Each year, around the Feast of the Epiphany, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop's Migration and Refugee Services and Justice for Immigrants Campaign, as well as Catholics across the U.S., observe National Migration Week through prayer and action. The first week of the New Year may seem like an odd time pray for migrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking--until we look at the full story of the Magi's visit to the lowly manger.
We are all familar with the Adoration of the Magi: the star in Bethlehem, the exotic and mysterious "three kings" who "travel so far," and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. However, in Matthew, we learn that the magi stopped in Jerusalem at the court of King Herod. Upon learning that the magi are paying homage to the "newborn king of the Jews," (2:2), Herod said to them, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage" (2:8). The Magi, though, were warned in a dream not to tell Herod the whereabouts of the child, and they returned home another way. Herod's desire to learn the whereabouts of Jesus was malintended; he felt threatened by this newborn king's power and had plans to kill him. An Angel warnedJoseph as well about Herod, and "Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt" (2:14). Later, when Herod realized that the Magi were not returning to him, "he ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under" (2:16).
The violence surrounding the story of the Magi is terrifying. We can imagine how scared Joseph was when he awoke from his dream, knowing that his newborn child was in grave danger and that he had to move his family across a border into a foreign land. The distance from Bethlehem to Egypt was 200 miles, and most of the terrain was desert. It was more than a formidable journey into the unknown, but the only alternative was death and sorrow.
The "choice" that many people in countries across the world face today echo that of Joseph's. Extreme violence, war, and famine threaten their lives and the lives of their children. Some are fortunate enough to receive asylum or refugee status from the United States and other wealthier, more stable countries. But for those who aren't, can we blame them for leaving their homes when their children are at risk for being forced into gangs for kidnapped by mafia? Can we see Joseph in the faces of desperate fathers? Can we believe that God is calling them, just as He called Joseph, to leave their homeland and save their children's lives?
Mary and Jesus were fortunate to be able to travel under Joseph's protection and care. This past year, we saw thousands of unaccompanied children making the journey from countries like Honduras and El Salvador all the way to the Texas so that they could join their parents and other family members. We also saw many young mothers with babies arrive at our borders. Would we be able to welcome Mary and Jesus, without any legal status, into our nation and into our communities?
This week, let us pray for all migrants who, like the Holy Family so long ago, are fleeing violence. Let us also pray that we can transform our hearts to welcome the stranger and see the faces of the Holy Family in those who migrate to our country--with or without papers :
LOVING FATHER, remembering that the Holy Family fled violence and lived for a time as refugees,we ask that you protect all refugee families fleeingpersecution,and provide them a place of safety and comfort.
For children who are making perilous journeys,often alone and without the protection of loved ones,we ask that you reunite them with their familiesand protect them from violence on the journey.
For all migrants,that they not feel compelled to migratebut have opportunities in their homelandwhere they can thrive and live fully human lives.
Open our hearts so that we may provide hospitalityfor those who come in search of refuge.through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of theHoly Spirit,one God, forever and ever. Amen.
--Prayer for 2015 National Migration Week, USCCB