For Christians around the world, Advent means anticipation. It’s when we prepare for the coming of Jesus and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Advent reminds us of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem, and what Pope Francis says is our journey to “the horizon of hope.”
But for the millions of refugees and displaced people around the world, it can be difficult to find the hope in their journey. They need our help along the way.
“A lot of work goes into being ready to respond to this kind of crisis,” says Bill O’Keefe, vice president of government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services. “We live in some ways in a state of constant anticipation, in constant preparation for the refugee. We wait for God’s people on the move who, like the Holy Family, find themselves forced to flee to a place where there’s no room in the inn.”
For the Holy Family, the search for a safe place did not end with the birth of Jesus. Just days later, Joseph was warned in a dream to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt because of King Herod’s threat to kill the newborn King.
“They were migrants and spent years living in a foreign land. They fled the political and social conditions in their country,” says Richard Coll, director of Catholic Home Missions, the division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that provides basic pastoral services such as sacraments and baptisms to transient or remote Catholic communities, including migrants.
“Jesus himself experienced the same concerns and the same fears that migrants today fear,” Coll says. “It’s really in our DNA as Catholics to serve these members in very troubled communities.”
Every day, families leave their homes in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, driven by conflict, violence or poverty, and desperately seeking safety. Some spend their life savings or take on massive debt to pay for the journey. Many risk their lives for a new start. Since 2014, more than 15,000 refugees and asylum seekers drowned in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to reach European shores.
One young Syrian woman reached the shores of Greece at 9 months pregnant. Like thousands of others, Zaynab, her husband and their five children embarked on a perilous journey in search of a better future. They hoped to arrive in Germany or Norway in time for the baby’s birth, but as soon as their train pulled into the station in northern Macedonia, Zaynab knew it was time.
Exhausted, and with the early signs of labor, Zaynab was greeted by staff of Caritas Macedonia. Zaynab soon gave birth to a healthy baby girl. They found shelter in a CRS-supported transit camp. CRS and Church partners across the region provide food, clothing, hygiene items, and medical, legal and translation services to families like hers.
Zaynab and her family plan to continue their journey.
“I am constantly thinking about my children and the people on the border,” she says. “The more we stay here, the more anxious we get. Our only concern is to keep moving. We have lived through war. We don’t need much help—we only want to keep moving.”
The response to the refugee crisis, carried out by a compassionate and strong network of Catholic organizations, exemplifies Pope Francis’ reminder of our moral obligation to increase assistance to vulnerable people, old and young, who suddenly find themselves without a home or a room.
“All of us are called by God, by the Holy Father, by our consciences to be that inn, to provide that room, to share that journey, that every day millions of innocent people just like us are forced to take,” O’Keefe says. “Refugees know they have a long way to go. They know it’s going to be a difficult journey—but at least they know there’s someone on their side now.”
Remembering Zaynab and her newborn baby, O’Keefe adds: “I just kept thinking that we helped provide room at the inn.”