Over the past few months our news headlines have been dominated by the refugee crisis in south eastern Europe. Individual tragic stories of migrants trying to flee the ongoing conflict in Syria and the squalor and sufferings of refugee camps in Syria, Turkey and the Lebanon in search of a fresh start have been particularly poignant. It could be argued that it was the widely circulated picture of the body of three year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who was drowned in an attempt to sail from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos, which finally got European authorities to take the crisis seriously.
As an aside, let it be remembered that Aylan’s five year old brother, Galip and their mother, Rehan also perished in this incident. And unfortunately numerous similar tragedies have happened since as the tide of refugees continues unabated.
At an official European level, there has been, at best, a fragmented response. There was an initial opening of borders with migrants being offered coach and train rides across Hungary to the Austrian border. A large number then made the onward journey to Germany where they received a warm welcome. Others sought refuge in other European countries where family members had already settled. This, in turn, put pressure on all E.U. members to offer to play their part in hosting and welcoming refugees. However, it is here that agreement could not be found as some countries announced themselves ready and willing while others refused. The Hungarian government had authorised the erection of a border fence between itself and Serbia in June. As migrants then began flowing through Croatia, Hungary has now authorised the building of a further fence between itself and Croatia. Meanwhile Austria has reintroduced border controls. The short-term effect of this has the potential of further humanitarian disaster as the onset of winter approaches with no proper shelter, sanitation and facilities to cater for the growing crisis.
What does all this have to say about the E.U. and those parts of our world which can and should respond positively to this situation? Much rhetoric has been put forward – including the statement that receiving refugees does not cure the problem and that the only solution is to fix the cause, that is, to end the Syrian civil war. That is undoubtedly true. But recent proceedings at the U.N. has shown the West in major disagreement with Russia and Iran on how to move things forward and solve that problem. Therefore, as true as the statement may be, it does nothing to stop unnecessary death and suffering. It is but a poor excuse to try to justify inaction.
So, what should our response as Christian be? Some quotations from the Gospels may help us to find an answer. Firstly, there is the synopsis of the commandments, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself’ (Luke 10:27). Then there are Jesus’ judgment statements in Matthew, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’ and, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35,40).
Over Sunday 11th October we look forward to celebrating our harvest festival here in Tullow. This is when we give thanks to God for all the bounty of nature and all that the work of human beings has given us. If we are truly grateful for all that God has given us, our response should be to share any surplus we may have with those in need, both in this part of the world and further afield. To again quote St. Teresa of Avila, ‘Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.’
With every blessing, John.
Rev’d John Tanner.
Tel: 01-289 3154 / 086 302 1376