Rooting our response to refugees and migrants in the innate worth of each human person.
Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead bishop for migrants and refugees for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales joins Bishop John Perumbalath, Anglican Bishop of Liverpooland Chair of Churches Refugee Network, for an evening with the London Churches Refugee Fund
Frontline workers from the projects supported by the fund will also be giving testimonies at the event.
‘Love the Stranger’ , Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, W1K 3AH, Wednesday, 24 May 2023, at 7pm.
The Citizens of the World Choir will also be performing.
Followed by refreshments, meeting and greetings in the Arrupe Hall.
Date: May 15th 2023 Time: 12.30-1.30pm Location: Opposite HOME OFFICE, Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF
Join us to pray for
those who have died trying to reach the UK
the many victims of current wars
asylum seekers in detention centres, and those who are homeless
those who struggle to inject welcome and humanity into our legislation
We invite you to join us every third Monday of the month, remembering those who have died, and praying for those who are struggling for safety. Just come along on the day or contact us for the prayer resources in advice: Barbara Kentish – email@example.com or Br Johannes Maertens – johanmaertens@amys251
On Monday 20 March, more than 20 people attended the monthly ecumenical Home Office Prayer Vigil in London to commemorate refugees who have died trying to find a place of safety. The group has gathered every month over 18 months. Organisations represented included the London Catholic Worker, Westminster Justice and Peace, the London Churches Refugee Fund, the Community of the Word of God and Columban missionaries. Barbara Kentish gave the reflection.
So here we are, in the Fourth Week of Lent, in the middle of a worsening political situation. How can we continue to pray and have faith that God is with those coming to our shores looking for safety?
I think that it is this very sense of powerlessness that aligns us with refugees and migrants. We are unable, as things stand, to do anything significant to change the policies and hardline mentality of our government. Exiles on the move are powerless even to death, as we realise every month. We campaign, hold placards, try to communicate with our fellow human beings. We take comfort that all of us here feel the same outrage and sometimes despair that anything can be different. I have taken this reflection from a book on shared spirituality with refugees compiled by the International Jesuit Refugee Service.
‘It is in that weakness that we can take refuge. Weakness links us profoundly with God, because it provides a privileged area in which his grace can be seen, in which his sustaining presence can reveal itself, in which even his power can become manifest. This is why weakness stands as almost the opposite of sin. Weakness is a chosen context for the epiphany of the Lord, it is the night in which he appears – not always felt as assurance, but rather as a power to move on faithfully, even when we do not feel the strength, even when fidelity means simply putting one step in front of the other.”
The writer, a Jesuit Refugee Service director, points out an important corollary of our weakness, which might make us stop and think:
“The experience of weakness deepens both our sensitivity to human need and our experience of prayer. There is an important consequence for all of us in the refugee support network: we must support one another in weakness, forgiving one another our daily faults and carrying one another’s burdens. It would be absurd to maintain weakness as essentially part of our vocation and then to belittle those who are deficient, to resent those who are insensitive, unsophisticated or clumsy, to allow disagreements to become hostilities, or to continue battles and angers because of personal histories.”
There is a great tendency for us to become embittered and cynical about those whom we oppose. We have a clear duty to show love, however that is to be manifested, to those we see as enemies to the good of refugees. I don’t know quite what that looks like. But standing here in this public place, I pray that it will be revealed to us!
Let us pray: Jesus, who told us to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us, bless our weakness, and give us the heart and the wisdom to follow your teaching. Amen
Love the Stranger – Document from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, March 2023
You are invited to our monthly Prayer Vigil which will be held outside the Home Office, 12.30-1.30pm, Marsham Street, SWQP 4DF.
It is normally held on the third Monday of the month and is a space for us to remember migrants who have died trying to reach the UK, the many victims of the war in Ukraine, those who work with asylum seekers in detention centres, and the homeless.
We believe that God will prevail, however great the disaster, however great the horror, however great the inhumanity.
For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Catholic Bishop for Migrants and Refugees made the following comments on the government’s Illegal Migration Bill yesterday:
“Everyone who makes a dangerous journey across the Channel to build a better life here has a name, a face, and a story. People are driven from their homes by poverty, conflict, persecution, natural disasters, or other factors that prevent their flourishing. Many have links to the UK or family members already living here. Yet, far too often, there are no safe routes open to them.
“While we all wish to end dangerous Channel crossings, this new legislation treats migrants and refugees as a problem to be solved rather than brothers and sisters towards whom we have responsibilities. Establishing more safe routes, and genuinely understanding people’s individual circumstances are essential to meeting these.
“As Christians we call for the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, to be put at the heart of public policy.”
As reports of overcrowding and poor conditions at Manston migrant centre in Kent emerged, Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has called for this ‘worrying’ situation to be addressed ‘as a matter of urgency’. In his statement, he writes:
‘Above all we need to remember that migrants and refugees in Manston, like all others who have found their way here are human beings, made in the image of God. Regardless of how or why people have made the journey here, they must be treated with respect and dignity.
