After World War II, there were an unprecedented number of refugees and displaced people.
In response to that, in “Exsul Familia,” Pope Pius XII called the Holy Family the “archetype of every refugee family.”
The family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus had to flee to Egypt because Jesus’ life was in danger because of King Herod, the same way other refugees leave countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and enter neighboring countries. They had to live abroad until Herod died.
In the 2008 pastoral letter, “I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me,” Bishop Anthony B. Taylor wrote, “In the New Testament, Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth at the time Jesus was conceived, but were apparently not citizens of Galilee (“Galilee of the Gentiles”), which would explain why they had
to go to Bethlehem in Judea for the census. They were refugees in Egypt, having crossed the border without the permission of the government which they were fleeing and they eventually settled in Galilee once it became apparent that the new government of King Archelaus in Judea was no better than that of his deceased father, King Herod.
“Throughout the Bible, great emphasis is placed on God’s presence among his immigrant people and that we will be judged on our treatment of the alien in our midst.”
Just imagine how tiring and dangerous the process of traveling at night to another country must have been for the Holy Family.
As hard as that was, we can imagine it is even harder today for refugees to survive. Now in addition to the physical and emotional stress of leaving their homeland, they also have to make sure they have passports and documents to prove their identity and must live sometimes for decades in a foreign land. It is nearly impossible for many of them to find jobs because of their status and language barriers.
One of the most critical places today for refugee centers on Iraq. In 2003, the U.S. led an invasion of the country. While the war is officially over there, there is still a crisis situation. Thousands left Iraq, mainly to Syria and Jordan, and most have no desire to return.
In October, more than half of the 2.5 million people internally displaced in Iraq had yet to return home. About 500,000 of these people live like “squatters in slum areas with no assistance or legal right to the properties they occupy,” according to Refugees International.
If they returned home, they would likely find their homes destroyed, it would be unsafe, and there would be no jobs, education or access to basic services.
While Iraq needs to make plans to assist its own people, the United States also needs to continue its humanitarian efforts in the region. We must reaffirm our commitment to helping Iraqi refugees and displaced persons.
This commentary appeared as an unsigned editorial in the Dec. 24 edition of the Arkansas Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock.