Holy Family, Refugee Family — By Emily Shull

SHULL-EMILY-62This week we hear the story of the Epiphany in Matthew’s Gospel, but it’s easy to miss the last line of the kings’ journey, “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” The verses that follow tell of a harrowing journey for the Holy Family. Joseph receives word through an angel that they must flee to Egypt to escape King Herod. Although Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do escape in time, Matthew tells us the King “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The Church remembers these children at the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28 each year. There is beautiful reflection titled “Holy Family, Refugee Family” on the Catholic Relief Services website and also accessible through sharejourney.org. Share the Journey is an excellent resource for information and updates on the two-year effort to support migrants and refugees that Pope Francis began in September.

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle explains that the events surrounding the birth of Jesus show the most profound solidarity between God and the people, especially refugee families in our own time. News about the Rohingya crisis or the war in Syria seem distant, but today we ask that you draw close to these brothers and sisters in prayer. We know from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees that half of all refugees worldwide are children. There are millions of innocents still losing their homes, their security, and their very lives today.

This campaign has also highlighted a shocking fact. The average time it takes for a refugee to be resettled is 17 years. The family of Jesus was able to return to Nazareth where Jesus spent his childhood due to the death of King Herod. A modern child would spend his or her entire childhood in limbo, likely in a camp or other temporary housing. In 2016, more than half of school-aged refugee children were not attending school. My own children are 4 and 6, critical ages for language, reading, and math skills, and these numbers have helped these families to remain in my prayers, much as they did last year. My daughter, Cecilia, is in the first grade at an excellent Title I school. I helped with the Halloween party, the first big event, when she was in Kindergarten. At the end, just over one third of her classmates picked up buddy packs for the weekend. That moment changed me. Cecilia and I have since worked at two of the Kids Helping Kids events put on by The Food Bank, which focus on letting kids participate in the vital service of providing weekend meals for area children. Now both of our kids are able to help with the Food Bank program, so we plan to challenge them to raise or contribute half of the cost of one buddy pack for one academic year, $90 (total cost is $180).

Global issues can paralyze us, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The Share the Journey campaign can connect you with donation and advocacy opportunities that are creating real change. If you have children, there are resources for them too. I recommend “Syrian Journey: Choose your own escape route” from BBC News, an online simulation. Refugee by Alan Gratz is listed by scholastic for late elementary and middle schoolers. It splices together the fictional tales of a Jewish family fleeing 1930’s Germany, a family fleeing Cuba in 1994 and a third family fleeing Syria in 2015.

This year, receive the blessing of the Epiphany and allow it to touch other lives through you.