‘Reports of people being held in overcrowded and unsafe conditions are worrying and must be addressed as a matter of urgency. It is also imperative that everyone refrains from inflammatory language that undermines people’s humanity and creates tensions between communities.
‘As well as the right to migrate, Catholic social teaching also speaks of the right not to migrate. Often this is overlooked. Our politicians recognising the global phenomenon of migration must work with others in the international community to help create conditions that will eliminate the conflict, poverty and suffering that forces people to leave their own homelands in the first place and undertake dangerous journeys in search of a better life.’
Megan Knowles, Communications and Development Manager for JRS UK, spoke about the experience of accompanying refugees in an increasingly hostile world. She spoke about the primary work of JRS being accompaniment, and specifically the accompaniment of people experiencing destitution as a result of being given no recourse to public funds. This looks like ‘being with, rather than doing for’. She spoke about how people at this point in the asylum system are in a ‘legal-limbo’, isolated with significantly reduced access to healthcare during a prolonged and anxiety inducing time. JRS supports in a variety of ways, including having a hosting scheme, a pantry and befriending.
Pattie Gercke is the Development Worker for Compassionate Communities, which is the social action arm of the Diocese of London. Pattie presented from the ecumenical perspective and how churches in the Diocese of London are engaged in the welcome of people seeking sanctuary. Ecumenism was a strong theme of the forum. Pattie shared that church response looked like practical support such as access to work, ESOL provision, hosting, education, healthcare, digital access, provision of food, clothing as well as legal and rights-based support. The value, however, of non-material forms of support was highlighted; for instance the importance of relationship, sitting, sharing space, listening and providing spaces of welcome. Further, it was highlighted that churches are repositories of social capital and that this social capital can be used to support integration. The importance of enabling a wider audience to hear the stories and theologies of people in the asylum system was discussed.
The forum then heard from Danny Coyle who presented the school experience, specifically the transformation of Newman Catholic College in Brent when they became a school of sanctuary. There had been an immediate positive effect of welcoming and integration sanctuary seeking pupils and their parents in the school. They developed a unique and bespoke curriculum to meet the needs of those coming from overseas from conflict zones. There was a particular focus on language which enables pupils to unlock other parts of the curriculum, which pupils were keen to embrace. The academic needs of pupils are placed alongside their emotional needs, and pupils are entered onto different pathways. The school has a Refugee Coordinator. Support of Caritas Westminster for the school’s annual Syria Summer Camp, where pupils take part in varied and enriching activities. These camps have gone from strength to strength with volunteers from a sanctuary seeking background being involved. The key takeaway was that if correct structures are put in place, refugee students and their families can flourish.
The final presentation came from Teresa Clarke who is a parishioner at St Bartholemew’s Parish in St Albans who is directly involved in refugee accompaniment through the Church’s conversation group. Teresa shared how ecumenical work, as well as responsiveness to the needs of the asylum seekers that they are supporting has transformed the project. The group provides emotional and practical support to asylum seeking men at a local hotel and works with 10% of residents. The value of engagement with local MPs was underlined, with the group having strong connections with Daisy Cooper MP. The group is part of a network with other churches in the area providing support. The group hold forums to hold the hotel to account with regards to need for good food and appropriate clothing for the guests. Alongside this the group held a refugees Information Exchange where asylum seekers shared experiences and information, offering help and support. There is a significant challenge of transport, where the location of Noake hotel is a barrier to asylum seekers making connections in the city. This lead to an initiative whereby spare bikes were donated, and so far, the project has received 55 bikes which are fully serviced by a bike mechanic. Herts County Council are offering Bike Ability training while the conversation group support as they gain confidence in these sessions.
After the presentations, attendees went into breakout rooms with each of the speakers to discuss questions relating to the topics that had been presented. These were:
What are the most effective ways to assist refugee and migrant groups, what are the challenges and what else can we do?
It was an opportunity for discussion before joining back with the main group to share experiences, observations and questions.
How to balance being with and doing with. Context of the whole person. How to accompany people who have and are experiencing trauma.
Partner with expert services.
How to support people, especially women facing domestic violence.
Ecumenical working and that how could operate
Joined up working between churches, looking at modeling St Albans, not working elsewhere necessarily.
Working alongside interfaith groups
Joined up working
Campaigning and advocacy more difficult, fundamental systems change – HO not listening.
Range of needs for refugees and asylum seekers, different circumstances and needs.
Challenges because of the cost of living. Need of financial assistance, winter, facing difficulties.
Challenges getting churches to communicate.
What else can we do – sharing information, what is going on where.
Need for greater awareness of what is going on for asylum seekers.
Hard to balance the media portrayal of refugee help as a very hard thing;
How to keep people compassionate enough to help?
Keep learning from other people and always try to be flexible;
The best answer to the question is to share experiences.
How to stop the work of helping people from being overwhelming?
Think of how we speak about these matters language wise.
The Forum was summed up by Bishop Paul McAleenan, lead bishop for Migrant Issues, saying ‘Refugees are not statistics, but heart and flesh, human beings who must be helped.’
