‘If a person shuts a door in someone’s face, this is very difficult. When a door is opened they no longer feel humiliated’…. ‘We ask just for a little bit of sympathy from you’.
These are the words of Abdullah Kurdi. Remember him? Maybe not. Newspaper headlines have moved on. Abdullah is the father of Alan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea alongside his mother and brother in the early hours of the 2nd of September 2015. In an attempt to seek refuge for him and his family tragedy struck. A photo of Alan’s lifeless body lying on the beach brought to the fore the plight of those fleeing wars, persecution or simply looking for better opportunities. His tragic death has become one of the most emblematic moments in the contemporary human conscience. It caused a soul searching that still endures today.
Even as you read this blog, that image has probably flashed into your mind and is a constant reminder how important it is to always look at situations like these through God’s eyes and what it says about our humanity. According to the United Nations, in 2020 there were nearly 79.5 million refugees in the world- more than double the 26 million in 1990. A majority of these (80%) are received and welcomed in the poorer parts of the world where they share the little these emerging economies have.
As we celebrate this year of St Joseph it is important to reflect on the plight of those seeking refuge from war, poverty or any other reason.
Although St Joseph never says anything in the stories told about Jesus, we always encounter him on a journey. He is reported either travelling for the census when Jesus is born or journeying to Jerusalem for rite of passage events with his family. Perhaps the most prominent part is when he takes baby Jesus to escape state terror unleashed by King Herod. He flees to Egypt with his family and becomes a refugee in North Africa. This is what Abdullah tried to do. If he had lived in our time St Joseph who is the Patron Saint of Refugees would probably understand the plight of those forced to leave their homes fearing for their lives. He probably would be calling for understanding, tolerance, welcome and help for those fleeing for their lives. St Joseph demonstrated the creative courage to deal with the concrete problems his family faced, problems that Abdullah faced and which many other families in the world, continue to face.
A famous 17th century painting of the ‘Flight to Egypt’ by Adam Elsheimer captures the darkness fear and terror of the journey that St Joseph, Mother Mary, and Baby Jesus endured. The moonlight and the night fire offer light and warmth that many refugees yearn for on their flight. For many refugees, their journeys still feel as terrifying as the Holy family must have felt more than 2 millennia ago. In Egypt they found sanctuary and stayed. As we celebrate St Joseph, let us remember to welcome and receive those seeking sanctuary from terror or want.
Prayer: St Joseph, you have taught us the power of creative courage by taking your family to safety in Egypt when in danger. Give resilience to those seeking refuge so that they may seek safety with the creative courage you demonstrated. Be with them as they cross war zones, high seas, deserts and climb mountain to reach safety. Teach us to feel and share the fears, anxiety, pain, sorrow, difficulties, and uncertainty all those seeking sanctuary experience. Build in us, the compassion and courage to help those fleeing for their lives or in search of better lives. Amen.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us. St Joseph, pray for us.