I found this amazing picture book the other day. At first, you think it’s a modern rendition of the Holy Family’s terrifying flight into Egypt, Herod’s cutthroats in hot pursuit. It’s a familiar story. Every time we hear it, it stirs our empathy. How could anyone set out to harm an innocent young family? How terrifying their ordeal must have been.
When army tanks appear in the illustrations, we jolt back to the present. We realise the ancient story repeats every day. The television news show scenes of terrified people fleeing persecution and death. Many young families are among the refugees.
Searching for Safety
The modern inhabitants of Al Matariyyah in Cairo tell how the Holy Family once wandered their streets looking for shelter. At first they met refusal, but further on found food and rest. To this day, bread will not rise if baked on the sites where these refugees were shunned.
In their book, Nadia Wheatley and Armin Greder convey the desperation that drives people from their homes. The book grew out of Nadia Wheatley’s experiences of growing up around post war refugees. Armin Greder’s grey-toned illustrations communicate the darkness and fear the family endures in their search for a place of safety.
Though the story moves, it also raises uncomfortable questions about how we identify so readily with the plight of the Holy Family yet turn our backs to those seeking asylum in our own time. How can we believe accounts from two thousand years ago with what some might call blind faith yet deny the evidence of our own eyes? And why do we choose to venerate one group of victims yet blame another?
Each time fresh evidence of Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers in off shore detention emerges, I wonder what might happen to the Holy Family if forced to flee today, not to overpopulated Egypt perhaps, but to a promised land far across the sea…