The Vicar writes...
The heartbreaking image of a police officer carrying the lifeless body of a little Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkish holiday beach some weeks ago has brought home to many of us the very real horror of the conflict in the Middle East and the desperate plight of those who are fleeing from it.
The little three year old, Aylan, his five year old brother and his mother lost their lives as the family attempted to cross the sea to Greece in a small dinghy. They had fled the fighting between Islamic State and Kurdish militia in their home town of Kobani, Syria. They had hoped to settle in Canada with other members of their family there.
Little Aylan was not a threat to anyone. He is one of tens of thousands of desperate people who have lost their lives to the sea and at the hands of people traffickers. His death has led many in the West to call for a much more generous response to the refugee crisis facing Europe and the Middle East.
St Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the Holy Family had to flee from their home and settled as refugees in the land of Egypt. After our Lord’s birth King Herod ordered the slaughter of all male infants, two years old and under, in Bethlehem. Herod was furious when the wise men did not return with news of the new born King of the Jews. He ordered the killing of the baby boys in an attempt to rid himself of any potential rival for the throne. It’s part of the Christmas story we often forget.
Sadly, the massacre of the innocents of Bethlehem has been repeated time and time again in the history of the Middle East. Rachel, the matriarchal figure of the three great monotheistic faiths, continues to ‘weep for her children’ with inconsolable grief.
As we respond to the current crisis it’s important to remind ourselves of the difference between migrants and refugees. Migrants travel to other lands in search of higher paid work and a better lifestyle. What we are now witnessing on the shores of Europe is the landing of hundreds of thousands of refugees who are literally fleeing for their lives and from the hell on earth that is Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan today.
It’s thought that there are over four million Syrian refugees living in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Three hundred thousand have made their way to Europe, many of them to Germany. It’s the biggest humanitarian challenge to face the Middle East, Greece and the Balkan countries along the refugee route to northern Europe since the Second World War.
Pope Francis has given a home to Syrian refugees in the Vatican, so has Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace. Many across the UK have offered to do the same or are supporting charities such as Christian Aid and the Red Cross who are providing practical help, food and shelter to thousands of displaced people. Church leaders have called on European politicians to have a more co-ordinated and compassionate response to the crisis.
Our Lord called on his followers to show their love for him through their love for those in need. He said, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me. For I tell you, whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.” Walking by on the other side can never be the response of a Christian.
The Church of England has offered the following prayer for us to use as we think of ways we can help; Heavenly Father, you are the source of all goodness, generosity and love. We thank you for opening the hearts of many to those who are fleeing for their lives. Help us now to open our arms in welcome, and reach out our hands in support. That the desperate may find new hope, and lives torn apart be restored. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who fled persecution at His birth and at His last triumphed over death. Amen.