A heartbreaking image of a Syrian boy was seen around the world this week. This boy should have been in pre-school, maybe kindergarten, but instead he lay dead on a beach in Turkey, drowned as his family fled the war that has devastated their country.
The image speaks – shouts – volumes about the despair that drives and accompanies the refugee crisis we now see in the Middle East and Europe. The message it delivers in force is that this child's parents would have never risked such a perilous journey if not out of utter desperation.
This boy's image should lead us to reflect on Jesus' words in Matthew 25: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me." When his followers say they never saw him in such predicaments, he answers, "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."
This child is that least brother. In him is the Christ. And in his death is our failure to deal with this horrific crisis. Around the world now more people have been forced from their homes than in any time in history. Even more than in World War II. The nexus of this crisis in Syria.
We know the message that Jesus has given us: care for these people and also work to resolve the conflict that has ruined their lives.
We in the United States must come to their aid, both financially and diplomatically, though support for humanitarian aid and asylum in Europe. Many Europeans are overcoming fear and suspicion, instead demonstrating enormous compassion and generosity, including diverse faith-based and secular organizations supported by Catholic Relief Services and our peer agencies. But the need can't be met with private charity alone. Similarly, some European governments have shown exemplary hospitality while others need to be encouraged and supported toward greater openness. We must also allow many more of these people to make it to our shores.
As we witness the crisis in Europe, do not forget about Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the countries that are hosting most Syrian refugees. After five years of war, we must not let donor fatigue set in. The refugee operations in these countries need to be robustly funded.
Most importantly we have to look for ways to bring peace to Syria so that the refugees can begin to return and rebuild. We know from our work on the ground that above all Syrians want to return home. The entire international community needs to make peace in Syria its top priority.
That is the best legacy we can leave this child on the beach. Shed a tear for him, then get to work so that no more innocent children share his fate.
Carolyn Woo is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.