World Refugee Day: Welcoming refugees saved my dying church

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.” Leviticus 19.33-34

Think about how it would feel if you had to leave your home, right now, quickly, without much of a plan because delay might mean death. Now, go! Where will you go? Your friends and neighbors have to leave their homes too, so you can’t just sleep on their floor or their couch until the crisis blows over. All of you have to go. And take with you only what you can stuff into a bag, and carry in your hand or on your back. Of all your things to take, which are most important? Clothes? Food? Money? You face hard choices. But the hardest is where to go. Who will have you? A nearby village, state or country? It seems like nobody wants people in your situation anymore. Self-preservation dictates many communities can’t welcome you because you pose a threat to their comfort, security, livelihood, the character of their neighborhoods, churches, schools, places of work.

I am a parish priest, and I don’t pretend to understand refugee policies or legislation on national, state or even on local levels. But I do know what refugees are. First, they are human beings; human beings forced to leave their nations, their homes, because of natural disaster, war, or persecution. It is probably the case that most refugees don’t want to leave, but to stay places them in mortal danger. They flee to be safe and to protect their families. Their greatest difficulty is not leaving their homes, as painful as that may be. Their greatest difficulty is finding a place to go. Who will have them?

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