More than 2,000 Catholic migrants living and working in London brought colour and international music to a special Mass for Migrants at Westminster Cathedral on Monday 2 May. The principal celebrant this year was Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.
In his homily Cardinal Nichols deplored “reports of sadness, dismay, frustration, anger, rejection and humiliation from Iraq and Jordan, to Libya and Calais.” He felt it was important to speak out when vulnerable children “are perishing at sea or at risk in hostile camps”, and to act with “compassion and justice.”
He said, it is vital to acknowledge the hard work of refugees and migrants in Britain, “who have arrived in this country, in this city, and who work hard not only to survive and to support their loved ones, but also to make their contribution to the well-being of others”. He called for “a change of heart in our society, so that we begin by appreciating the great contribution made by so many migrant communities, without whom this city would not function.”
The Cardinal went on to urge more responsible leadership “from those who deal in creating fear of migrant people and who seek to profit from that fear, whether financially or politically”. He concluded by saying: “We pray earnestly for those who are in positions of authority and leadership that they will find the courage and imagination to respond more generously to those in need, speeding up our own resettlement programme and looking to see how other avenues of rescue and support can be provided.”
Alongside Cardinal Nichols at the Mass were bishops representing Westminster, Brentwood, and Southwark dioceses, and more than 40 priests from ethnic chaplaincies and missionary societies, including the Superior General of the Columban Missionaries, Australian Fr Kevin O’Neill. The Mass was organised by the Justice and Peace commissions of Westminster and Southwark and Citizens UK, in dialogue with Bishop Paul McAleenan, auxiliary in Westminster. Among those handing out Mass brochures to the congregation were Barbara Kentish of Westminster Justice and Peace, Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary (a charity which supports refugees in Calais) and Alison Gelder of Housing Justice.
A procession before Mass, led by the Brazilian chaplaincy, reflected the diversity of London’s Catholic community, as various communities made their way up the aisle, singing, drumming and dancing to their traditional music. Particularly appreciated was an accompaniment of the Offertory by London’s Vietnamese Catholic community, involving the dancing of garlanded young people and the singing of a Vietnamese choir.
Biddings prayers at the Mass were spoken in a variety of languages, including Mandarin, Yoruba and Portuguese, by students of Our Lady’s Convent High School in Hackney. They remembered refugees who have died crossing seas and borders to escape wars and persecution, and victims of human trafficking. The well-being of migrants working in London was recalled with, “may we live together in harmony and may our employment policies enable all to be treated justly”.
Banners heading up the aisle at the end of the Mass included the Ethiopian chaplaincy, the London Chinese Catholic Association, Syro-Malabar churches of India, Catholic Nigerian and Ghanaian chaplaincies, the London Catholic Worker and ‘Justice for Domestic Workers’ (J4DW). They rubbed shoulders with Julian Filochowski of the Archbishop Romero Trust, Maria Elena Arana of CAFOD and representatives of Catholic organisations and religious sisters.
In recent years, Catholic Churches in London have seen a growing number of parishioners from Africa and Asia, from Eastern and Western Europe, from the islands of the Caribbean and more recently from South America. This annual Mass is a visible sign of the Catholic Church’s desire to celebrate this rich diversity which enhances parish life, and to underline the church’s pastoral care for migrants and their families. It has been celebrated on the first Monday in May (Bank Holiday Monday) since 2006.
Read the full text of Cardinal Nichol’s homily here