Reflecting on the plight of Jesus and his family as they escaped from the hands of Herod and thus became refugees in Egypt, Columban Lay Missionary Nathalie Marytsch asks how many more harrowing images of people risking their lives to escape war torn countries do we need to see before we put an end to this terrible suffering.

A Nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church depicts Jesus, Mary and Joseph as refugees in cages.(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Last Christmas, I came across on Facebook this picture that depicts each member of the nativity scene imprisoned each in a different cage; Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.  It is the image from a Methodist church in California, U.S, that resembles the separation of migrant families from Central America who seek sanctuary in the U.S from one another. Thousands of children, including babies and toddlers, have been torn apart from their parents or guardians upon arriving on US soil.  The reason for that is that they have entered the country illegally! The Trump administration alone, and the American Civil Liberties Union said in October 2019 they had separated more than 5,400 children since July 2017.

The tradition of the Church has accustomed believers to seeing the sanitised image of Jesus born in a manger and of a loving and pure Mary alongside the faithful Joseph. More often than not, one hears in sermons of the model family to which contemporary families should aspire. Seeing this image of caged Joseph, Mary and Jesus reminded me of the plight of that same family as they escaped from the hands of Herod and thus became refugees in Egypt. They did not have any paperwork to prove who they were or from whom they had escaped, probably because that did not exist in Societies around the year 4B. They wouldn’t have had the ‘evidence’ – often the term used by immigration officers- to prove their case.

It has become almost the norm in the twenty-first century to learn of the suffering of migrants, young and old, searching for safety and perhaps for a better life.  We have seen in the media disturbing images of thousands of people risking their lives on dingy boats across the Mediterranean Sea. We have seen thousands of people walking across continental Europe fleeing war-torn countries. The image of the  Syrian child dead on the shores of the Mediterranean in 2015 or the  image of the little Honduran girl wrapped under the arm of her father on the shores of the Rio Grande on the Borderlands in 2019 are all true stories. Most recently, we heard news relating to 4 members of a Kurdish-Iranian family ,2 adults and 2 children who had lost their lives while attempting to cross the English Channel in a small boat. A toddler from the same family is still missing. Stories of human beings created in the image of a Loving God.  I wonder how many more images we need to see, how many more stories we need to hear in order to put an end to this suffering.

Today, many countries are preoccupied with drawing policies to exclude people from their borders. Often managing systems to ensure that only a certain ‘elite’ can enter the territory and control who, how and when a migrant can be of interest to Society.  I wonder which immigration category Jesus and his family would have fitted in or whether they would have experienced imprisonment if they happened to escape to the Borderlands or fortress Europe.

Pope Francis has often spoken about the globalization of indifference in which we are more concerned with living safely in our own bubbles than about what happens to our brothers and sisters in Christ, or our vulnerable planet.  Individuals, like governments, often build walls of their own to keep people away from others. It is sometimes easier to build barriers and defences than to reveal our weaknesses; because that shows that we, too, are vulnerable. Therefore, we are continually invited to deepen our faith and seek God among us, among the strangers who surround us and the stranger within us.

Let us pray

18th December is a United Nations day which recognises the rights of migrants throughout the world. Let us pray for migrants and those that strive to support and protect them.

Lord hear our prayer