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Moments in Time Refugee problems

By Gary Macy

In a time when so many political refugees need our aid, it is well to recall how some early Christians handled the problem. When the Vandals sacked Rome in 455, they took many captives. Some of these captives were still in tow when the Vandals took Carthage. A contemporary historian tells what happened: “When the multitudes of captives reached the shores of Africa, the Vandals and Moors divided up the vast crowds of people; and, as is the way with barbarians, separated husbands from wives and children from parents. Immediately that man [Deogratias, bishop of Carthage] so full of God and so dear to him, set about to sell all the gold and silver vessels of service, and set [the captives] free from enslavement to the barbarians, in order that marriage might remain unbroken and children be restored to their parents. And since there were no places big enough to accommodate so large a multitude, he assigned two famous churches, the Basilica Fausti and the Basilica Novarum, furnishing them with beds and bedding, and arranging day by day how much each person should receive in proportion to his need. And since many were in distress, owing to their inexperience of a voyage by sea and to the cruelty of captivity, there was no small number of sick people among them. Like a devoted nurse, that saintly bishop went the round of them constantly with doctors and food; so that the condition of each was looked into, and everyone’s need supplied, in his presence. Not even at night did he take a rest from this work of mercy; but he kept on going from bed to bed, in his anxiety to know how each was doing. In fact, he gave himself up to the task so entirely as to spare neither his wearied limbs nor the weakness of his old age.” Thank God for all the “Deogratiases” in the world today!

Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of San Diego. His e-mail address is macy@pwa.acusd.edu

National Catholic Reporter, March 2, 2001