It is 13 years today since Madeleine McCann was abducted. Every week since then, Madeleine and the family and all missing children have been in our parish newsletter prayer box. The pain doesn’t lessen. In her book, Kate writes that when she wakes up every morning her first thought is of Madeleine. When I read that sentence I could not go on reading. I knew in that moment what a two-edged sword is and I could not go on. Every morning. First thought. Thirteen years.
Will there ever be an answer that we understand? I long ago lost trust in the glib spiritual writers who assure us that God is always answering our prayer. Where? How? I hope I’ve never falsely reassured people. All that pain, all those years, for Kate and Gerry and the family and friends. All those families who have known the similar horror of losing their children. It is right to ask where God is.
At the age of nine I knelt in our crowded parish church at the end of World War II in Europe. We were there to thank God for victory. I couldn’t share the prayer. For six years that war had raged, the suffering had been terrible, the agony of invasion and conquest and concentration camps (I was old enough to read and understand the newspapers), the extermination of the Jews, the hatreds, and now we were in church to say thank you.
No, God, I said. I’m not blaming you for the war but I’m not thanking you for victory. In Germany, there are Catholic boys my age who won’t be in church thanking you for victory. What prayer do you expect from us? Are we tribes or a church?
I love God. But I don’t play prayer games. I want to be honest with God. God doesn’t answer prayer in the way that we understand answering. Since nine I’ve known that.
We pray with Gerry and Kate and everyone in whatever agony. Over the page are their prayer for you to share sadly, angrily, confusedly, smoothly, unthinkingly, faithfully. The second prayer is by William Wilberforce, composed in the Wanlip village church, just a few miles from here, as part of his preparation to challenge the slave trade in parliament. The McCann family and friends have made it their prayer when they gather on the 3rd May to remember Madeleine and all missing children. Would you like to join them at 7.00 pm this evening? God will be there, as at the crucifixion, helpless against the evil now as then. We wonder, but trust and believe.
God bless the broken-hearted, every one,
(3rd May 2020)
ANNIVERSARY UNION OF PRAYER
FOR THE THOUSANDS OF CHILDREN
WHO GO MISSING EVERY YEAR
God, our Father,
your Son, Jesus Christ, as a child
was lost in the chaos of a great city
and was restored to the love of his family;
watch over all of the children now missing,
for whom we pray
and protect them with your love.
Be near to those who are anxious for them;
let your presence change
their sorrow into comfort,
their anxiety into trust,
their despair into faith,
that they may know your loving purposes.
And this we ask
in the name of Jesus, Our Lord,
who loves and lives
and cares for all your children.
THE ROTHLEY PRAYER
Almighty God, who through Jesus Christ
and the Holy Spirit has proclaimed freedom
for prisoners and release for the oppressed,
comfort and liberate those,
especially young children, who have been taken
away from their families against their will.
Give courage to grieving families
and help us to continue the historic tradition of
this village to combat the exploitation
of any person by another. Amen