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An Advent lesson from survivors of a treacherous 11-day sea journey

oil tanker sailing the high seas

bob63 / Shutterstock

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 12/03/22

The journey of migrants who risk their lives reminds us of the Holy Family and the Advent invitation to respond with love.

Advent is a time when we contemplate the journey of the Holy Family in a more intense way as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And the Holy Family has long been a symbol for refugees and migrants. Whether it was their long road to Bethlehem or fleeing to Egypt to protect the infant Jesus from Herod’s men, Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew dangerous travel, risky escape, and the challenges of being in a foreign land. 

Stories of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers are particularly poignant at this time of year and the recent story of three men who made a treacherous journey across the ocean on the rudder of a large oil tanker is no exception. 

Reuters reports that the three men were rescued by the Spanish coastguard when an oil and chemical tanker called Althini II arrived in the Canary Islands from Nigeria. The Canary Islands are a popular landing spot for African migrants trying to reach Europe. 

The three men somehow survived 11 treacherous days outside in the stern of the ship. As Vatican News points out, we don’t know their stories, but we can surmise that risking their lives for a possible better future seemed better than what they were living

When the pope was in Cyprus late last year for an ecumenical prayer with migrants in the Parish Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia, he addressed migrants who had shared their testimony, encouraging them in their journeys. His words remind us that attending to the suffering of brothers and sisters who seek a better life is always part of our mission, no matter the season:

Looking at you, I see the suffering caused by your journey; I see all those people who were kidnapped, sold, exploited … and who are still on the journey, we know not where. We are speaking of slavery, of universal enslavement. We see what is happening, and the worst thing is that we are becoming used to it. “Oh yes, today another boat capsized … so many lives were lost….” This “becoming used” to things is a grave illness, a very grave illness, and there is no antibiotic for it! We have to resist this vice of getting used to reading about these tragedies in the newspapers or hearing about them on other media. prayer with migrants in the Parish Church of the Holy Cross in Nicosia.

As for the three men who managed to survive their recent journey on the back of the tanker, Vatican News reports that they are receiving medical care and will be sent back to Nigeria, but an Italian foundation called Casa dello Spirito e delle Arti Foundation is working to help them be able to stay in Europe.

“It would be an unexpected Christmas present for them to be allowed to stay …”

After all, the best Advent journey ends in hospitality. 

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