When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2: 13 – 15)
Jesus was a refugee. Related to the above quote from Scriptures, one must reference the footnotes also. These were in the New American Bible. The traditional place of refuge for those fleeing from danger in Palestine was Egypt. (See 1 Kgs 11:40; Jer 26:21). The footnotes suggest that the child Jesus went Egypt to relive Israel’s Exodus experience.
Jesus the Refugee recreates the experience of his people who were refugees escaping a land of persecution. It is a timeless tragedy replayed throughout all history. And it is being retold right now.
Catholic Relief Services reports in July alone, Europe received more than 107,000 new arrivals. A majority of them have moved through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. More than 80% are fleeing war-torn Syria for the European Union, where they’re seeking safety and a better life. Pope Francis appealed to every single Catholic parish and community across Europe to respond to the crisis. He asked that each house at least one of the tens of thousands of refugee families risking death to migrate to the continent from the Middle East. And he has committed the Vatican to house two families. (source)
“In front of the tragedy of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping death by war or hunger, on the path towards the hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be ‘neighbors’ of the smallest and most abandoned,” The Holy Father said during his Sunday Angelus. Christians, the pope said, must give the refugees “a concrete hope. Not only to say: ‘Courage, patience!'” Christian hope, he said, “is combative, with the tenacity of someone going towards a sure goal.”
The US Bishops have long reminded us of our moral and scriptural responsibilities:
- “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9).
- “You shall treat the stranger who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you, have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lv 19:33-34).
- The Torah made special provisions for immigrants with the reminder that “you too were once slaves in Egypt” (Dt 16:9-12):
- “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithes of your produce for that year and deposit them in community stores, that the Levite who has no share in the heritage with you, and also the alien, the orphan and the widow who belong to your community, may come and eat their fill; so that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all that you undertake” (Dt 14:28-29).
- “For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him. So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Dt 10:17-19).
And Christ, once the refugee, proclaimed prophetically, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
The Second Vatican Council likewise called on the national bishops’ conferences to pay special attention to those who “are not adequately cared for by the ordinary pastoral ministry of the parochial clergy or are entirely deprived of it,” including “the many migrants, exiles and refugees,” and to devise solutions for them (Christus Dominus, no. 18). This call was endorsed by Pope Paul VI in approving a revision of church norms regarding pastoral care for immigrants. His Instruction on the Pastoral Care of People Who Migrate affirmed that “migrating people carry with them their own mentality, their own language, their own culture, and their own religion. All of these things are parts of a certain spiritual heritage of opinions, traditions and culture which will perdure outside the homeland. Let it be prized highly everywhere” (no. 11).
This moment is quickly moving from the theological and the theoretical to hard practical choices. National Public Radio’s Eleanor Beardsley has reported from Hungary. There, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government halted refugees from leaving the train station in Budapest, only to later relent. It seems that the massive migrant crisis is “exposing an ugly underside” in the European Union. (Of course, all this is more muddled for Catholics in the United States. Here, we have a presidential campaign TRUMPeting the call for a wall along our own borders and devaluing some of our own new neighbors.)
This is a profound moment for our Church and for us as Christians. Christ the Refugee is hungry. Will you offer Christ the Syrian Muslim food? Christ is found on the peripheries of your borders and is thirsty. Will you welcome him into your neighborhoods and homes and offer him a drink? Christ is the undocumented stranger. Will you welcomed him?