In the middle of the night Joseph shakes Mary into consciousness. “I just had a vivid dream,” he tells her. “I received a warning from a heavenly messenger telling me that we must take our child and flee to Egypt because Herod has evil intentions toward him. Pack nothing but the bare essentials because we must leave here immediately.”
Obediently and without argument, Mary rises and puts a little food and some changes of clothing in a bag. She wraps Jesus in a blanket and holds him close as Joseph helps her mount their donkey. In the chill, dark night Joseph leads them through the back streets of Bethlehem and outside the walls onto the desert trail to the south. They are a refugee family with an uncertain future. They have no human protections, only their trust that God accompanies them on the way.
Such is the plight of thousands of individuals and families throughout the world in this 21st Century. According to the United Nations, more than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Several million people remain displaced because of natural disasters, although updated statistics are not available. More than 15 million of the uprooted are refugees who fled their home countries, while another 27 million are people who remain displaced by conflict within their own homelands -- so-called ‘internally displaced people. Major refugee populations include Palestinians (4.8 million), Afghans (2.9 million), Iraqis (1.8 million), Somalis (700,000), Congolese (456,000), Myanmarese (407,000), Colombians (390,000), Sudanese (370,000).
In addition to refugees who are often forced to flee at a moment’s notice there are millions who migrate in search of employment. Such is the case for many immigrants (whether documented or not) who are in our country today. Through recent Executive Action, President Obama announced the legal steps he can and will take to remedy our country’s broken immigration system thereby helping at least some immigrants come out of the shadows.
We are one family under God, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops declare in this year’s theme for National Migration Week (January 4-10, 2015). Pope Francis outlines the desperation that people face, as did the Holy Family, and how we are called by God to respond with welcome and respect for they are not strangers but rather members of the human family.
“In an age of such vast movements of migration, large numbers of people are leaving their homelands, with a suitcase full of fears and desires, to undertake a hopeful and dangerous trip in search of more humane living conditions. Often, however, such migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in ecclesial communities, prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution. In such cases, suspicion and prejudice conflict with the biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.” Pope Francis
Let us keep refugees and migrants in prayer. Available from the USCCB is this Prayer Card.