PERHAPS the most familiar Holocaust image is the one which shows a 7-year-old boy as he raises his hands above his shoulders surrounded by Nazi troops in Warsaw in 1943. Millions of Jews were killed, but that boy, Tsvi Nussbaum, was fortunate. After the war, he moved to Israel and then to the United States, where he worked as a physician in New York City.

Another image that I am sure all of you, dear readers, will remember, is a 1972 photo of a naked, 9-year-old girl running for her life down Route 1 near Trang Bang (Vietnam), after an aerial napalm bombing attack. Her name is Phan Thi Kim Phuc, and she now lives in Ajax, near Toronto, Ontario. Besides being a loving wife and mother she is a mentor and Good Will Ambassador for the United Nations.

We may well say that these two iconic images defined certain historical events, and that they probably conveyed to the international public ‘that little bit extra’ on the indescribable tragedies which occurred in the past century.

The 40s and 70s of the last century were, however, very different from the internet era in which we are presently living. Today, when most of us are constantly connected, constantly informed and constantly updated on the harrowing tragedies occurring daily around the world, we certainly have no need of a single, shocking photo to prick our consciences. The knowledge that millions of people are fleeing famine, wars, persecution and terrorism should be enough to spur us into action, along with reports, stories, debates and in depth-coverage on current events.

It is for this reason that this editorial is not illustrated with that iconic photo which shows the lifeless body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi being carried away from Budrum Beach by a Turkish police officer. We feel sure that you, dear readers, have no need to see a dead child on a beach in order to understand the harrowing reality refugees are going through. The drama currently unfolding at the doors of Europe is leading to much soul-searching. It is spurring many of us into action, into taking tangible steps like those being taken by the Catholic Church, which is going out of her way to welcome and assist migrants in any way she can. Tangible steps like those of Pope Francis, who never tires of reminding us that we must see the sufferings of Christ himself in the suffering of migrants. Tangible steps like those of St. Anthony’s Charities, our charitable organization, which is currently formulating a major project to help refugees from the civil war in Syria.

In the first 10 months of this year, Europe has taken in about 350,000 immigrants, mainly from the Middle East and northern Africa. Despite the scaremongering and cynical comments by certain politicians who are trying to whip up the crowds into a frenzy of nationalism in order to increase their electoral appeal, this number is, in fact, inferior to expectations, and in any case almost insignificant when compared with the immense human tide that overwhelmed the Middle East at the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. Nevertheless you still hear many alarmed voices yelling out the word: INVASION.

It is as though Europe, along with the rest of the affluent West, feel threatened by the evils surrounding them: wars, persecution, religious fundamentalism, abject poverty. It is as if they are fearful of being invaded by those many consider as the ‘vectors’ of these evils.

We should not deceive ourselves into believing we can keep these evils at bay by simply closing ourselves inside a fortress. No wall, no closing of borders, no barbed-wire fence, will be able to ward off this tide of desperate human beings. Those who are fleeing certain death, either from war, persecution or starvation, have nothing to lose in risking their lives in these journeys. Rather, our selfishness and indifference to their plight may well breed resentment on their part. Those migrants we are rejecting today as they come to us in peace may well come back tomorrow with an entirely different attitude.

Last September, while addressing tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis said that it was not enough to simply say, “Have courage, hang in there,” and added, “Every Catholic parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine in Europe, should accommodate one family”.

Don’t you think this could be a good start?

Updated on October 06 2016