Season of Refugees

Holy-Family-Refugees1Outcry was to be expected when Fr. Mike Joncas was filling in for me in September and proposed during one his homilies that we open up our rectory to a couple families of Syrian refugees. The absence of any resistance suggests that no one took his encouragement seriously, viewing it as an idea so preposterous that it wasn’t even worthy of comment.

Well, I’m pretty sure he was serious and the one parishioner who did email about his proposal was very enthusiastic in her support. “Let’s do it!” she said. In response I suggested she’d better be ready to help sell the idea to fellow parishioners. At least some of them, I said, would probably be less than enthusiastic.

Setting aside the reaction or level of support for such a proposal within our community, neither the enthusiastic parishioner nor I could have anticipated what we’d find four months later regarding the flight of women and men, boys and girls from the violent degradation of Syria’s civil war. Their plight is beyond dreadful. We cannot imagine the fear, the hopelessness, the longing that they endure.

Dreadful, however, is also a word to describe the public commentary regarding their circumstance in our country. If Fr. Joncas’ proposal was preposterous back when summer was giving way to fall, how do we assess our collective reaction now as the chill of winter settles in deep? Listening to government officials, political candidates and commentators address this crisis it’s hard to know what’s harder — the frosty landscape or their hearts.

Which is not to say we can, or should, be immediately welcoming anyone, much less everyone, who might have fled Syria or other war-torn nations and are seeking refuge among us. First of all, I’m not sure all that many people would want to move here if they knew what January and February are like, or if they understood the adversity they’d confront. More to the point, those who have spoken on this matter from the national political stage – Congress, the White House, the campaign trail, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, et. al. – speak in sound bites and often half-truths that grossly simplify the options and fail to at least acknowledge the misery of the people supposedly at the heart of the matter.

Suffice it to say this is all terribly complicated, costly in terms of human suffering and financial outlay, possibly dangerous if refugees aren’t screened thoroughly to weed-out potential terrorists. Not all of the refugees who might come here from Syria are terrorists, nor are they all innocent women and children. I’d like to hope that there was so little response to Fr. Joncas’ proposal because we’re all still letting it sink-in, trying to figure out how to make it work, recognizing our need to respond – individually and collectively – but not sure what that means.

We don’t often recognize it as such, but Advent and Christmas are seasons of refugees: Mary and Joseph, and eventually Jesus, propelled by outside powers and threats seeking refuge in strange places and trusting in, it would clearly seem, the goodwill of others. In our Holy Refugees might we realize a vigilance of hope that we might share. A vigilance of hope by which we resist the inclination to judge, reject, mock or ignore; by which we are motivated by fact instead of fear, striving for compassion instead of condemnation. TL



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