On this day the Coptic Christian Church celebrates the Flight into Egypt of the Holy Family, but our image is from Amsterdam. This plaque once adorned the side of a house called ‘The Flight into Egypt’. The fact that the home owner could pay for it to be erected suggests an established, prosperous household, not a little family of refugees.
I’m sure Joseph will have conserved carefully the gold Jesus was given. They could walk to Egypt, no need to entrust their fate to traffickers with half-rotten boats. Our Coptic picture shows a companion with them, is it a guardian angel?
Last summer I spotted Helen, a colleague from L’Arche, standing near our gate, staring into the sky. She was watching for swifts, those well-named insect-eating migrants who scream around our homes when the weather brings the flies near enough to the ground. At other times they may be far away or high above the earth, gathering food for their nestlings, but generally in groups. I was able to tell Helen that I generally saw about eight birds flying together. Did I know where they were nesting? I had not observed this, but our neighbourhood has many late 19th Century houses with gaps under the roof sufficient for swifts to enter and breed. However it’s not easy to identify the spot where they get in, so a census is difficult to take. But there are roughly half as many swifts as there were 20 years ago.
Another time we met outside Saint Dunstan’s church, where there are swift nesting boxes on the outside wall of the church hall. In the few minutes we stood there, we observed no birds going in or out. Past experience suggests that a new-smelling box will not be used in its first year, so no need to despair there.
Other local birds are really ‘over and gone’, and not just for one winter; especially the house martin, another migrant fly-eater. To think: they nested in this street when we moved here, but one house had table tennis balls hung from the eaves to deter martins from building their mud-brick houses and, yes, dropping their excrement on the path below, but even so.
The RSPB tell how to make a swift box here. We are sharing this now to allow readers in Europe time to make and install boxes before the swifts return.
How at Once by Edward Thomas
How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift's black bow,
That I would not have that view
Until next May
Again it is due?
The same year after year—
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
And I only see
Them to know them gone.
(from "Poems" by Edward Thomas)
I dwell amid the city, And hear the flow of souls in act and speech, For pomp or trade, for merrymake or folly: I hear the confluence and sum of each, And that is melancholy! Thy voice is a complaint, O crownèd city, The blue sky covering thee like God’s great pity.
. From The Soul’s Travelling by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
The City of God is a common theme in the Bible, Zion or Jerusalem, the earthly place where he lives among his people, or the Heavenly Jerusalem of the Book of Revelation. A city was, and remains, a convenient setting for a more cultured life that would not have been possible in the hinterlands. Although the airwaves bring us radio, television and the internet – and of course internet shopping – the city remains a magnet for entertainment, dining out, medical care, employment. What is Elizabeth’s problem?
Perhaps it is the flow of souls looking for pomp, trade, merriment or folly: self indulgence in other words. But whether in her 19th Century London as in the first picture, or the 21st Century city, by no means all arrivals flock there for the extras London has to offer, at a price. The city may be a relatively safe haven from war or other troubles but people still have to find a welcome; somewhere affordable to live, familiar food or the sound of their mother tongue.
“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”
The sky in both of our pictures is more iron cope than blue cloak; we can well believe that it grows darker yet as the sea indeed rises higher. It is for each one of us to have joy without any apparent cause, and faith in God when all comfort is taken away from ourselves or the people we meet. Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom!
In May, Pope Francis promoted this prayer to be said ahead of the World Day for Migrants and Refugees on 26 September 2021. It is a cause close to his heart. Sad to say, an atmosphere of hostility towards migrants and refugees is being fostered in Britain and elsewhere, perhaps tempered a little as we witness the tragedy of Afghanistan. Clearly, Francis sees migration, whatever the individual person’s motivation, as part of our task of making the earth into our common home.
Holy beloved Father,
Your Son Jesus taught us
That there is great rejoicing in heaven
Whenever someone lost is found,
Whenever someone excluded, rejected or discarded
Is gathered into our 'we'
Which thus becomes ever wider.
We ask you to grant the followers of Jesus,
And all people of good will,
The grace to do your will on earth.
Bless each act of welcome and outreach
That draws those in exile
Into the 'we' of community and the church,
So that our Earth may truly become
What you yourself created it to be:
The common home of all our brothers and sisters.
