Source: Independent Catholic News
The contribution of migrants to the UK Church and society was highlighted by the lead bishop for Migrants and Refugees at Saturday’s annual Mass for Migrants in South London. Bishop Paul McAleenan said migrants “are vital and essential”, with many being casualties in the course of their frontline work during the pandemic in health, care homes, and transport. They have also provided leadership in such areas as education, politics, and technology. He felt the Church in England and Wales too “has been rejuvenated by migrants” who are “gifts to us.”
Bishop Paul pointed out that Pope Francis has urged that we welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees. He criticised recent attempts to put migrants into different categories depending upon how they arrive in the UK. “The Church will resist that,” he said, “and any attempt to introduce what is divisive needs to be resisted by the Churches.” He described society as being at the crossroads and, “post-pandemic we must build a better, recognising everyone’s contributions including those from overseas.”
He mentioned that past Masses before the pandemic have been held in overflowing cathedrals with several thousand participants, processions of migrant community banners, Chinese dragons held aloft in the aisles, and colourful Offertory processions danced by African and Asian communities. Yet, this celebration in 2021 remained significant.
Four priests concelebrated and Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace said afterwards: “The annual Migrants’ Mass on or around the Feast of St Joseph the Worker is an exciting event now firmly established in the London Catholic calendar but for me this year’s was especially poignant. Beginning to emerge from this dreadful pandemic, we came together around the altar as a representative group of migrant communities to celebrate how our Catholic faith is rooted in such a wonderful diversity of ethnic communities and cultures. The Church in London in its ethnic diversity is clearly still vibrant, resilient and strong in its universal witness to the power of faith.”
The Mass on 1 May was organised by the Justice and Peace Commissions of the London Dioceses of Southwark, Brentwood and Westminster, in honour of St Joseph the Worker. Citizens UK, which has been involved in all 16 Migrants Masses over the years, gave the official welcome and thanked the Catholic Church for its “moral authority” in calling for the dignity of migrants to be recognised. The venue was St William of York at Forest Hill in Southwark where Fr Habte Ukbay, chair of the Justice and Peace Commission for Southwark, is parish priest. He welcomed ethnic chaplains present and pointed out that the Patron Saint of Migrants, St Francis Xavier Cabrini, was a worshipper at the church. A small number of invited guests were present, all wearing masks and distancing, but many more joined the live-streamed service online.
A strong international flavour included a ‘Lord have mercy’ from Brazil in Portuguese, a Gospel Acclamation from Cameroon with drums and shakers in full swing, and a ‘Lamb of God’ from the Philippines. The children of St William of York Primary School sang the Our Father in Swahili. They also led bidding prayers in French, Spanish, Igbo, Twi, Romanian and English, calling for workers to “find just conditions of labour and be paid a proper living wage to meet the needs of their families” and for remembrance of “refugees and victims of war, especially children who have lost their lives”. They prayed for the people of London, that the city, “may continue to be a place of hope, opportunity and belonging”. People suffering in Myanmar, Syria and Hong Kong received particular mention.