In the movie, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, characters who are outlaws are protected from the authorities as long as they stay in the church. They claim “sanctuary.”
Sanctuary is defined as “the most sacred part of a religious building” and “a place of refuge and protection.”
When Esmeralda, the gypsy woman who upsets the authorities, is trapped in the sanctuary, she gazes up at a statue of Mary and Jesus and begins to sing, “God Help the Outcasts.”
“I don’t know if you can hear me,
or if you’re even there.
I don’t know if you would listen
to a gypsy’s prayer.
Yes I know I’m just an outcast,
I shouldn’t speak to you.
Still I see your face and wonder
were you once an outcast, too?”
While sanctuary is usually defined as a physical place, it can be a person, too.
The best sanctuary is someone who loves you despite your mistakes — someone who has been where you are and doesn’t think they are better than you or tear you down for what you’ve done wrong.
The song touches on how God is a sanctuary for us. “Were you once an outcast, too?”
I think the moments we are closest to God — both close to His presence and the most similar to His character — are when we have a chance to condemn someone and we choose not to.
When someone comes to us and confesses terrible things they have done because they can’t hold it in any longer. When, in that moment, we meet that fear in their eyes with love in our own. And God smiles at their relief and the restoration that comes from unconditional love.
After all, “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”