Pope Francis has invited all people to reflect on the important work of building peace. In this month’s Contemplations on Peace & Justice, Fr. David Poirier, SA, Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Promoter (JPIC) for the Friars of the Atonement offers an ecumenical perspective on American politics.

Learn more about Fr. David Poirier, SA here.

An Ecumenical Perspective on US Politics

Recently Pope Francis declared a year of celebration in honor of Saint Joseph, whose feast day we celebrate this month on the 19th. Joseph is a saint about whom little more than nothing is actually known from scripture. In the Gospels he is presented as the spouse of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and acts upon the dreams that God sends him, like his namesake in Genesis. The Gospels tell us that he was descended from David, a man of virtue, a carpenter; he was tempted to divorce Mary quietly when she was found to be with a child he knew was not his own; he took her with him to Bethlehem to be recorded in the great census; with Mary he took the child Jesus to be redeemed in the temple, fled with them into Egypt to escape Herod (the Great’s) murderous intentions toward the ‘newborn King of the Jews,’ and returned from Egypt when an angel in his dream told him that Herod was dead. Beyond that a little can be gleaned from apocryphal sources, but the Scriptures are otherwise mute on the subject.

When on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family, of which St. Joseph forms a part, we annually read the gospel passage that recounts what is commonly called the Flight into Egypt including their return some years later upon Herod’s demise. I wonder if the majority of Christians actually listen to the recounting of the event. In a period of history that has seen the number of refugees rise to almost eighty million (one percent of earth’s entire population or one in every ten people alive today) it seems to go completely over our heads that this Holy Family of ours was a family of refugees.

Let me repeat that: Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees. They were fleeing from a credible threat of violence by the political authorities of their homeland with the desire and intention of returning to their native place as soon as it was safe for them to do so. As it turned out, returning to Judea wasn’t quite as safe as they had thought because Herod’s son, Herod Archelaus, was in power there, so they went to Galilee instead having a connection to that region by virtue of being former residents of Nazareth.

Of course it isn’t only Catholics who know and retell the story of the Flight into Egypt, all Christians know the story. They are so familiar with it that they can probably recite the basic facts of the tale from memory. Sadly, in this instance too, familiarity breeds contempt. Knowing full well that the Holy Family were refugees we somehow fail to let that word, refugees, pass our lips or even invade our thoughts. Knowing full well that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees we fail to recognize them in the persons of those millions of refugees on our doorstep hoping for a safe haven from their persecutors.

It is all too common today to think of refugees as failed people, folks who couldn’t succeed at life in their native place. In spite of our basic knowledge of the fact that persons become refugees as a result of the machinations of greedy men and women, of power-hungry men and women, of fanatical men and women, of racist men and women, of ultra-nationalist men and women, of evil men and women. We view the victims of such evil as somehow unworthy of our notice, eager to appropriate our riches for themselves. It is disgraceful that we have allowed greedy, power-hungry, fanatically racist and ultra-nationalist politicians to convince us that refugees are failed humans, the lowest on earth, criminals simply by nature of their being refugees.

Convinced of our own superiority we find it difficult to credit the notion that even in their desperate state refugees have something to offer. Culture, poetry, arcane skills, cuisine, music, literature, gratitude, honor, the willingness to work, and a desire somehow to repay their deliverers are all gifts that refugees can offer us if only we would open our ears and our hearts (not to mention our minds) to receive them.

Saint Joseph, Holy Refugee, pray for us.