A Reflection: The Silences, Refusals and Flights. Christmas 2016.

Christmas Carol Service


St. Laurence’s Grangegorman


The DIT Chamber Choir

Wednesday the 7th of December, 2016



Reflection: The Silences, Refusals and Flights by Fr Alan Hilliard.

The family we ponder today in our songs and stories, be they of deeply religious significance to us, or just characters in a story, they can most certainly be characterised as migrants, refugees and displaced people. I was reading a book recently entitled Crisis and Migration[1]. The book was a collection of papers given at a conference in Malmo in Sweden on the Implications of the Eurozone Crisis for Perceptions, Politics and Policies of Migration. One line stood out in the book for me. This line suggested that researchers of forced migrations ought ‘to seize the silences, the refusals and the flight as something active’. If this is to be the case then the stores of this Middle Eastern family of two thousand years ago is indeed a very active story. We often resign it to nostalgia and tinsel but it is a seed-bed of activity not just for the past but for the present. Let us examine this story in terms of silence, refusal and flight.


The Silences; this family were on their way to their home place to register in a census that was undertaken by the Roman Empire. This was not an unusual act by Rome as the authorities needed to enumerate the resources in their new found territories. Naming was part of the owning and controlling. The graveyard in Lampedusa contains many graves that bear only numbers. Those laid in them have a name but they are unknown. Their name is silence as is the name of many others who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean these last few years. This silence is active unless we choose it not to be. Not knowing a name, not seeing a face makes our lives more comfortable. Our policies of securitisation are silencing the reality of those who drown. The less faces we see, the less names we know the more we are likely to be awakened to this tragedy.



The Refusals. Yes there was no room at the inn we are told. They knocked, she was heavily pregnant but no one offered space. Let me read you a report that was read into the record of the Council of Europe by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced People in 2012;

‘Within a few hours of the first distress signal, a military helicopter hovered over the boat and provided water and biscuits and indicated to the passengers that it would return. It never did. The boat also encountered at least two fishing vessels, neither of which came to its assistance. The boat drifted for several days. With no water and food, people started to die. On about the tenth day of its voyage, when half the passengers were dead, a large aircraft carrier or helicopter-carrying vessel sailed near to the boat, close enough for the survivors to see the sailors on board looking at them with binoculars and taking photos. The boat eventually washed up on the Libya’s shores after 15 days at sea. The ten survivors were imprisoned, where one of them died from lack of medical care. Eventually nine survivors were released after which they fled the country’[2].

And there was no room for them at the inn.


The Flight. We are told that our main characters had to flee to Egypt. I met one young man in Lampedusa who took flight from his home country. He saw his best friend shot by traffickers in the Sahara. He lived in an immigration centre in Libya. He was used as a human shield in a boat with a couple of hundred others when Libya was attacked. When they came alongside an Egyptian boat the passengers lunged to one side as they cried for assistance. This caused the boat to sit up in the water casting a large portion of the passengers into the sea and to certain death. I asked him where he wanted to live, he replied ‘Where ever there is peace!’

If we seize the silences, the refusals and the flights and in turn silence them we damage our humanity and our world. Let the silences, the refusals and the flights of this story which we mark in word and song activate us on behalf of our brothers and sisters in need today.

[1]  Kullving, Linus (2014) A Crisis Nexus; The European Union, Security, and Articulations of Irregular Migration Post Arab Spring in Bevelander, P. and Peterson, B. eds. Crisis and Migration: The Implications of the Eurozone Crisis for Perceptions, Politics and Policies of Migration. Pg. 71.

[2] Ibid. pg. 49.

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