The plight of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, before Christianity officially began, is a lesson to everyone about migration today, Pope Francis said on Dec. 24. Addressing attendees at the Christmas Mass in the Roman Basilica in Vatican City, he began his reflections on Christmas 2017 by talking about the days that preceded Jesus’s birth.
Baby Jesus was born in a manger because his parents were strangers in a strange land who had to rely on the kindness of strangers, according to Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
In biblical accounts, citizens of the Roman Empire were forced to register in a census, and so Joseph and Mary set out from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Joseph’s family was from originally, in order to follow the rule. “They had to leave their people, their home and their land, and to undertake a journey in order to be registered in the census,” the Pope explained to the 10,000 Catholics who attended mass in person last night. “This was no comfortable or easy journey for a young couple about to have a child…their steps were weighed down by the uncertainties and dangers that attend those who have to leave their home behind.”
The child of immigrants himself, Pope Francis was born in Argentina in 1936 to Italian parents and understands displacement is difficult even under the best conditions. He called on Catholics to remember Mary and Joseph’s journey, and the difficulties they faced, when considering the treatment of migrants today.
In Bethlehem of yore, Mary and Joseph found themselves in very difficult situation. “It was a land that was not expecting them. A land where there was no place for them,” the Pope said. He explained that the journey of that family is similar in spirit to the treacherous paths migrants must take when politics or economics displace them, saying:
So many other footsteps are hidden in the footsteps of Joseph and Mary. We see the tracks of entire families forced to set out in our own day. We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones. In many cases this departure is filled with hope, hope for the future; yet for many others this departure can only have one name: survival.
Helping people fleeing home for a better life, or just to survive, is a Christian imperative, according to the Catholic leader. After all, the Pope reminded followers, Jesus taught that “true power and authentic freedom are shown in honoring and assisting the weak and the frail.”