World’s refugees search for room in the inn
The Bible narrative on Joseph and Mary, heavy with child, traveling from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea in order to be registered per the Roman emperor’s decree and searching for a room in the inn for the night, is a figurative foretelling of the world’s drove of refugees’ search for safety in foreign lands.
These refugees travel by foot, boat and all means of transportation available in hopes of finding havens for their families. They fall prey to traffickers, hoodlums and gangs, they lose loved ones to sickness and tragic situations but they push on in blistering heat and extreme cold, suffering hunger, thirst and fatigue because they imagine that life could only be better in distant shores and strange lands. That is, away from their war-torn or poverty-stricken countries, away from the land of their birth.
This Christmas season, the Global Sisters Report (or GSR, for which I occasionally contribute stories about religious sisters and their ministries in the Philippines), a project of the US-based National Catholic Reporter, came out with “Seeking Refuge” an e-book compilation of stories and photographs that brings to sharp focus the plight of refugees. It follows the journeys of asylum seekers, their life in camps, resettlement and integration experiences and even deportation.
And just as important, what are Catholic women religious doing to help? Catholic. Women. Religious. Remember that. They are a special breed of churchwomen. They aid refugees in settlements and camps in Uganda and Jordan; they assist asylum seekers in Europe and the US heartland “find ways to work around increasingly hostile government policies; they restore dignity and a sense of hope to people whose dreams are dashed by deportation.”
GSR puts the stories in context: More than 68 million people had been displaced from their homes because of factors such as war, threats from gangs, natural disasters, and lack of economic opportunities at the end of 2017, the highest number of displaced since the aftermath of World War II. Of those, the United Nations considered 25.4 million to be refugees: people forced to leave their countries because of persecution, war or violence.
GSR adds that since 2002, more than 900,000 refugees from 106 countries have resettled in the United States. (Source: US Department of State Refugee Processing Center, updated Jan. 31, 2017, and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas)
Through the stories of the women religious and the refugees themselves, “Seeking Refuge” gives a name, a human face to the mass of humanity seeking a place they can call home.
GSR points out that Pope Francis has made the care of migrants and refugees a major focus of his papacy, that no religious or political leader has done as much as he has “in calling attention to the moral dimensions of the current refugee dilemma and in reminding the world of our shared obligation to others.”
You may download “Seeking Refuge” from the internet. Read about how the religious sisters’ ministries with refugees light the way forward; Hondurans taking the perilous journey; how other doors open after a resettlement agency in Kansas closes; Burmese refugees fitting in in Indiana without losing their cultural roots; Jordan taking in masses of Syrians but preferring they do not stay; refugee students hoping to chart a future despite their traumatic experiences; how Ugandans, once refugees themselves, welcome South Sudan refugees. And more.
But listen, too, to the lament of Sister Esther Fangman, a Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica in Kansas: “There was a time 40, 50 years ago that the United States was about what we could do for others. That’s not the image that’s being projected today.”
Remember how, decades ago, the Philippines played host to thousands of Vietnamese refugees, most of whom came as “boat people.” Many were able to integrate and decided to stay but many more chose to move elsewhere, to the land of milk and honey of their dreams.
During World War II the Philippines took in Jewish refugees from Europe in danger of being gassed in Nazi concentration camps. A special marker now stands in Israel honoring the Philippines for saving Jewish lives.
May the poor and dispossessed find room in our hearts this Christmas and beyond. Mapayapang Pasko!
Send feedback to [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.