Welcome the refugees. Bring them here. I say, welcome the Syrian refugees and people who are fleeing from devastation, war and oppression at home. So what if many of them look different from many of us and do some things differently from the way many of us do things? (The same is true of me and some of my best friends.) Welcome the refugees!

We and they are far more similar than different. Ten years ago, most of us New Orleanians were fleeing our homes seeking refuge from Hurricane Katrina. Our livelihoods and businesses were destroyed. I remember watching TV wondering if our home was flooded, on fire or being looted. I worried: When will we get to come back? If I am not able to get back home, will I find a job in my place of safety? How will I get medicine to control my diabetes?

All over the country, we were welcomed with open arms and given a safe haven by people who did not know us. They gave us shelter, food, money, jobs, clothing, schools, and toys for our kids. We crowded their homes, neighborhoods, stores, schools and streets. And yet they gave us friendship, open arms, love. Of course, many of us looked different from them, believed differently from some of them, and did some things differently, yet they welcomed us.

And sometimes those who gave us refuge were afraid of us. Some of us betrayed their hospitality with crime. But still, they gave us sanctuary. They didn’t judge all of us by the violence of a few.

Our gracious hosts benefited too. They learned new ways to talk, the right way to cook gumbo, and how to dance to our music. We enriched not only their culture but also their economy as we paid taxes, purchased their food and services, and bought houses. We moved in with them and gave them new teachers, restaurants, day laborers, entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses.

As we eat the leftovers from our holiday meals, I say, welcome these modern pilgrims as our ancestors were welcomed, fed, and given the asylum that Thanksgiving commemorates.

As a Christian I have been preparing for Christmas and the birth of Jesus, my savior. His lesson is one of inclusivity. He brought His message of God’s love, wholeness and forgiveness for all people, not just those who were like Him. He healed, fed and forgave everyone, especially the sinners. He told us to love our enemy and pray for those who hate us.

As I prepared to celebrate Christmas, I also remembered His parents, Mary and Joseph, who had walked to Bethlehem. Homeless, they were seeking a place where He could be born. Jesus’ earthly life began as a refugee.

In His name, I say give the Syrian refugees a home here. Let us welcome them!

Richard Saxer

retired teacher

New Orleans