This is a brief update on out Catholic Relief Services visit to Greece and Serbia where hundreds of thousands of refugees are coming to make their way to what they hope is a better life. It is brief because after a long day we are back in our hotel, it is late and we will be up at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning to be at the pier when the first boats with refugees arrives in Athens.
There are two brief thoughts that I want to mention tonight and I will I elaborate on them in the next day or so. The first relates to the photo above. In graffiti it reflects the attitude of most of the Greek people with respect to the refugees. Now keep in mind that Greece is a small country with only 12 million people. Greece is also in the middle of a massive economic crisis on its own. There is 56% unemployment among the young (Millennials), the Greek GDP has dropped 25% in the past 10 years, and they are in the midst of controversial economic ausrerity reforms. Clearly the refugee crisis is not the cause of their economic problems. The Greek people still welcome refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries. Why do they do this in the middle of their own economic crisis? In the words of one of the aid workers we spoke with today, “It is the right thing to do, these are people in need.” It is simply the right thing to do, to care for people fleeing war and ISIS. That is a living definition of Solidarity, to look past one’s own needs and see the needs of a fellow human being.
The second thought is tied to something we did today. We spent 4-5 hours in the Caritas Athens Soup Kitchen where hundreds of people were fed. There were men, women and children, all in need of food and some in need of clothing. There we a few (very few) homeless Greeks, but the majority were refugees and migrants. (To help those readers who may not understand the difference, a refugee is fleeing their country to escape war, violence, persecution, or similar danger. A migrant makes a conscious decision to leave their country simply to seek a better life for themselves and/or their families). One thing that was striking was that each person expressed a great measure of gratitude. Everyone looked in your eyes and sincerely said, “Thank you.” Rarely was any food left in a plate and upon leaving the recipient thanked us again. It was very clear that the thanks was not just for the food, but for a short time of being treated with respect and dignity. The people we encountered were not a threat to Greece, Europe, the United States or the world. They were people who just want to live in peace and safety and feel for a brief time that they were seen and respected as a person.
More on all of this later but today we have seen people seeking a better life. We have seen people undergoing a severe financial crisis reaching out to those looking for a better life. We have seen humanitarian aid agencies like Caritas Greece and CRS providing the mechanism for those in need to encounter those who can help.
When we see the face of Christ in those who are in need, those in need see the face of Christ in those who come to their aid. This according to the Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46 is what it means to be Christian, it is the singular test for entry into heaven.
We saw that in action today. Peace.