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A migrant carries her children after a rescue operation in the English Channel A migrant carries her children after a rescue operation in the English Channel  (AFP or licensors)

Remembering child refugees fleeing conflicts and persecution

Reacting to the words of Pope Francis at his Wednesday General Audience catechesis on the courage of Saint Joseph during times of persecution, Msgr. Robert Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) notes how critically important it is today to help modern-day children and their families who are forced to flee violence.

By Vatican News staff writer

At the Wednesday General Audience, Pope Francis reflected on the Holy Family fleeing for safety from the persecution of King Herod and the courage of Saint Joseph in saving Jesus from the massacre in Bethlehem. He recalled how so many migrants also today suffer persecution and violence and are forced to flee their homelands for safety. In fleeing into Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath, the Holy Family, he said, “suffered such humiliation and experienced first-hand the precariousness, fear and pain of having to leave their homeland.”  

The Catholic Church's global migration agency, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), works to help migrant families today who are fleeing their lands due to violence.

One of its priorities is to protect the children who suffer the consequences. ICMC Secretary-General, Monsignor Robert Vitillo, reacted to today's catechesis by Pope Francis saying he could not but think of "the people in refugee camps and in other areas of the world that ICMC is serving."

He recalled the Christmas card sent out by ICMC this year that features a sculpture found in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, showing an exhausted Holy Family as they fled Bethlehem to go to safety in Egypt, as the angel had alerted Saint Joseph to the threat Jesus and so many other children faced at the time.

"It shows a Mary whose baby is on her lap but almost falling off because she's so exhausted and Joseph lying on the ground. You just saw in their expressions the fear and uncertainty...and that's the kind of feelings and expressions that I see on the faces of so many migrants and refugees whom we serve in different parts of the world," he said.

ICMC has programs aimed at assisting migrant and refugee children in particular, since they are the ones most exposed to danger.

Msgr. Vitillo expressed his appreciation for today's audience catechesis calling attention to their plight as, "more and more children are finding themselves as migrants, but they're separated from their families, their parents or sometimes sent by their parents because it's the only hope that these children can survive due to the persecution and the violence that goes on in their home countries." 

Recalling the Pope's reference to the persecution of the past and the violence that Jesus escaped, he said "more and more children are victimized today." Much more, he reiterated,  must be done to safeguard their lives and families. 

Listen to Msgr. Robert Vitillo, ICMC Secretary General
29 December 2021, 13:13