Underlying World Humanitarian Day is the conviction that each human being is precious, not because of the groups they belong to, nor because of their race, gender, wealth, good deeds, intelligence and good fortune, but simply because they are human. Because we depend on one another for life and prosperity we recognise that we also have a responsibility for one another to look out for one another, and to ensure that all people are protected by the rule of law and have access to food, shelter, medical care, education and opportunity to contribute to society.
(Source: Fr Andy Hamilton SJ)

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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