LAST WEEK WHILE reflecting on bonding and separation in the light of family relationship, I concluded with the fate of migrants and refugees and promised to take it as a theme today. Hence, I caption my reflection "on the move in search of peace." It is a journey not only of the physical body fleeing for safety and survival but also of the soul looking for an anchor. Migrants and refugees are most of the time greeted with psychological tortures. They long for rest vaguely finding any. They put their trust in God hoping that one day they will rest in peace. On this day of the Baptism of the Lord, let us begin the Ordinary Time of the Year bearing this group of sufferers in mind.

Permit me to begin with the baptism of Jesus Christ. Three events are described as one here. After the baptism, as Jesus was coming out of the water, heavens opened, and the Spirit of the Lord like a dove rested on him. A voice was heard saying, "you are my Beloved Son, with you I am well pleased." These events are more theological than factual. Remember that in contrast to many paintings, the events did not happen inside the water. They took place as Jesus was coming out of the water. The venue helps us better appreciate this. It was in River Jordan. It reminds us of the Jordan crossing in Joshua 3. After crossing the Jordan, Joshua was filled with the Spirit of the Lord so as to lead the people to the Promised Land. Coming out of the same River Jordan Jesus leads us into the new era, the era marked with presence of God, the era of peace. No wonder, in Hebrew, both Joshua and Jesus are rendered as Yeshua meaning help or salvation.  The opening of the heavens reminds us of Isaiah 63:15. Here the prophet asks God to look down from heaven and break his silence. For a long time, there were no longer prophets in Israel until the arrival of Jesus. Then the dove signifying peace rested on Jesus symbolizing a new creation already prefigured in the event of the great flood. Jesus Christ is the chosen, on whom the dove should rest and who will be God's agent of new creation, renewing the world, preaching the arrival of God's kingdom and inaugurating it at the same time. In him God is pleased because he is the Servant of Yahweh who will bring justice to his people. This justice consists in inaugurating God's kingdom on earth and is a basic requirement for peace.

The world of today longs for peace. The TV set in our living room becomes our window into the wider world of reality. Romanians are protesting against a weak judicial system. The Congolese (DRC) are protesting against their president Kabila and some have already been injured in this cause. Peru is plagued with a corrupt government. The Iranians are angry over inflation and want the government to pay attention to domestic issues. Argentina boils over pension reform. In Hong Kong students are leading in a pro-democracy demonstration over Beijing decision. The Catalans want to separate from Spain. US and North Korea are rubbing shoulders. Lives and properties are lost in the Middle East over Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as capital of Israel. In Nigeria, we don't know what we are suffering. Our problems are legion for they are many. Recently, we have ghosts in the government appointments. All these make peace take a flight. People are displaced. Many flee their ancestral homes. All these in search of peace, trying to begin a new life elsewhere. Peace therefore becomes an option for us today. We need to restore peace in our world. But we must ask ourselves why peace has eluded us. The only answer is the failure of humanity. We have trampled upon justice and truth. Whoever sows war reaps a flight. The world of today has injured truth and everywhere is boiling. Justice is now what we preach with our lips. Our message of consolation today is an ideological abuse of the cross where your preacher is your oppressor. With Christ this time around, we are called not just to present before the people a message of an eschatological consolation and hope but to confront the situation of injustice and try as much as possible to dismantle unjust structures. The Servant of Yahweh is presented to us today as a harbinger of justice. The Gospel addresses him as a beloved of the Father on whom the Spirit rests. Filled with this Spirit, he went about doing good. Acts 10:38 tells us that he was able to do this good because God was with him. God is with Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ himself is the presence of God in our midst. Just as he is pleasing to the Father, anyone who fears God and does what is just wins the same favour.

Injustice is sin and exists in various forms. Its summary is what St. Augustine called malum moralium as against malum physicum. The difference between the former and the latter is that of cause and of consequence, evil committed and evil suffered. Homelessness and displacement fall under malum physicum. The number of people displaced and journeying for a new home is quite alarming as we see last week. What of the fate of many young Nigerians across Libya? Jesus Christ by seeing himself as the Son of Man who has nowhere to lay down his dead identifies with this set of people whose situation is worse than the holes of foxes and the nests of birds. He therefore tells us that in welcoming them to our homes, we too are welcoming him and the reward is a home in the rest of his Father. The injustice that brings about homelessness has as its perpetrators a blurred countenance. It is a global sin, the failure of humanity. The host countries in one way or the other are contributing to the injustice displacing the refugees. It is therefore morally imperative that they do the needful, namely create a shelter for them.

All hands must be on deck to stop the evil of homelessness. God reminded the Israelites that they were once foreigners in Egypt and hence should treat foreigners with love. Jesus himself did not only identify with them but his entire earthly ministry was a kind of dismantling structural and institutional evils. This brought about a conflict with the authority that be and finally his death and resurrection. It is time for us also to do the same. We should challenge every structure and institution that nurtures injustice. Countries of the world are hereby called to repentance so as to give peace a chance. Any globalization that rests on an unequal footing is already a travesty of justice. If UN should not confront injustice and pay attention to the plights of the third world countries in its summits, then it is a congregation of the wicked.

Pope Francis has already given us four milestones in our attitude towards the refugees and migrants; welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating. In doing this once again, we must respect their alterity. We should not expect a Syrian to be a German, a Nigerian to be an Italian, a Sudanese to be an Australian or a Beninese to be a French. The face of the globe is changing every day and fast receiving a heterogeneous cast. These people on the run are not coming tabula rasa. They have something to offer their host countries. If this is not acknowledged, it will affect the way they are received, impede the growth of the host country, depress the migrants, and negatively affect the global peace. Their human dignity must be respected. They must be fully integrated and their differences accommodated inasmuch as they do not constitute a threat to the host country. In all these, mercy must go with reason. Let us give peace a chance. Let us offer peace to migrants and refugees. May the Spirit we received on the day of our own baptism lead us in confronting unjust structures and institutions and in speaking to power about justice. Above all, there are those searching for a heart where they will rest in peace. Let us therefore open our hearts to them and break down barriers impeding this journey. It is still my dream that in the heart of man a brother should find a home. In this way, the voice of God will speak to us too as his beloved in whom he is pleased. May St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, patron saint of the migrants intercede for us. 



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