Report from ‘To Accompany Refugees’, Westminster Social Justice and Peace Forum, 17th September 2022

Watch Bishop Paul McAleenan’s Summary of the ‘To Accompany Refugees’ Forum meeting

On Saturday, 17th September people from around the Diocese of Westminster joined Bishop Nicholas Hudson and Bishop Paul McAleenan for the Westminster Social Justice and Peace Forum on Zoom.

The theme of the forum was ‘To Accompany Refugees’, and took place on the weekend proceeding World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

The forum was chaired by Bishop Nicholas Hudson who underlined that this was an opportunity to explore what the response in the ecclesial community in Westminster has been.

The session was opened in prayer by Barbara Kentish. Barbara adopted a prayer that she uses at the Justice and Peace Vigils that she organises outside of the Home Office. During the forum there were presentations from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Compassionate Communities, Newman Catholic College and St Bartholemew’s Church in St Albans.

Watch the Speaker Presentations

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.

Plenary Feedback

  • 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 rosalewis@rcdow.org.uk

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

Venue: Home Office, Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF

Contact: Barbarakentish@talktalk.net  or johanmaertens@hotmail.com    

At the vigils we remember:

  • those who have died trying to reach the UK. 
  • victims of the war in Ukraine.
  • workers with asylum seekers in detention centres.
  • those supporting homeless migrants.
  • those struggling to inject welcome and humanity into our legislation.

Links

Also reported on Independent Catholic News –
https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/45517

Together With Refugees – Fill the Skies with Hope campaign, 23rd September – 9th November 2022. Coalition action across the UK to end the Rwanda Deportations plan.
https://togetherwithrefugees.org.uk/fill-the-skies-with-hope/

Bishop John Sherrington’s reflections on this year’s visit to Syria Summer Camp, hosted by Newman Catholic College
https://rcdow.org.uk/news/summer-camp-helps-refugee-children-find-a-safe-home/

Report from the Southern Dioceses Network Meeting 12th September 2022

Southern Dioceses Environment Network 12th September 2022: Presentation by Shanon Shah, Director, Faith for the Climate

We were delighted to welcome Shanon Shah, the Director of Faith for the Climate, as our guest speaker for the first meeting this term of the Southern Dioceses Environment Network.

Faith for the Climate is a network that aims to equip, inspire, and encourage faith inspired action on issues of climate change across the UK. All faiths and spiritualities are welcome.

Shanon Shah is a Malaysian Muslim who came to the UK in 2010. He joined the team at Faith for the Climate in 2020.

The organisation aims to unite those of faith together in the environmental justice space and to encourage learning from the different faith traditions. It was a way to target the UK government and show solidarity with those who suffer the worse impact of climate change despite doing the least to contribute.

The group meet regularly online with two priorities in the lead up to COP-26: new and additional money for loss and damage, ending fossil fuel subsidies. The UK government has made some progress with the second focus, therefore, most energy was focused on loss and damage.

Loss and Damage is part of the architecture of the Paris Agreement which includes three main pillars of climate action; mitigation of climate emissions, adaption to live with the impact of climate change, loss and damage. Loss and damage is when the impact of climate change is so severe that adaption/mitigation is not possible e.g. as a result of sea level rises, extreme weather events.

The UK government has historically blocked negotiations on loss and damage.

At COP-19, in 2013, the Warsaw international mechanism for Loss and damage was established in response to the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. At COP-25 in Madrid, the Santiago network on loss and damage was established to implement the Warsaw mechanism. It called for richer countries to offer compensation. At COP-26, there was a push for clarity on how the Santiago network would be implemented.

The Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage was established post COP-26. Many questions on how to address the issue are undecided, but it is climbing the agenda with the first awareness day last year. This is largely due to the efforts of faith communities.

The UK has faced financial difficulty this year due to the war in Ukraine, cost of living crisis etc. which has made it more difficult to talk about loss and damage. Despite our own issues we must not forget countries such as Pakistan which is now 1/3 under water with the displacement of 50 million people and 10 billion US dollars’ worth of damage. These poorer countries are suffering the worst effects of climate change despite contributing the least. The impacts of extreme weather events are far greater for them and they are still struggling with debt.

It seems only fair that the big polluters have the most responsibility to pay compensation for loss and damage. It is a moral issue that lies at the centre of many faiths; we are all interconnected.

The next Loss and Damage Awareness Day will be on the 22nd September; including a walk of witness to Parliament Square via the Shell headquarters. Gathering at St. John’s Church, Waterloo, 10.30am. It will join those doing an interfaith fast for loss and damage.

