Jesus was a refugee.
He had to flee to save his life.
He was a refugee.
Pope Francis, 19 June 2014
Today is World Refugee Day, when the world remembers the innumerable refugees in the world – some who have fled war and violence, others who are fleeing oppression and persecution, some who are trying to get away from the poverty that afflicts them and their daily lives.
I have known a number of refugees when I was in the US – refugees from Poland, Sudan, Ethiopia, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
One Guatemalan lived with me for seven months while awaiting acceptance into Canada. At that time, his chances of getting acceptance as a refugee in the US were nearly impossible – this despite having been imprisoned and maltreated by the Guatemalan military.
I have been recently hearing about the fate of children being held in detention in the United States. They had gone to the US for many reasons, risking their lives in the passage through Mexico.
If you want to get an idea of what this means read Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. Although this was written in 2006, when the journey was not as dangerous as it is today, it gives an idea of the experiences of those who seek to go to the US.
All this points to the need for a real change in US immigration policy. I don’t have any specifics on how to do this, though one might look at what the US Catholic Conference and other religious groups are advocating.
But what strikes me is the reason why today was chosen as world refugee day.
In the Anglican Communion, today is the feast of the first British martyr, St. Alban, who was killed in either the mid-third or the early fourth century.
A Roman citizen living in Britain, he gave refugee to a Christian priest who was being sought by the authorities. He was so moved by the priest that he was baptized.
But soon the authorities came to take away the priest. Alban, though, had changed his clothes with the priest and so was taken, tired, and beheaded.
He had put himself in the place of the refugee priest. He had given his life to protect another person.
St. Alban is an example of what we might do – take in the stranger and offer ourselves to save their lives.