The birth of Jesus is the most powerful sign and message of hope in a world darkened by the shadows of fear and uncertainty. Each year, Vatican Radio brings you the voices of religious leaders and heads of Christian charitable organizations as they reflect upon the transformative power of the Good News that “Christ is born!” Today’s message comes from Monsignor Robert Vitillo, secretary general of the International Catholic Migration Commission.
The reality of the first Christmas was certainly very different from the “idyllic” Nativity scenes we sometimes imagine, with their “twinkling lights and organ music playing in the background, and with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus dressed in rich and flowing robes,” says Monsignor Robert Vitillo, secretary general of the International Catholic Migration Commission.
In his message for Christmas 2022, Msgr Vitillo reminds us that already on Christmas night, the Holy Family was made up of internally displaced persons, who later became full-fledged refugees when Herod threatened the life of the Holy Child.
Today, more than 100 million forcibly displaced people suffer the challenges Mary and Joseph did on that first Christmas: “rejection, fear of the stranger, the harsh and unrelenting elements of nature, the lack of any place to lay their heads, and an overwhelming uncertainty about the future.”
On this Christmas feast, Monsignor Vitillo invites us to join all people of goodwill “to bring about a ‘revolution of tenderness’” in favour of refugees, internally displaced persons, survivors of human trafficking, and stateless persons, in order to build a true and lasting peace, and to ensure the dignity of every human person.
Msgr Robert Vitillo’s Message for Christmas 2022
In many of the Christmas hymns sung at this time of the year, we imagine the Babe in the Manger as the principal figure in an idyllic scene with twinkling lights and organ music playing in the background, and with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus dressed in rich and flowing robes. Surely that is far from the reality of that first holy night.
We should not forget that this holy family was made up of internally displaced people. Mary and Joseph were required to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem to comply with the rules of the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, who wanted to count the number of people in the countries that he had conquered, including the Holy Land. The late state of Mary’s miraculous pregnancy, with the long-awaited Messiah, would not have been recognized as a valid excuse from this forced travel.
And then there is the added fact that shortly after Jesus’s birth, the Holy Family became full-fledged refugees in Egypt because of threats by the ruling king in Jerusalem on the holy Child’s life.
That story is lived in our present time by 100 million forcibly displaced people in every part of the world. They, too, experience the same challenges as did Mary and Joseph: rejection, fear of the stranger, the harsh and unrelenting elements of nature, the lack of any place to lay their heads, and an overwhelming uncertainty about the future.
We should not expect warm and fuzzy feelings when we do homage at the Christmas crib. Pope Francis reminds us that on the night that Jesus was born, there was a “revolution of tenderness.” Since the all-merciful God sent His Divine Son to live among us as God with us, and to surrender His earthly life for us so that we could live with Him forever.
On this Christmas feast, let us join all persons of goodwill to bring about a revolution of tenderness, so that refugees, internally displaced persons, survivors of human trafficking, and stateless persons will be welcomed, protected, promoted, and integrated into our local communities; so that we, the citizens of a presently broken and fragmented world, will lay down our weapons and use the resources with which God has gifted us, to build true and lasting peace; so that all people will have access to the basic necessities of life, decent and dignified work, shelter, education, health, and adequate nutrition and integral human development.
May Jesus Christ be thanked and praised now and forever. Amen.
Monsignor Robert Vitillo
International Catholic Migration Commission