22 September – Loss and Damage Awareness Day
10.30am Meet at St John’s Waterloo, 73 Waterloo Rd, London SE1 8TY
11.30am Walk to the Shell headquarters for a vigil
12.00pm Walk to Parliament Square
Loss and Damage Day of Action London

We then broke into small groups to consider the question: “In what ways does the topic of Loss and Damage resonate with this year’s theme for the Season of Creation – Listen to the Voice of Creation?”

Links

Faith for the Climate
Loss and Damage Day of Action London
Southern Dioceses Environment Network
Key Climate Dates in 2022

The Journey to 2030 website has been revamped with several sections for new resources. Check it out at:

https://journeyto2030.org new homepage
https://journeyto2030.org/let-us-dream/ let us dream activity*
https://journeyto2030.org/getting-started-2/ The new getting started and resources page
https://journeyto2030.org/poster-activity/ – The ‘building a caring community’ activity poster page

*You can order packs of the ‘Let Us Dream’ activity to use with your church group / parish.

The next meeting of the Southern Dioceses Environment Network is on Monday 10th October, 12.45-2.00pm. Register with Eventbrite

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Hiroshima Day, 6th August 2022, Outside Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Justice & Peace joined Pax Christi, London Catholic Worker and other peace campaigners to remember the devastation caused by the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August 1945.

We mourned for those who lost their lives, prayed for an end to nuclear weapons and handed out leaflets to visitors to the Cathedral.

On 9th August, the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, we also joined a procession from Westminster Cathedral – following the memorial service for Blessed Franz Jagerstatter – to the Peace Pagoda by the Thames in Battersea Park, led by Buddhist monk the Rev Gyoro Nagase with several monks and a nun from the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order.

Arriving at the Peace Pagoda, we were welcomed by Mr Shigeo Kobayashi from Japan Against Nuclear (JAN).

Colourful lanterns on the steps of the pagoda represented souls of the 74,000 people who perished in the bombing in 1945.

The monks led prayers and ceremonies with incense and chanting for all victims in Nagasaki and offered prayers for peace in the world.

Fr Alan Gadd, from the South London Interfaith group, offered a Christian prayer. Hannah Kemp-Welch, CND co-chair, gave a brief address in which she voiced fears over the increasing tensions in the world where so many countries have nuclear weapons.

Shigeo Kobayashi spoke about the urgent necessity of implementing promises made in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and hopes for the tenth Review Conference of Parties to the treaty (#NPTRevCon) which is currently taking place at the UN in New York. He said the danger of a catastrophic accident has never been greater – pointing out that the bomb on Nagasaki was actually an accident – the original intention was to drop it somewhere else but plans were changed because of the weather.

The Peace Pagoda was presented to London in 1984 by the Venerable Nichidatsu Fuji, founder of the Japanese Buddhist movement, Nipponzan Myohoji. Following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he pledged to build pagodas worldwide as shrines to peace. Altogether, there are now 80 peace pagodas worldwide.

“Civilisation is not to kill human beings, not to destroy things, nor make war; civilisation is to hold mutual affection and to respect one another.”

Rev Fuji

All are invited to join us next year to mark the 78th anniversary of the bombings and to continue, in the meantime, to work for an end to these weapons so that all may live without fear of them ever being used again.

Full Report: Independent Catholic News

NJPN Conference Report, 22-24 July 2022

Angel, Chris, Amy, Tra-My and Colette on the Westminster Justice & Peace stall at the NJPN Conference Just Fair 2022

Source: Ellen Teague, Independent Catholic News

About 160 people gathered from across the country for the 44th Annual Conference of the National Justice and Peace Network at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire. There were 12 representatives from the Diocese of Westminster. Particular thanks go to Assumption Volunteers Angel, Chris, Amy and Tra-My who ran the Just Fair stall for Westminster Justice and Peace this year. Over the course of the weekend they collected answers to synod-style questions on the environment and racial justice (two priority areas for Westminster Justice and Peace) which we hope to collate and publish soon.

Keynote speakers throughout the weekend explored the conference theme of ‘Hope’.

Irish diplomat Philip McDonagh explored the meaning of hope, drawing on Pope Benedict’s encyclical Spe Salvi, especially the statement that “all serious and upright conduct is hope in action.” He felt “we should ‘image’ or visualise peace as the rightful possession of the human community as a whole,” despite current global conflicts. He felt that, “through developing a culture of dialogue or encounter in national, regional, and global politics we can transform our understanding of effective action and create the conditions for a different kind of civilisation.” He felt, “the National Peace and Justice Network is living proof that individual interventions in the name of justice and mercy reinforce one another and can support wider social objectives as well.” He pointed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as already providing a medium-term common plan for humanity and called for consultative processes to include representatives of religion to underpin their implementation. “In this moment of fractured politics and dissolving ethics, renewed attention to religion as a source of unity is a bold and much-needed initiative,” he suggested.

