Nestled in a boat for a crib with a barbed-wire Christmas star, the infant Jesus was given a “contemporary face” by an Austrian Catholic bishop who claimed that “Jesus 2016 is a refugee in a boat”.
Broadcast live on Christmas Day via television to the German-speaking world, Catholic diocesan bishop Aegidius Zsifkovics of St. Martin’s Cathedral, Eisenstadt, Austria, compared the “scandal” of the migrant crisis to the Christmas story, alluding to the Virgin Mary as a pregnant migrant.
“For how can it be that a pregnant woman has to go on a strenuous journey? … It is precisely this scandal that is happening every day on our planet a thousand times, which makes the Christmas story more relevant than the evening news. For in the centre of Christianity stands the refugee child Jesus.”
Last year during the height of the migrant crisis, head of the worldwide Anglican communion Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also said that “Jesus … was himself a refugee.”
However, the pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph were not migrating to a different continent for better opportunities or fleeing war, but were returning home for a government-mandated census (Luke 2:1-7).
Bishop Zsifkovics, Refugee and Integration Commissioner for the European Union’s Bishops Conference, deconstructed the makeup of the unusual manger set before the cathedral’s altar.
“Jesus 2016 is on a refugee boat. The Christmas story came about two thousand years ago, from where so many people come to us today. Like Jesus, who also came from the Middle East…
“[The blankets] are printed with quotations from the Holy Scriptures and from the headlines of newspapers, which remind us of where mercy was practised and where they were neglected.
“And this is also the Christmas star of barbed wire above the child Jesus. Barbed wire, fences, and walls are now the answer for refugees to Europe.”
Austria’s ORF and Germany’s ZDF (both networks part-funded by a BBC-style licence fee) broadcast the bishop’s Christmas mass less than a week after Tunisian illegal migrant Anis Amri ploughed a truck through a crowded Christmas market killing 12 and injuring 48.
Stating that the notion of tightening borders is an “erroneous opinion,” the Austrian bishop asserted that the best response to migrant terrorism rooted in Islam is to continue accepting migrants from the Middle East and Africa, arguing that to do otherwise would “destabilise and collapse our society.”
He added, “Let us not allow the terrorists this triumph” asserting that to hamper the free movement of migrants would make Christians “just like [the terrorists].”
These comments are in contrast to Catholic Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Schönborn, who recently stated he is no longer convinced that Europe should receive all those claiming to be refugees and believes it is better to help asylum seekers in their own countries.
The pro-migrant bishop mentioned the “silent persecution of Christians” towards the end of his sermon, but did not reference the reported persecution of 40,000 Christian refugees who are being harassed, assaulted, and threatened with death by Muslim migrants in asylum centres across the German-speaking nations of Europe.