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Christmas Reflection 2017

‘Are you going home for Christmas?’ In this season I am often asked this question. It is a well-meant conversational piece. ‘Perhaps in the New Year,’ I reply, imagining what Christmas would be like in parishes if every priest decided to go home for the Feast.

‘Home’ and Christmas always go together, a time when we think not only of flesh, as in the Incarnation, but also of flesh and blood, our family. Some travel across the world just to be with their families at Christmas time.

In late November on a bitterly cold morning I met some young migrants in Calais by a makeshift fire in a clearing beside some trees. The trees had been pruned, I was told, by the authorities to prevent them providing shelter to anyone who needed it.

This group, about 30 in number, have all departed from their homes in Eritrea on a journey that doesn’t seem to end. What is remarkable about these travellers is the total absence of any possessions, no bags of any description. Literally all they have is what they are wearing, mostly jeans and short zipped jackets.

I soon discover why: why no sleeping bags or blankets. They have been confiscated or rendered useless by police determined that another camp or jungle will not appear. Here they sit deprived of anything that might afford some protection or comfort.

Everything they hold dear they have lost, except their humanity. Recognising those I am accompanying as friends they rise and greet us warmly with handshakes and wishes of peace. Those who have slept outside overnight without covering move away from the fire and invite us to take their place to warm ourselves.

Answers to the question ‘how long have you been here’ vary. Some have been here six months, others longer, some newly arrived.

‘And how did you get here?’ One begins to relate his experiences of passing through the countries of North Africa, across the Mediterranean in an inflatable raft and then further northwards.

Fortified by the very sweet tea (sugar gives energy) provided by French charities, he rises and slowly follows his friends in the direction of the nearby motorway leading to the Tunnel. He hasn’t yet reached his hoped-for destination.

I wonder what he would say, what look of incredulity would have crossed his face, what memories would be invoked if had asked him, ‘Are you going home for Christmas?’