GROUNDBREAKING NEW BOOK SHATTERS THE NEGATIVE OPINION ABOUT REFUGEES
The real story of the displaced lies far from the truth.
In early September 2017 the groundbreaking new book by first-time author Patricia Keane was launched in the magnificent Choir Chapel in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth by Bishop Denis Nulty of the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin. The book is called Journey of Ten Thousand Smiles and recounts the gripping true-life story of Kildare woman Patricia Keane, who in the 1990s courageously ventured on a mission of mercy to the war-ravaged land of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where she became involved in the horrendous plight of the forgotten, traumatised and unwanted refugee victims from the 1992-95 conflict there. Against all the odds she helped rebuild their shattered lives and broken homes (through her work with the Irish charity Rebuild for Bosnia), crossed the religious divide of hate, and in so doing found her redemption.
Introduction to The World of Displaced People
Patricia Keane’s deep connection and immersion into the lives of the internally displaced people of Bosnia-Herzegovina began in 1998 after she made a pilgrimage to Medjugorje, when at that time she was in a difficult personal space, which she openly and poignantly recalls in her book. Patricia went looking for a miracle, and within moments of entering a pew in the church of St. James, she had an encounter with Jesus, which was to change her life forever.
A year later Patricia went back to Medjugorje on pilgrimage again, and on that trip, she visited a refugee family originally from an area two hours north of the city of Mostar that had been ethnically cleansed of 10,000 Croat people in 1993. Having watched the conflict on television for three years, she fully grasped the deprivation and suffering of the different ethnic groups. On meeting a displaced family her interest in the plight of the displaced people piqued once again.
Ethnic Cleansing and Forced Displacement
"Listening to their story of ethnic cleansing and forced displacement has a huge impact on the listener. News reports and images of a city on fire allows the viewer to see what’s happening, but the real-life story is horrifying to hear. You are sitting next to the person who is recalling the experience of living in their comfortable alpine home overlooking freshwater lakes one day, hoping that their moment of cleansing isn’t going to happen. A few hours later they are frantically throwing a few belongings into a pillowcase and running for their lives. As once they step outside their comfortable home, they are delivered by an act of evil to a place of misery, insecurity, fear, vulnerability and displacement. In the days that follow they are branded and stigmatised as refugees, and the hard reality of being permanently exiled from their homes, community, school and place of worship begins to take a grip on their anguished minds. As first-time refugees, they don’t realise that they’ve been condemned to a minimum 10 - 20 years of displacement. Through personal experience, they learn that 5% of their vulnerable little children between the ages of 5 – 14 years of age will end up working as child labourers in prisoner-of-war camps, while many men and women endure the worst brutality of all - rape,” the author explained in a radio interview recently.
The First Homes
In November 1999 Patricia returned to Medjugorje with the proceeds from a concert with singer Charlie Landsborough, organised by Author, Heather Parsons. The money was used to build two houses. That was the start of 76 trips to Medjugorje and fourteen years of rebuilding the homes and lives of a couple of thousand people from all ethnicities throughout Bosnia Herzegovina. The most amazing aspect of Patricia's journey with the displaced families is while she was helping to rebuild their lives and restoring dignity, they were also rebuilding hers. During her time with the displaced, she witnessed the repugnance towards them, and she developed a deep understanding of what it’s like to be a refugee in the 21st century.
Launching the book, Bishop Denis Nulty said: “Journey Of Ten Thousand Smiles, is uniquely told and masterfully written”. Describing how he had become consumed with the story of a real-life character named Vesna, he felt consumed by her strength as she lived through tremendous and horrible suffering and still held onto her faith and continued to pray Jesus I trust in you. “I think once you start the journey with this book, a journey that begins in Suncroft in South County Kildare and ends in Mostar and Medjugorje, you won’t stop off that Journey Of Ten Thousand Smiles,” he said.
In the book, Patricia Keane takes the reader on a pilgrimage and spiritual journey with several families from three different ethnic backgrounds and locations in Bosnia Herzegovina. Their heart-rending, compelling and enthralling stories bring alive the horrors of the reality of their permanent displacement, the loss of family members and their ongoing search for them. On the journey, you meet two courageous sisters whose belief in God and the Blessed Virgin is exemplary. They spent time in a prisoner-of-war camp, and on their release, nine months later, discover that their old familiar world has gone and everyone with it. The only thing they have left is their faith. She takes you through the sinuous pathways in refugee camps with the new poor and disabled, and you wonder how any person can endure such living conditions, but despite their circumstances, they meet daily to recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet propped up against walls. You meet Anjela, a delightful young Muslim girl who at 16-years-old was raped by a young boy from another ethnicity and conceives a child. Her faith and upbringing compel her not to abort her child, and through extraordinary moments of grace and encounters she keeps her baby and with the help of a Croat family in Zagreb she brings him up and converts to Catholicism.
“It’s an emotional book”, says Patricia “that provides the reader with a deep insight into the resilient spirit and deep faith of the refugee people from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their spirits are formidable, and despite being to hell and back, they never stop hoping and believing that one day God will hear their prayers and cries for help and deliver them from their miserable plight.”