Fr. Ambrose Pinto
Jesus was born to a poor peasant woman in an occupied country in an animal stall. At the time of his birth he was homeless, friendless with only a mother and a foster father to care for. There was nobody else around when the birth took place. The birth was away from his home of Nazareth in Bethlehem due to a decree for census by the King. His parents had to flee their country and accept the status of a refugee in a far away land for no fault of theirs.
It was a long and threatening travel for a pregnant woman on the most uncomfortable form of transport available with Joseph as the protector. When one is a refugee, one cannot choose the mode of transport. One has to accept whatever is available. To be a refugee means to be ripped from one’s homeland without the hope of returning with very little resources at one’s disposal with a number of other challenges that put lives at risk. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) defines a refugee as someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.
A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so while there is fear of non-acceptance in the country they have fled. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. By fleeing from his country to be born as a refugee Jesus identified himself with over 60 million people around the globe who have been currently forced to leave their homes to escape war, violence and persecution.
He was a displaced person at birth and the reason for his refugee status was political.
Jesus was an Asylum Seeker
Once his birth was over, his life continued to be under threat. From a refugee Jesus turns into an asylum seeker.
The family cannot return to the place of their origin. His parents were forced to flee to the safer shores of Egypt because of the threat to the life of Jesus by Herod Antipas. He was king and he was an insecure king. An insecure king due to insecurity acts irrationally.
Herod killed all the baby boys, hoping to kill Jesus, in what our tradition calls the “Massacre of the Innocents,” which is too often how political powers reacts when they are threatened. Jesus, Mary and Joseph become asylum seekers when they flee to Egypt. They had no travel documents. They had to cross the border, looking for safety. They were strangers in a foreign land. An Asylum seeker or a family of asylum seekers experience severe physical and psychological consequences. They do not know what awaits there. There are problems of nutrition and sanitation placing them at risk of malnourishment. The journey to Egypt may have had effects on their physical wellbeing through the extremes of temperatures, length of the journey, and stress of moving to another country. Socially the family must have suffered due to the loss of family and friends’ support, social isolation, culture shock, uncertainty, racism, hostility from the local population, housing difficulties, poverty and loss of choice and control. The most common physical health problems affecting asylum seekers include surveillance and any person who settles in another place is watched. By fleeing to secure his life Jesus soon after his birth identifies with the asylum-seekers, the migrants, the least, the last, and the lost. He did not have the rights of a citizen and he was one with each and every asylum-seeker in the world
Message of Christmas
Why do people become refugees and asylum seekers? It is simply because exclusion, persecution and rejection have become the norms of humanity due to power, authority and wealth. The increasing number of refugees and asylum seekers is an indication that the world has decided to keep God aside instead living as members of one human family.
Christmas reminds us that God by becoming a refugee and asylum seeker had translated his love for the excluded. Christmas therefore is not a feast of “superficialities” and “false” images as found on Christmas cards and songs of “a little helpless baby” whose mother travelled on a “cute donkey” to a stable “stuffed full of cuddly animals”. It is the time of the year urging us to do something positive for the increasing number of migrants, displaced, asylum seekers and the excluded. For love to be real, it is not the thought that counts but what we do about it. The fact is that all Christians owe their salvation to a refugee who is also an asylum seeker. The next time we hear of a refugee, asylum seeker, migrant or any undocumented person, stop a moment and think of the refugee, asylum seeker and remember we never know when the person we are looking at is Christ in one of his disguise.