Rev Dr Patrick Devine SMA spoke of his peace-building work in East Africa as chairman of the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. Shalom seeks to identify, understand and address the underlying causes of conflict rather than just address the symptoms. Fr Devine spoke of dramatic, life-changing results in the areas of conflict transformation, peace education and poverty alleviation. Shalom researches root causes of inter-ethnic conflicts, trains local peace-builders, organises workshops to facilitate resolution and reconciliation processes between factions, and develops inter-ethnic and inter-religious schools. “Theory without practice is empty and practice without theory is blind,” he said.

‘Getting beyond Optimism to Hope: demonstrating or building the Kingdom in the world of politics,’ was the title of a presentation by Andy Flanagan of Christians in Politics and a singer-songwriter. He spoke of leading parliamentarians in singing about integrity, truth and justice at a parliamentary prayer breakfast in early July and a spate of government ministerial resignations which took place hours later! Christians believe that, “integrity is leadership is really important.” A firm believer in tackling the causes of injustice, he praised NJPN for its campaigning work over the years to promote justice and compassion. His music provided the Saturday evening entertainment.

Liturgies were organised by the Lay Community of St Benedict and both Catholic and ecumenical worship was offered. Conference planning partners included ACTA, Christians Aware, Joint Public Issues Team, and Stella Maris. Rev Ruth Gee, a Methodist pastor and patron of NJPN who led a service on Saturday afternoon, spoke of “being united by concern and passion for justice and peace and by a shared faith.”

Workshops included issues of domestic poverty and universal credit, Salford’s ‘Guardians of Creation’ project, restoring dignity to prisoners and their families, Church Action for Tax Justice and Interfaith work on Justice and Peace.

A preview of the film, ‘Finite: The Climate of Change’, which looks at non-violent direct action in Germany and UK to protect ancient forests from coal mines, attracted an audience of 60. https://www.finite-film.com/

A Just Fair hosted 25 stalls, including Together for the Common Good, Green Christian, Christian Climate Action, Columbans, Missio, World Community for Christian Meditation, Fairtrade, Palestinian Goods and Global Justice Now.

Food at the conference was guided by LOAF principles (Local, Organic, Animal Friendly, Fairly Traded).

Full National Justice and Peace Network Report

Refugee Week Report 2022, 20th-26th June

Asylum Seeker Maimuna Jawo, speaking at the Stories of Welcome event Monday 20th June 2022

Stories of Welcome 20th June, 2022

This Refugee Week (20-26 June 2022), Caritas Westminster alongside the Anglican Dioceses of Westminster and Southwark wanted to share some ‘Stories of Welcome’ from communities across the London and east Surrey. Resources, including five videos, a booklet and an infographic were launched on World Refugee Day. Each account detailed demonstrates how simple a welcome can be, which is in contrast with the transformative power of the encounter that the welcome enables.  

The ecumenical launch event, held at The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, opened with a prayer from the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Dr Joanne Grenfell Woolway. Those assembled heard key-note speeches from the Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, the Rt Revd Paul McAleenan, Maimuna Jawo and the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun.  

Read Rosa Lewis’ blog of the launch event here – Stories of Infinite Worth and Dignity

Bishop Paul’s Address

Watch the videos:

Revd Dr Sam Well’s Lecture, London Churches Refugee Fund 20th June, 2022

Click here for the link to Reverend Sam Well’s talk on ‘So Many Kinds of Wrong’ concerning the Rwandan refugee crisis (held Monday 20th June at 7.00pm, St Martins-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.)

Westminster Social Justice and Peace Forum

Save the Date! The next Forum will be addressing contribution made by the Catholic Church to meet the needs of refugees and asylum seekers. All are welcome to join us.

Saturday, 17th September, 10am – 1pm
‘To Accompany Refugees’
St Aloysius Church Hall, 20 Phoenix Road, NW1 1TA

Hosted by Bishop Paul McAleenan and Bishop Nicholas Hudson

Register with Eventbrite

All Creatures Great and Small – Reflecting on Biodiversity: Talks by John Paul de Quay and Mary Colwell

‘Biodiversity’ was the theme for the May meeting of the Southern Dioceses Environment Network on Monday 9th May 2022.

John Paul de Quay

Guest speaker John Paul de Quay from the Journey to 2030 project spoke on the need to safeguard nature to ensure the future and diversity of all life on earth which is essential for the health, wellbeing and prosperity of humanity.

What is biodiversity? It is the diversity of all living things which includes genetic diversity within and between species, and of ecosystems. This ensures the stability of the natural world.

