By Andrea Vogt, Operation Mercy International Director
In a week’s time, on December 13th, we will celebrate St. Lucia here in Sweden, where Operation Mercy’s head office is. Let us look a little bit closer at what this young woman stood for and what links us in Operation Mercy to her and the holiday.
St Lucia Day is the opposite of another Swedish holiday “Midsummer”, which is the longest day in the calendar on 20st of June. In parts of Sweden the sun does not set on this night.
St Lucia Day is close to the darkest day in the year. There are places where the sun does not rise during this day. It seems like Darkness has won, BUT Lucia carries light into dark rooms and declares something different: Light will always overcome Darkness, there will be light and hope again!
Let us look more closely at Lucia herself (1):
The legend tells us that Lucia was a young woman who faced many difficulties despite her relative wealthy upbringing.
There are many things that link her to the people in our Operation Mercy projects:
- Lucia was born in 283AD. Her father died when she was only five years old, leaving her and her mother without protection and powerless in the culture back then, like in many of our cultures today.
- Her mother suffered from a bleeding disorder. This may have been a female health issue, and it brought shame and hopelessness to the family.
- As a result, her mother tried to find security in Lucia’s marriage. Lucia faced an arranged marriage at a young age – like many girls and women in Central Asia, the Middle east, and North Africa today.
- It also seems that Lucia had a visual impairment or blindness. This part of the story is unclear. Some people say that she took out her own eyes because they were too beautiful, and she did not want to attract unwanted attention from men. Other stories say that she was tortured and had her eyes taken out as part of that. It may be more likely that she had an impairment or suffered from cataracts.
Lucia had something else in common with us in Operation Mercy, she had FAITH and COMPASSION. Instead of giving into marriage, she prayed for healing for her mother, and when God answered her prayer, she gave her wedding dowry, the money that her husband’s family would have gotten from her father’s inheritance, to the poor.
Through her life of hardship, faith, and compassion, Lucia was a light-bringer, and a hope-bringer. She brought hope and light into other people’s lives - her mother’s, the poor around her, and people she became an example and role model for.
Today we celebrate Lucia day by young women and girls dressed up as Lucia, carrying lights in their hands and on their heads on one of the darkest days in the year.
Light stands for hope, for goodness, and for new beginnings after times of suffering.
The Persian philosopher Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi (1155–91) wrote:
"God’s essence is the original creative Light, always illuminating existence. … God’s Essential Light radiates the whole cosmos in abundant beauty and completeness. To be illuminated by this process means nothing less than salvation."(2)
Salvation means rescue, being saved out of darkness, hopelessness, and poverty as well as the restrictions of our own lives - our wrongdoings, mistakes, injustices and corruptions committed by us or against us.
Another great quote on this theme of light and salvation we find in the holy scriptures:
Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”(3)
We all long for light and salvation. Lucia is a symbol of that longing, but also of the hope we have.
During the next week, on our social media platforms, we will explore this theme of light over darkness and the Hope we want to restore in the deepest night of our lives -through the eyes and stories of different people in and around Operation Mercy.
Join us on our journey towards Lucia day – on our journey towards the LIGHT.