Serving the Holy Family in new ways

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When Pope Francis visited the United States last year, he spent a great deal of time describing familiar experiences of families throughout the world: the joy of married life; the generosity exercised in raising children; and the treasure found in grandparents' wisdom, among others. At the same time, he described all-too-common challenges that families face in our world: unemployment and underemployment; the experience of caring for children with special needs and family members who are ill; and the ordinary challenge of maintaining healthy communication and quality time in a busy world filled with many distractions.

One alarming situation that is increasingly shared by families throughout the world is that of displacement, a problem faced by millions of refugees and immigrants today. According a report from the United Nations, cited in The Washington Post on December 18, one out of every 122 persons in the world has been forced to flee his or her home. The journey of seeking asylum or refuge is often dangerous and can involve indefinite separation from family members and loved ones. In his 2015 address to the Joint Session of Congress, Pope Francis straightforwardly addressed this issue:

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome (cf. Pope Francis, Address of the Holy Father to the Joint Session of Congress, September 24, 2015).

How do we respond in a humane, just, and fraternal way to a situation which threatens family life, the very foundation of every just and good society? First, we seek the intercession of the Holy Family, whose feast we celebrated on December 27, for these millions of persons. Who can better understand the situations of these families, fleeing dangerous conflicts in their homelands and who, in faith, follow a path they hope will lead to safety? The birth of the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem was shortly followed by such a flight into Egypt:

When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt (cf. Mt. 2:13-14).

How terrifying this must have been for Mary and Saint Joseph! Shortly after welcoming the newborn King, they were forced to venture into strange lands, hoping to find safety and a place to raise the Child Jesus, and this after the arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem (cf. Lk 2:4). Yes, we pray that their example of faith in the Lord's deliverance will comfort the innumerable families who flee places of violence in search of a peaceful land to call their home.

Is there anything else that we can do to alleviate the effects of such a global crisis? We might feel rendered helpless in the face of something so overwhelming. And yet, here in the Diocese of Arlington, we can offer tangible assistance to such families. Through the Office of Migration and Refugee Services of Catholic Charities, we provide resettlement services to help refugee families to get on their feet, find employment, and provide their family with safety. These services include temporary housing and furnishing, transportation assistance, and food and clothing. When we offer these services, we are, in a sense, offering them to the Holy Family, who, we hope, were offered kindness by strangers along their own flight into safety.

It might very well be too difficult to name the millions of refugees around the world, to truly know them as persons and not just as numbers. However, we do know that among them are Mary, Saint Joseph, and Jesus, the Holy Family, who shares the joys and challenges of every family's life. Dear brothers and sisters, let us commit ourselves to serving all families in need with our prayers and our concrete acts of charity this year, especially those seeking a safe place to call home!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016