Evidence shows that there has been on average 68% decrease in wildlife population sizes between 1970-2016 with some areas such as South America being affected more. Why is this happening? Changes in land due to farming, over-fishing, pollution and climate change. Loss of biodiversity happens due to these constraints on species.

Laudato Si’ states that we are dust of the Earth, as we breathe air and need water, nothing is indifferent to us. In Acts 6:26 it shows that nature provides everything we need to survive, not only healthy air and water, but our happiness and wellbeing. Throughout scripture nature is continually mentioned showing God’s immense care for biodiversity. If we hold the attitude that we are more important than nature, we have forgotten that we are ‘dust of the earth’. This connection with faith is essential and it is important to spread this knowledge especially in schools to give confidence that we can do something to change the situation.

Mary Colwell

We were also very fortunate to be joined by the environmentalist, Mary Colwell. Mary has been campaigning for 11 years for a UK GCSE in natural history which has now been agreed upon and is set to take effect in 2025. This is essential so children are able to learn about how wildlife relates to us, to fall in love with nature again, to encourage them to make the right decisions in the future.

She runs a charity called Curlew Action which aims to help protect the curlew population, which is a flagship species for conservation.

She has now begun writing her 4th book.

See http://www.curlewmedia.com/ for more information.

Southern Dioceses Environment Network

The next meeting takes place online on Monday, 13th June 2022, 12.45-2.00pm, with the theme ‘Sustainable Summers’

Southern Dioceses Environment Network

Westminster Cathedral Hosts the Annual Mass for Migrants, 2nd May 2022, and shows solidarity with Ukrainian Catholic Church

Source: Diocese of Westminster

The annual Mass for Migrants, on the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, took place in Westminster Cathedral on Bank Holiday Monday, 2nd May 2022, in celebration of the significant contribution made by migrants to the life of the Dioceses of Brentwood, Southwark and Westminster.

Ahead of the Mass, members of Ethnic Chaplaincies from all three dioceses took part in a vibrant, colourful banner procession, leading into the Cathedral.

Bishop Michael Campbell OSA was the principal celebrant, along with around 30 Ethnic Chaplains and other priests. Ecumenical guests included the Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, Bishop of Chelmsford and Dr Ric Thorpe, Bishop of Islington, for the Church of England.

As is customary, there were testimonies from a couple of guests about some of the issues that affect refugees and migrants. This year, there was also a testimony from Fr Andriy Tsyaputa from the Ukrainian community who spoke about the situation in Ukrainian Churches, saying that they ‘are still open and launching large-scale humanitarian help during the war.’

‘While others are fleeing, local churches are engaging. They’re bravely rushing to help those in need right now. They’re unstoppable in the face of this crisis. Local believers are visiting those who are fleeing, and sharing God’s love with them.’

‘And we all understand that the church in Ukraine is still standing, because of your help. Thank you for praying for Ukraine. Thank you for helping us.’

Music was led by Ss Michael & Martin, Hounslow, Youth and Caribbean Music Ministry under the direction of Mary Pierre-Harvey. The choir from the Ukrainian Catholic Church added to the commemoration with several post-Communion hymns. Members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church were warmly welcomed by the congregation.

The Mass was organised by the Caritas and Justice and Peace agencies of the three Dioceses, with participation from Ethnic Chaplaincies and London Citizens.

The Migrants Mass has been celebrated every year since 2006, when it was initiated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then-Archbishop of Westminster, at the suggestion of London Citizens. The Cardinal called for a more just treatment of migrant workers at that first Mass, an important act of witness.  The Mass is held annually, hosted in turn by one of the three Dioceses of Brentwood, Southwark and Westminster for the feast of St Joseph the Worker as a celebration of the valuable contributions made by so many migrants to the life and economy of London and the surrounding counties.

The Mass is also a sign of the Catholic community’s solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers.

Photos of the events are available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/catholicwestminster/albums/72177720298581088

Full Text of Fr Andriy Tsyaputa’s Testimony:

Fr Andriy Tsyaputa – Ukrainian Catholic Church

Dear Priests, brothers and sisters in Christ. First of all, I want to apologise for my accent and English language, I am still learning.

I would like to tell you about the situation in our Ukrainian churches, I came from Ukraine recently. Churches in Ukraine are still open and launching a large-scale humanitarian help during the war. Christians are delivering aid to everybody who needs help. Supported by your prayers and donations, every catholic church in Ukraine providing food, clothes, medicines and all required equipment for thousands of people. Many Ukrainians have no place where to live, because war erupts around them. So they live in churches, in monasteries or seminaries. Thousands of displaced people are housed safely in church buildings every night.

Churches across Ukraine continue to provide spiritual and material support to war victims even in areas under heavy attack or already overrun by Russian forces. The Catholic Church continues to be active in all regions, even in those that are under occupation. They gather for services and prayer and organize help for all they can.

