Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay

In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2023, Pope Francis tells us that “we are called to show maximum respect for the dignity of each migrant; this entails accompanying and managing waves of migration as best we can, constructing bridges and not walls, expanding channels for a safe and regular migration. In whatever place we decide to build our future, in the country of our birth or elsewhere, the important thing is that there always be a community ready to welcome, protect, promote and integrate everyone, without distinctions and without excluding anyone.”

The following interview with Anthony Reed and Mark Hudson from the Church of our Lady of Lourdes and St Cecilia in Blandford, shares the inspiring journey of one group of people who felt called to welcome a refugee family to their community through the UK Resettlement Scheme with support from Caritas Diocese of Plymouth.

What inspired you to create a CS group?

It was inspired by the sort of thing we are witnessing now – how refugees are portrayed in certain parts of the media is very negative and we wanted to respond and do something practical about it. We had never heard of Community Sponsorship and were on the point of volunteering for another charity when we came across the Caritas Plymouth website. Seeing all those pictures of people having difficulty getting to Greece, Italy and across to here made us want to do something to respond. An appeal at the parish fell on fertile ground.  When people came forward,  the idea started to become more viable. It starts with the heart – you have to touch people’s hearts, and some come forward.  But you need more than empathy and compassion – you need people who are going to push things through.  You need to bring together a team of doers.

What has it been like to welcome a family?

We were fundraising and preparing for close to 2 years and that period was very busy. We created a little community of volunteers first which is really important. We came together as a group. We expected a challenge and the information we were given beforehand about the family was not correct. When the family appeared, they were much more engaging, willing and able than we expected. We have enjoyed the whole thing. The family personalities and their keenness to find out about things, learn English, work and get a car are all very impressive. The children are really lively and took to school very quickly despite not speaking English. Most of the success is down to them – we have just been there to help.

What has been the most rewarding?

Lots of different things – fundraising went very well and we enjoyed doing the different sorts of events, auctions, film shows music and a barbecue. We also love the family – engaging with them and finding them a willing, able and happy family. We had a despondent spell when we were raising very little money but then things suddenly took off which was rewarding. Realising that we were going to raise the necessary money and finding someone willing to rent out a house was really rewarding. It brought the team together and this has carried forward in the parish. A lot of our money came unexpectedly.  Very generous donations were made by individuals. God will support a project like this and lend a helping hand.  The fact that it is such a worthwhile cause should give people heart.

What has been the biggest challenge?

There were some negative voices about migrants and some people didn’t understand why we would want to welcome a refugee family.  Filling in all the forms and dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions is also challenging at times.  It is important to have someone with the time and expertise to help navigate the benefits system and we were very lucky to have a volunteer with that expertise.

Would you recommend Community Sponsorship to other parish groups?

It is really rewarding for the people who do it because you get to know other people in your community much better than you would otherwise. It is also rewarding to do in itself – what are we here for? The parable of the good Samaritan teaches us to love our neighbour and this is a practical way to lend a helping hand. We would recommend the scheme to other groups. We are very sad about the rhetoric about refugees at the moment and some groups might be put off as a result, but this is a great way to help people reach safety through an organised route. It not only helps a family but brings together a community doing what we as Christians should be doing.

 Other useful resources

Caritas Diocese of Plymouth

Refugee Prayers

Pope Francis’ Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2023

Love the Stranger teaching document of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference