Article: Room in our heart – no room in our home

Newry Cathedral News

Why is there room in our heart but not in our home for our fellow Europeans in their plight?

The Catholic Church teaches that all people have the right to live a dignified life in their homeland. Tragically, over 45 million people around the world are currently displaced. The recent conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the issue on a European scale. The number of those who have been forced to flee Ukraine is rapidly increasing.

In just a week, over 1 million people have fled the country. It is estimated that millions more could be displaced in the coming weeks.

As we rightly reach into our pockets to make a financial donation, I am sure many of us are thinking – what else could our family, our parish, our community do to respond to the needs of migrants and refugees arriving in our country?

The Government in the Republic of Ireland have pledged to take 20,000 refugees fleeing the crisis in Ukraine and families will be asked to open their homes.

Nearly 2 weeks into the conflict, the Northern Ireland Assembly have not made any offers of practical help by opening our doors.

Priti Patel has received criticism for holding Ukrainian refugees up in Calais over strict immigration laws in the UK at a time when other countries are relaxing theirs.

It makes us wonder that if Jesus was alive today and sought refugee in this part of Ireland, would he be told he could only come if he could pick fruit or maybe be a bricklayer. How short-sighted and lacking in empathy can we be, particularly when countries have accepted Irish emigrants from all parts of the Ireland for years?

In this part of Ireland, we do not have a good record of acceptance of what we deem as ‘outsiders’. Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director at a recent rally in Belfast, said

“The horror of war which Russia is now inflicting on the civilian population of Ukraine is a reminder of the reason so many people are forced to become refugees. Any one of us in this situation would pick up our children and run – and we wouldn’t stop until we felt safe. Ukrainians are already fleeing in numbers, mostly initially to Poland. Many will likely move on. That is their right under international law, and the UN Refugee Convention”.

Patrick Corrigan

The Holy Family, as The Gospel of Matthew recounts the story, was fleeing because of a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’. In the second chapter of Matthew, we read the story of the ‘Flight into Egypt’ in which, after the birth of Jesus and the visit from the Magi, an ‘angel of the Lord’ comes to Joseph in a dream and warns him to leave Bethlehem for Egypt (Mt 2:12-15). Why? Because King Herod was planning to ‘seek out the child to destroy him’. If Jesus was seeking refuge today would he and his family be told, there is ‘no room in our inn’. We need to change this policy and ‘harden not our hearts’ to the plight of our fellow Europeans who are crying out for our help at this time.

As well as addressing the practical question on immediate health and welfare, as Christians we need to respond to the broader challenge of how people of faith can combat the rising tide of racism, xenophobia and nationalist policies that increasingly target vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers.
Maybe then we will be able to welcome our fellow Europeans into our home as well as our hearts.