While others are fleeing, local churches are engaging. They’re bravely rushing to help those who are in need right now. They’re unstoppable in the face of this crisis. Local believers are visiting those who are fleeing, and sharing God’s love with them.

And we all understand, that the church in Ukraine is still standing, because of your help. Thank you for praying for Ukraine. Thank you for helping us. Thank you for supporting Ukraine. I know that the United Kingdom is helping more than other countries. God bless you. God bless the United Kingdom. 

Prayers at Home Office for those who have died seeking sanctuary

Source: Jo Siedlecka, Independent Catholic News

Campaigners gathered outside the Home Office in London yesterday for their monthly Prayer Vigil for “those who died trying to reach the UK, those who are still trying, and those who still have no safe haven.”

Organised by London Catholic Worker and Westminster Justice and Peace, there were prayers, hymns and the recitation of a list of names or descriptions of individuals who died in a single month attempting to reach Europe. While more and more people have been displaced by war, famine and climate change, harsh immigration rules make it impossible to apply for asylum in the UK – unless an individual is already in the country – forcing people to make the perilous channel crossing.

An excerpt from Archbishop Justin Welby’s Easter sermon was read out, in which he said:

“The resurrection of Jesus is not a magic wand that makes the world perfect. But the resurrection of Christ is the tectonic shift in the way the cosmos works. It is the conquest of death and the opening of eternal life, through Jesus a gift offered to every human being who reaches out to him. Not just for individuals, but setting a benchmark for every society because God is Lord of every society and nation.”

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

Reflection by Rev Chris Brice

Rev Chris Brice, Chair of London Churches Refugee Fund gave the following reflection:

“Meeting today in the shadow of the horrors of the war in Ukraine brings home all too starkly the burden of sin and evil under which our world labours, and has laboured, for millennia.

Our Judaeo-Christian story almost from its opening chapters, shows human beings, made in God’s loving and creative image, all too quickly falling into deceit, selfishness, resentment, murder, and disobedience to God’s Moral laws – seduced by the wiles of the “enemy” who is intent on destroying God’s beautiful new creation out of jealousy, bitter rage, and spite. From this follows all war and hatred, and the desire to exercise tyrannical power, that we see demonstrated so tragically today in Syria, in Ukraine, in Myanmar, in Yemen, in Eritrea, in Afghanistan, and even in the UK’s latest asylum legislation.

It was from such oppression, enslavement, and genocide that God called and rescued the children of Israel, enabling them to escape from the hell on earth that was the rule of the Pharaohs and to flee across the sea to a place of safety and security, flowing with milk and honey.

And still today this Exodus is enacted again and again as our persecuted, oppressed, and traumatised sisters and brothers flee in fear of their lives from war-torn countries across the world in search of safety. 28,000 of them last year crossed, not the Red Sea, but the English Channel, pursued by their nightmares of torture, death, rape, and imprisonment.

And it is these very people, when they arrive exhausted, alone, destitute, and distraught on the streets of London, with no means of support or shelter, that 100’s of “front line” refugee projects across London are there to help. To name just a few from the Projects supported by the London Churches Refugee Fund in 2020, are:

Action for Refugees in Lewisham. African Refugee Community. All People All Places, Article 1 Charitable Trust, Asylum from Rape, Barnet Refugee Service, C4WS Homeless Project, Citizens of the World Choir, Cotton Tree, Croydon Refugee Day Centre, Freedom from Torture, Hackney Migrant Centre, Happy Baby Community, Housing Justice, Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, Jesuit Refugee Service, Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE), Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, London Catholic Worker Refugee Shelter, London Jesus Centre, Migrants Organise, Migrateful, New North London Synagogue Destitute Asylum Seekers Drop-In, Notre Dame Refugee Centre, Refugee Council, Room to Heal, Samphire, Streatham Drop-In Centre, and West London Welcome.

All of them based here in London – not in Rwanda!

These, and scores of other refugee projects across London, and the people who support them, are lights shining in the darkness of war and suffering … and thanks to their work and generosity… the darkness will not overcome that light. Not even the current darkness of the asylum legislation being conceived in the building behind us.

To give just one example, amongst thousands, of someone whom one of these projects have helped in London, I now quote from a London Churches Refugee Fund Lent resource written by Trustee Robina Rafferty.

