In the midst of the Lenten season, the church commemorates the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19. The day is sometimes overshadowed by the nearby memorial of St. Patrick on March 17. But as patron saint of the universal church, the unborn, fathers, laborers, travelers, immigrants and a happy death, St. Joseph is worthy of notice in recognition of his role in the Holy Family, as husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Of particular note this year is the role of Joseph as a Middle Eastern refugee. The Gospel infancy narratives describe a Middle Eastern family looking for a place to stay, only to be told there was no room for them. Then, Matthew tells us that after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph fled with the newborn baby to Egypt, as refugees fleeing from violence.
Pope Francis is recognizing the plight of refugees this year on Holy Thursday, when he will wash the feet of 12 refugees in Rome, at a center that assists migrants in the city.
Pope Francis believes in preaching the Gospel by his actions as much as by his words, and he has stressed this especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
This Holy Thursday gesture comes at a time when many politicians around the world are calling for the closing of the borders of their countries to refugees and migrants. Several governments have or are in process of closing their borders or building barriers or walls to the entry of migrants and refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East and Africa. The issue of immigration and sanctuary for refugees will be with us for as long as wars continue and poverty forces people to leave their homes and their native lands.