Westminster Caritas Refugees and Migrants Mailing List
Rosa Lewis, the Caritas Westminster Lead for Refugees and Migrants, convenes a quarterly meeting for everyone in the Diocese of Westminster concerned about refugees and migrants. To be added to her mailing list please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Home Office Prayer Vigils
You are warmly invited to join Barbara Kentish (Westminster Justice & Peace), Br Johannes Maertens (London Catholic Worker) and others to participate at the vigils outside the Home Office or to pray along at home on the third Monday of every month, 12.30-1.30pm.
Next Vigil: Monday 17th October 2022, 12.30-1.30pm
The World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated in Catholic parishes on Sunday, 25th September 2022.
Sunday – An International Mass to mark the day will be celebrated in Westminster Cathedral on 25th September at 5.30pm by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
Monday – Home Office Vigil. Westminster Justice and Peace will again join London Catholic Worker and others outside the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF, on Monday 26th September (postponed from 19th September, owing to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II) from 12.30-1.30pm for a vigil to remember all those who have died seeking sanctuary in Europe and to pray for justice for all migrants and refugees in the UK. All are welcome to join us.
Bishop Paul McAleenan, Auxiliary Bishop in Westminster and Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has recorded the following message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees:
Hello and greetings to everyone.
I am Bishop Paul McAleenan, the Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees at the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Every year, the Church throughout the world devotes a day to migrants and refugees. This year, 2022, the day will be celebrated on Sunday, 25 September. You may think that this day, WDMR, as it’s called, World Day of Migrants and Refugees, is in response to the coverage of new arrivals to our country and migration. In fact, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees has been held annually since 1914, an indication that displacement from one’s homeland has long been a feature of life for many people.
This day is an opportunity for Catholics throughout the world to remember and pray for those who are displaced through war, poverty and persecution, and also to raise awareness of the fact that migration offers opportunity to many people. It benefits many.
In 2020, Pope Francis, in his message, said, if we wish to promote those whom we wish to assist, then we must involve them and make them agents of their own redemption. In his message for this year, 2022, the Holy Father expands on those words by choosing the theme ‘Building the Future with Migrants and Refugees’.
In our parishes and in our neighbourhoods, we can see that migration is a reality. There are many people from other countries. Pope Francis appeals to us to adopt an attitude of welcome to those who live among us, reminding us that they can revitalise our communities and enliven celebrations in our parishes. Their presence is a witness to the Catholicity of God’s people. Without undermining or devaluing our own culture and values, we are asked to be open to the treasure and the variety of gifts that migrants and refugees bring to our communities.
It is edifying that many parishes are reaching out to migrants and refugees. I know of one group who, motivated by their faith and working ecumenically, invite migrants and refugees to English language conversation classes. That is an example of how Pope Francis’s call to build the future together is being lived out.
Two other events have taken place which portray the Church’s commitment to migrants and refugees. In March of this year, the Papal Nuncio, that is the Pope’s representative to Great Britain, visited Napier Barracks in Folkestone, where a number of people are housed. He spent time with them. He conveyed to them both the concern and the best wishes of Pope Francis. He returned at a later date to present a Papal Blessing personally signed by the Holy Father.
In October 2021, a 3.5-metre high puppet called Amal was welcomed in Westminster Cathedral to music and dance and a great atmosphere of prayer.
In cathedrals and parish halls and holding centres, the love of God has been extended to those who are marginalised, to those who are poor, and in need, and I thank everyone involved in this wonderful work.
We are also grateful to those who, using their professional expertise advocate the cause of migrants and refugees, in weighty matters and in smaller but essential ways.
The love of God has been extended and migrants and refugees are receiving a welcome from God’s people and encouragement, which is much needed. It is work that must increase and must continue.
I ask you to pray and to remember migrants, refugees, displaced persons: through war, persecution, climate change and all those on the move seeking a better life.
On Sunday, 25 September, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, may God give us all of the grace to work together with migrants and refugees to build a better future.
A prayer that we will build the future together with migrants and refugees…
Lord, make us bearers of hope, so that where there is darkness, Your light may shine. And where there is discouragement, confidence in the future may be reborn.
Lord, make us instruments of Your justice, so that where there is exclusion, fraternity may flourish and where there is greed, a spirit of sharing may grow.
Lord, make us builders of Your kingdom together with migrants and refugees and with all who dwell on the peripheries.
Lord, let us learn how beautiful it is to live together as brothers and sisters.
Monday 19th September is a bank holiday for the funeral of the Queen. RIP. There will be no workers in offices, reduced travel services (as on normal bank holidays perhaps), and many will be watching events on TV. It seems sensible therefore to hold our Vigil for migrants and asylum seekers on Monday 26th September at 12.30pm, outside the Home Office, 2 Marsham St, London SW1P 4DF.
This has the advantage of being the day after the Vatican World Day of Refugees, whose theme is, ‘Building the Future with Migrants and Refugees.’