Consider Ms Z, aged 20, from Somalia, who was trafficked in the UK as an unaccompanied minor aged 16 and kept in isolation for many years in the UK. She was raped and forced into prostitution by her agents, and advised not to try to escape otherwise her family in Somalia would be in trouble. She was fearful, and suffering in silence, until one day she managed to run away. She made an application for UK asylum, but when that was refused, she lost her emergency accommodation and financial support in London. When she came to the African Refugee Community (ARC) in North London she was homeless, disoriented and suffering from severe depression. ARC supported her financially with food vouchers, transport costs, hygiene packs and phone cards using their London Churches Refugee Fund Grant. She also received advocacy, and is now in contact with a GP, mental health counsellor and a solicitor to help with her Fresh asylum application. She now feels happy when she comes to the ARC office to collect her hardship payment, and her mental, social, and physical well-being is improving gradually because of the support she receives here in the UK.

How would we cope if trafficked far away from our family and friends, our homeland? A teenager raped and forced into prostitution for years, ashamed, degraded, always afraid. No-one to turn to. Utter desperation. Even when she escaped from her captors, the UK authorities she turned to for protection let her down. But she has found support, kindness and comfort with people who respect her, treat her as a human being, responding to her needs here in London – not Rwanda.

Jesus always respected the dignity of every individual he met, however much they might be condemned or rejected by society. The lives of the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, are all transformed by their encounter with Jesus. And He never stopped to ask them if they got to Him through official government channels, or were smuggled into His presence on a boat that had crossed the Sea of Galilee, or in a donkey cart hidden under straw and sacking. Nor did He insist on sending them on a one-way ticket to Rwanda to have their credentials checked and verified before He would agree to help them. No – He recognised their desperate need, accepted them; doing all in His power to help, heal and restore them to full dignity as fellow citizens of God’s Kingdom here on earth

As a postscript, and in the light of this reflection, I would like to sow a seed today that I trust might bear fruit. It is the seed of the intention for Christians like us to pray about, and to compose, a short, accessible, Theological Declaration about the treatment of asylum seekers, here in the UK, comparable to the Barmen Declaration that the Confessing Churches of Germany composed in the face of Nazism and Hitler’s rise to power. A Declaration rooted in Prayer, in Scripture, and in Faith in the power of God’s Word. It would consist of a series of short sharp paragraphs each of which would highlight a relevant scripture verse pertinent to the asylum crisis we now face, and a short exposition as to how this should govern and guide our asylum legislation and the treatment of asylum-seekers.

For instance: Scripture forbids us to mistreat or oppress the aliens or foreigners because we were once foreigners, and “know the heart of an alien”. In Leviticus, we are reminded even more strongly, “the land is mine” says God, “for you are strangers and live as foreigners in this land with me.” It reminds us that we are ALL sharing GOD’S world. We are ALL here through God’s grace and mercy. Treating aliens as less worthy to be here ignores the fact that we have all been given a gift from God – we have not and could not have deserved it. It is through God’s grace alone that we have the privileges we have, and knowing that grace, we are called to share it.

To Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – the answer very clearly is YES – YOU ARE! And your sisters too! – for their blood cries out to God from the earth, and the sea..

In the end, the only way to understand and overcome the principalities and powers of wickedness in high places that we face is the power and the wisdom of GOD operating through the prayer, the actions, and the fasting of people like us. A truth that this gathering month by month so faithfully upholds & demonstrates.

For the battle is Spiritual as well as political. In the end, it is only susceptible to action rooted in a Judaeo Christian analysis of the depth and the perversity of the ungodly powers that seek to confound and destroy God’s good purposes. That’s why Jesus came to witness, to suffer, to die, and to rise again, precisely to overcome the wiles of the evil one and the powers of all forms of death: Including all spiritual – physical- and political- death dealing.

“Truly I tell you”, said Jesus to the helpless disciples, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this ungodly mountain of asylum legislation, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, right off the Statute book. And nothing will be impossible for you!”. And later translations add that Jesus also insisted that to be effective the disciple’s action must be strengthened by, and grounded in, prayer and fasting. As is so admirably demonstrated in these monthly events organised by the London Catholic Worker which must surely inspire, encourage and guide us individually day by day as now seek to sustain our own life of prayer, of action and of fasting to defeat this legislation and to end the wars in Ukraine and across the world.

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, who came to bring good news to the poor, give us the courage to reach out to those who are neglected and abandoned, to see you in everyone we meet, regardless of their country of origin, and no matter how they might have reached the UK. And help us to play our part, through prayer, action and fasting in the coming of your kingdom of love and justice in the Home Office, the Ukraine and across the UK, as it is in Heaven.

Amen



The Prayer Vigil takes place outside the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF, on the third Monday of each month from 12.30-1.30pm. For more information contact Barbara Kentish: barbarakentish@talktalk.net

Ukraine Holy Hour – Cardinal Vincent’s Sky News Interview, 11 April 2022

On Monday of Holy Week, 11th April 2022, Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski (centre) of the Ukrainian Eparchy of the Holy Family was joined by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Anglican Bishop of London Sarah Mullally, Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and a number of leaders of other Christian denominations in an hour of ecumenical prayer in a demonstration of solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine.