Lisa Elmaleh took her antique, large-frame camera with her when she volunteered with the Sisters helping Latin America migrants along ex-president Trump’s border wall. This photo-essay, with words by Soli Salgado tells some of the stories they encountered. It comes from Global Sisters’ Report. Click on the link and read on: it is a sobering report.
Last month more than 1,000 migrant workers in four abattoirs in Germany were diagnosed with the covid-19 virus. Clearly the personal protection systems were at fault. Bishop Ansgar Puff, head of the human trafficking section of the German Catholic bishops conference, sees this as exploiting foreign workers. “Some of us think that exploitation and slave-like practices are a thing of the past or only take place in far-away countries, and yet here in Germany migrants from eastern Europe are being used as cheap labour and put up in housing that is unfit for human beings. Before the corona crisis the appalling conditions in the abattoirs hardly interested anyone. It was simpler just to close one’s eyes to them”.
We cannot be sure that workers – residents or migrants – who pick fruit or do other basic jobs in Britain are paid and housed properly. And how well is the land, the soil, cared for; the animals reared upon it? How many farmers earn such an epitaph as this?
Bishop Ansgar’s statement from German bishops’ conference, reported in ‘The Tablet’ 27.6.2020.
This story continues the account of what happened after the Golden Calf episode. Moses is speaking to the people of Israel; and we have here a Biblical foundation for devotion to the Sacred Heart.Deuteronomy 10:14-19
Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
Many things follow from this text. But let’s take just a couple: firstly that God does not love us because of what we do, or what we give him to ‘bribe’ him into doing what suits us, but because he set his heart on our ancestors in faith – and so on us to this day.
Secondly, we are to love the sojourner – the migrant. We all have migrant ancestors, even if we can trace them no further than just across the Welsh border. Worker or refugee, the migrant is a brother or sister. If we see the world as God sees it, we will find ways, such as the local food bank, to support the migrants in our communities, whom God loves as surely as he loves us.
Bishop Claude Rault M Afr was bishop of the Sahara before retiring. He knew most of the Algerian Martyrs whom we have reflected on before. Their feast day was May 8th, and Bishop Claude preached this homily in Paris. What do you think makes someone a saint?
This image of the Holy Family comes from Africa, though not Egypt, the part where Joseph led his wife and child at such short notice to preserve Jesus’ life. Although his feastday was last week, we did not want to interrupt Pope Francis’s train of thought by posting this reflection on the 19th. And it sits well just after the Annunciation which took place not long before the Flight into Egypt.
Here is Joseph the refugee, suddenly grown to superhero status, protecting his family with wisdom. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, but the man was not acting alone:
Behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.
Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt. Matthew 2:13-14.
There will be times that we just have to get through, so daunting they may seem before the fact; a truly desert experience. But with God’s grace we become, like Joseph, superheroes for a while, though it may not feel like it, leading our dear ones through the encircling gloom.
I have no doubt that whenever he heard the story of the flight into Egypt, Jesus will have seen his dad as a superhero. Let’s pray for the grace to step up and don the hero’s cloak whenever anyone needs help, even if it’s just a couple of lost souls unsure of how to find their way through town.
It had taken three hundred years of campaigning to undo the Atlantic slave trade, often in the face of determined opposition from powerful men, but now the missionaries had made Pope Leo XII aware of the continuing situation in Africa. He wrote:
It is indeed manifest, by their testimony and word, that each year 400,000 Africans are usually thus sold like cattle, about half of whom, wearied out by the roughness of the tracks, fall down and perish there, so that, sad to relate, those travelling through such places see the pathway strewn with the remains of bones.
This horrific picture was conveyed to Leo by Cardinal Lavigerie, who now called for support from European governments, as he travelled to speak in their major cities. In London he related the methods used by the Tuaregs in the Western Sahara:
“Their hearts are as hard as the iron of their lances, and a handful of raw sorghum each evening, with a drop of water, are all that they give to the Slaves who travel, carrying the horrible Slave yoke. If anyone falls it is instant death – the experienced eye of the merchant can judge whether his victim is likely to escape from him by death before the end of the journey. If he feels sure of this, he finishes him off with one blow of his club – the hyenas and the jackals will come and devour their flesh, leaving blanched skeletons to mark the road to the markets of Morocco or Fez.”
A situation that is paralleled today, as thousands try to cross desert and sea to reach the gold-plated streets of Europe.
A cross made from a wrecked migrant boat on Lampedusa, Italy.