The poignant image of a mother and child seeking refuge holds more meaning at this time of year.Caty Bartholomew

A stark TV image in Clare captured a mother and newborn child fleeing the reeking hideousity that is Aleppo. They came running alone away from yet another street that had been bombed and mortared and converted into a cemetery for scores that afternoon alone.

The camera lingered on the mother.  She looked no more than a teenager wearing terrified pleading eyes. The baby in her arms was tiny. At this time of year on the brink of Christmas and its Bethlehem story, the image was especially poignant and powerful.

It is remarkable that the centuries change so much of what is called civilization, yet change so little in other ways.  That little Aleppo Madonna and her infant, for example, was enduring infinitely more real danger and threat of death than the original Madonna in the stable in Bethlehem.

And she was alone. There was no father figure with her as she ran. 

And nobody was bombing the Bethlehem stable except a choir of angels, we are told. And the Three Wise Men arrived within a few hours of the birth bearing gifts which, being of gold, frankincense and myrrh, represented good times ahead for Joseph and his family.

In Aleppo today, on the other hand, the mothers and babies are starving.  Even the hospitals are being bombed daily. The modern equivalent of the Three Wise Men, the humanitarian workers attempting to bring in desperately needed food and medicines, are denied entry to what is now indeed a cemetery for thousands.

Syrian refugees.

Syrian refugees.

The fleeing young mother, it occurred to me, (and I hope she and her baby survived) was joining the sweeping tide of refugees from Aleppo to anywhere else where there was a chance of life and food and survival. There are millions of refugees in Europe today, and the number grows about every hour.

Is it not another poignant echo of history that some of them, maybe even this mother and child, flee for safety towards Egypt, just as the original Holy Family was forced to so long ago? Ironic and poignant surely.

When I was a boy in rural Fermanagh I can recall an event in our parish about a fortnight before Christmas when the traveling people arrived on the roadside for a night or two before, as always, moving on. They had two of those colorful Romany-style horse caravans, and there were also three tents.

The tents of that era had hazel ribs over which was draped a tarpaulin. There was always a campfire burning near the entrance of the tent and, equally always, a squall of small brown children and lean hounds.

After the travelers moved on, the place they had camped was always glittering brightly with the waste snippets of the tin which the menfolk, genuine tin smiths, made for sale to the local farmers and housewives. They were real artists too.

But anyway, what happened was that a young wife went into labor prematurely in one of those roadside tents, and there was chaos and confusion in the camp. And what did not happen but that the older traveler grandmother who was apparently a midwife to the clan had gone into hospital the previous week.

Syrian children.

Syrian children.

One of the frightened traveler women came in to our shop to ask us where could they reach a doctor (we had no telephone back then either like most others). A lady friend of my mother, a customer in the shop at the time, was a nurse and, instantly, leaving her shopping unfinished, she went down to the tent and went to work.

The doctor did not arrive until about three hours later, and by then the nurse had delivered a perfectly hale and hearty male child. My dear mother paid the doctor for his trip and the nurse, I learned later, bought an extra bag of shopping for the new mother and her babe.

A few days later a traveler man came to the house with two bright tin buckets.  One was a thank you gift for the nurse, and the other was for my mother. I often carried it to the spring well in the years that followed.

Is it not very sad that the reality in Aleppo today and tonight, and indeed the harsh reality in many areas of the Middle East, is so cruel and inhuman? The march of the centuries towards Christmas after Christmas alters many elements of Life and living for sure.

But there are still those widely gaping chasms brimming with the evidences of man's inhumanity to man. And to mother and tiny child.

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