Prior to the service, Cardinal Vincent Nichols was interviewed for Sky News

Interviewer: Why did the Church leaders decide it was important to have this hour of prayer?

Cardinal Vincent: Well it’s important to understand that we’re meeting in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, and this is an important centre here, right in the middle of London, where they’re trying to become a focus for the those in need and those who are arriving here. So the place of prayer is important, the prayer itself is important and the wide range of Christian leadership that will be present here this morning is also significant. We are very united in this determination to support the people of Ukraine as they face this terrible evil onslaught.

Interviewer: And this hour of prayer, is it open to the public? Can anyone walk in and join?

Cardinal Vincent: Certainly it’s open to the public and it’s placed now at midday hopefully that some people in their lunch break will come in. There’s been some publicity for it, and this church is always open, and it’s a Catholic Church but it’s a Ukrainian Rite Catholic Church. So the pattern of prayer here is a bit different and that for some people will be a good experience as well. But it’s the fervour, it’s the intensity of the prayer that reflects the horror and intensity of the challenge that we all face.

Interviewer: Have you had any word on how the Catholic community in Ukraine is faring?

Cardinal Vincent: Well that is exactly what Bishop Kenneth here and his staff are very, very much in touch with. And it depends obviously on the different parts of the country in Ukraine. I’m not familiar with the details of every place, but I know that there is a great affinity always between Catholics across the world and we along with everybody else are responding as generously and as rapidly as we can to the appeals for finance, for practical assistance, and for a welcome here. Despite the difficulties involved in getting Ukrainian refugees here that you have been talking about earlier in the programme.

Interviewer: Were you surprised when the Pope himself on Sunday, called for an Easter truce in Ukraine? That he so publicly came out and gave his voice?

Cardinal Vincent: No, I was not at all surprised and I think it’s very important that what he asked for was a truce not a ceasefire. He said we don’t need a ceasefire in which people re-arm themselves, we want a genuine truce, an end to these hostilities so that there’s space for humanity’s needs to come to the fore. And that means people giving way on the stands they might have taken initially, for the good of humanity, for the good of the people of Ukraine, who in some places are suffering the most appalling atrocities as we know day by day.

Interviewer: Exactly, the picture, the footage, the stories they’re so horrific. What would you say to the people who hear you’re holding an hour of prayer and say, well that is a lovely gesture but you need to do more, the Catholic community needs to do more, the global community needs to do more?

Cardinal Vincent: Please don’t misunderstand, that prayer doesn’t excuse us from every other effort. But prayer adds dimensions to these struggles. It gives an inner strength and it opens up a wider horizon. It tells us that the immediate moment and how we respond to it, is not the whole story. It’s a very important part of the story, but prayer generates hope and prayer generates courage and prayer generates solidarity. And those three things hope, courage and solidarity are needed in every practical effort as well.

Interviewer: Cardinal, just before we spoke to you we played a package about refugees trying to get to the UK and some statistics: nearly 80,000 people have applied but only 12,000 have got here. Do you think we as the United Kingdom could and should do more and should have done more?

Cardinal Vincent: I think that’s perfectly clear, that the process is overcomplicated. I know friends of mine have applied and they are experts at filling in forms, and they are very, very frustrated that somehow the promises that were made a couple of weeks ago are not being worked out. Now, I don’t know whether this is to do with incompetence or whether it’s to do with fear and excessive caution. But I think the heart of most people in this country is to say let them come, just let them come. We are ready to receive and welcome and do our best. Of course there has to be prudent caution but that should not be obstructive and this is a time I think, when this system really ought to be reviewed and put into working order.

Prayer for Ukraine

Almighty and Great God, accept our gratitude for your boundless mercy towards us. Hear the supplication of our afflicted hearts for the land and people of Ukraine, as they confront foreign aggression and invasion. Open the eyes of those who have been overtaken by a spirit of deception and violence, that they be horrified by their works. Grant victory over the powers of evil that have arisen and bless Ukraine with your gifts of liberty, peace, tranquillity and good fortune.

We implore you, O Merciful God, look with grace upon those who courageously defend their land. Remember the mothers and fathers, the innocent children, widows and orphans, the disabled and helpless, those seeking shelter and refuge, who reach out to you and to their fellow human beings looking for mercy and compassion. Bless the hearts of those who have already shown great generosity and solidarity, and those who prepare to receive their Ukrainian brothers and sisters in Ukraine’s greatest time of need. Bring us together as your children, your creation, and instil in us your strength, wisdom and understanding. May you be praised and glorified, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

With thanks to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

Pacifism in the face of aggression – the Christian response?

