The nativity scenes across churches and homes this Christmas season inspires love and hope. But for those who follow the international news, it is hard not to think about the millions of people from that same manger land who are seeking refuge from terror and oppression now 2,000 years later.
This morning news of tens of thousands of Syrian persons seeking fleeing to Turkey after Russian backed militias started attacking the Idlib region, in a civil war which now is going on for over eight and a half years set me think.
Where will they go? Who will give them shelter? Will they survive?
A number of articles in the past, especially around 2015, focused on the fact that Christmas is a seasonally appropriate story about middle-eastern people seeking refuge being turned away by the heartless, the rich and the comfortable through the inherent trait of indifference.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis warned against the “culture of indifference”. In 2015 he said “usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold”. He went on warning that this is a ‘globalised’ phenomena which four years later we’re seeing entrenched in political discourse and enacted in laws.
Today, as back then, Westerners are, by and large, keeping refugees at bay, bargaining their quotas down, as if the world’s 2.2 billion Christians had never been taught the story of Joseph and Mary being refused accommodation because they were poor strangers. Some are asked to leave their new homes because of technicalities. Others are kept at bay because of ‘international legalities’.
Earlier this month, in Malta we read about agroup of non-EU families residing in Malta have been told by Identity Malta they can no longer keep their children here, since they do not have enough money to sustain them.
Just before Christmas, letters refusing the residence permits of 22 children as young as two years old, were sent, to assert that as of the date of receipt of these letters, the minors would be in Malta illegally. According to the agency, their parents do not satisfy the financial requirements of a policy, which requires third country nationals to earn €19,000 a year, as well as €3,800 extra for each child. The figures do not include bonuses or overtime.
The reality as Time explains is that the Christmas story is not about a refugee family, but it is about a family seeking refuge. His parents had traveled a great distance from one jurisdiction to another in obedienc
Exhausted from a long day’s journey, they sought lodging but were turned away, so they took shelter in a stable. (Los Angeles Times) Ordered by an occupying government to travel by foot for days on end so that Caesar Augustus could count the number of people under his order, an expectant mother at the peak of her pregnancy is forced to undergo the single most dangerous experience of a first-century woman’s life not at home, but away in a manger. (Time 2015)
It was a fiercely political environment through which they wandered. The parents, then like today, where responding to a political mandate they did not fully understand. Why should we pretend like it wasn’t?
The Christmas story should open our eyes and our hearts to those most vulnerable in our midst. To those who the guiding star is the hope to travel by foot and inflatable raft for days in search of a livable life, which replaced the donkey, and many of whom look very much like the Middle Eastern Mary, Jesus’ mother.
We shall not be indifferent for mothers who embark on journeys with their children in challenging weather conditions, and for who risk their lives trying to swim to shore, for children who have no choice but to follow their parents in chasing a future—any future, anywhere.
An article published on Quartz (2015) explains that these people are the real-life versions of the icons that Christians have come to associate with the passion of god as a human.
Let us recognize them as people, human beings. Let us acknowledge, once and for all, that being a refugee—of war, poverty, or discrimination—is a sheer function of luck, and we did nothing to deserve our better fate. Whenever and wherever humanity is suffering, we are involved, and the responsibility to offer refuge is ours until the least of us have shelter.
Jesus tells us to be kind, invites us to welcome the stranger, help and feed the hungry, to go and sell all possessions and give the money to the poor. Above all Jesus asks that we treat people, and all of humanity with the same love, kindness and generosity that he expressed throughout his life.
The Christmas story reminds us of a family struggling under oppressive regime and turbulent political times.
“We are also called to welcome the strangers of our time. To open our hearts and our doors to those seeking refuge this Christmas season, whatever their religion, colour or origin.”
Additional research – Quartz / Time / Telegraph / Reuters / Los Angeles Times / Times of Malta / Vatican News