Jesus, Mary and Joseph as detained refugees in California nativity

Thursday December 12 2019

The Nativity scene at the Claremont United Methodist Church in Claremont, California on December 11, 2019, depicting a scene of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in separate cages as refugees. PHOTO | FREDERIC J. BROWN | AFP



Baby Jesus is lying in a manger inside a cage, wrapped in an emergency foil blanket and separated from Mary and Joseph, who are each trapped in cells of their own.

This is the startling nativity scene created by a Protestant church in California to draw attention to the plight of migrants.

"We put them in different cages, as a symbol representing our community, and all immigrants, who are being held in detention centers and need our help," Genaro Cordoba, co-creator of the installation and spokesman for Claremont United Methodist Church, said.

"Jesus, Joseph, Mary represent all our immigrants, all the refugees, not just in the United States but all over the world," he said, switching from Spanish to English.

"We have seen how they suffer, and people don't want them, and (in) our country the same thing," Cordoba added.


A Christmas nativity scene depicts Jesus, Mary, and Joseph separated and caged, as if asylum seekers detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, at Claremont United Methodist Church on December 9, 2019 in Claremont, California. PHOTO | DAVID MCNEW | GETTY IMAGES | AFP

Karen Clark Ristine, senior minister at the church about 48 kilometers east of Los Angeles, explained in a Facebook message accompanying the images that the Holy Family were "the most well-known refugee family in the world."

"Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with their young son from Nazareth to Egypt to escape King Herod, a tyrant," she wrote.

"They feared persecution and death. What if this family sought refuge in our country today?"


The church hopes the display will prompt viewers to ask themselves what the family would face today if seeking refuge in the US as they did when fleeing Nazareth to Egypt to escape capture by the forces of King Herod. PHOTO | DAVID MCNEW | GETTY IMAGES | AFP

The grim Nativity scene appears to address that question.

Each cell is lined with barbed wire, and both Mary and Joseph are pictured facing the infant, their arms outstretched in hope and desperation.

"Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus no older than two taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years," wrote Ristine.


The display is aimed at drawing attention to the conditions faced by migrants seeking asylum in the US. PHOTO | FREDERIC J. BROWN | AFP

A Trump administration "zero tolerance" policy launched in 2018 saw thousands of children separated from their parents at the border, a tactic apparently meant to frighten the families, before the government backed down.

Migrants including children were held in caged enclosures.

"Jesus grew up to teach us kindness and mercy and a radical welcome of all people," said Ristine.