By Maggie Beirne, West London Justice and Peace Network Co-ordinator

We have all watched our TV screens with horror since the 24th February when Ukraine was invaded.  Russia’s unprovoked attack, and the nature of its assault – indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians leading to the internal displacement and mass exodus of refugees, and the apparent threat to use biological/chemical and even nuclear weapons – has left most of us shocked.  And who has not felt a strong sense of solidarity with the plight of the Ukrainians?  We empathise with their plight; we pray as individuals or in community for their survival; and we try to help practically with financial or other donations.  We feel one with their cause. 

The West London Justice and Peace Network reflected at a recent meeting on the challenge of pacifism in times like this. How would we as individuals respond in similar circumstances?  Would we start training to use Kalashnikovs or insist on suing for peace at whatever cost?  When we experience a sense almost of pride in seeing these ‘plucky’ Ukrainians giving their all to defend their freedom, do we become part of the problem; and what is the Christian response to these challenges?   

Martin Birdseye, member of the Network and long-time peace activist, helped us reflect on some of the difficult issues involved. 

We were reminded of the fact that history is full of examples where in time of conflict, pacifism gets swept away on a tide of solidarity.  We have certainly seen our own elected politicians rush to bolster arms supplies, talking up the importance of ‘hard power’’ and the strength of our military alliances, while unsaid but very apparent, is the increased risk of nuclear war.  Our very human instinct for personal and human security can lead us into an aggressive response, but is this so different from the desire of Russians for security following their terrible experience of WW2 and their fears of NATO ‘expansionism’?

In Britain, our taxes are spent on maintaining a nuclear arsenal, supposedly for our defence.  But is this arsenal keeping us safe, or does it not lend a false justification for both NATO and Russia to vie for control of their respective ‘spheres of influence’?  Instead of nuclear weapons strengthening our security, have they rendered the world a more unsafe place?  Would our taxes have been much better spent on tackling injustices in our own society and actively building peace globally – via aid, tackling government corruption, support for refugees, or fighting climate insecurity.

In the longer term, we also need as Christian peacemakers to examine the role of Britain as probably the world’s second largest arms exporter.  Arms companies and suppliers may be the only ones to gain from the current tragedy in Ukraine.  Most local West London residents were unaware of the international arms fair that was recently held this year in Twickenham, yet such gatherings feed and fuel the violence that we then subsequently deplore around the world (whether in Ukraine, Yemen, or the Horn of Africa). This trade is taking place in our name as the UK government provides export licenses for ‘suitable’ arms manufacturers but claims to bear no responsibility for the resultant human rights abuses.

The network noted that the Ukrainians, like all of us, have a right to self-defence and that pacifism is not ‘passivity’.  But nor can we ignore the fact that the violence perpetrated by one side tends only to beget violence from the opposition, in a never-ending cycle of retribution.  Or, as better said by Mahatma Gandhi, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.  So, the real challenge is to find out how we can turn to God and help others do so in these times of turmoil.

In our discussion, the network noted that concepts such as ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ can at times like this appear to be in tension but are instead totally inter-dependent.  “No justice, no peace”, albeit a slogan, is accurate. As Christians we have to be active peace makers.  Peace groups have organised zoom prayer meetings; had a spontaneous turn-out of people on the day of the invasion to a prayer gathering; and Religions for Peace UK have submitted a letter to the Chiswick-based Bishop of the Russian Orthodox church, to be sent to the Moscow Patriarch asking him directly to appeal to Putin.  What should we be doing practically all year around to promote the educational efforts of groups such as Pax Christi and the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament?

When time permits, events in Ukraine may also encourage more reflection on the Catholic teaching around the ‘just war theory’.  This theory sets out some of the principles that will determine if the cause of any war be ‘just’, and if the tactics used in warfare can also be considered ‘just’.  But there is now much debate as to whether the idea of a ‘just war’ has become an obsolete concept given that the massive predominance of civilian casualties in modern warfare undercuts the moral ground for conceiving of almost any war as just. 

So, whilst we need to focus over the longer term on eliminating the underlying causes of violence and war and re-introduce the power of non-violent action, what can be done in the short term?  Right now, Ukraine is being destroyed and its people scattered.   Alongside all the practicalities (of sending humanitarian assistance and being welcoming to refugees), Pope Francis, pleaded: “Let the weapons fall silent. God is with those who seek peace, not those resorting to violence.”

As Christians, we have to join him in condemning those who “trust in the diabolic and perverse logic of weapons” and pray for guidance on how to engage ever more effectively in the search for peace.

Links

Pax Christi: www.paxchristi.org.uk

Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament: www.christiancnd.org.uk