Forced like Jesus Christ to flee

Who could not be moved after seeing that distressing picture of the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi, the 3 year old washed up on a beach in Turkey in 2015? Contrast this with how you feel after reading tabloid headings such as “Breaking Point” or “The Swarm on our Streets” and ask yourself where do we stand as Christians with regard to people who are escaping persecution simply to find a life of safety most of us take for granted? We could also do well to remind ourselves of how the Holy Family had to flee to safety as refugees.

 Pope Francis has much to say on this issue and this year has established the World Day of Migrants and Refugees to take place on 27 September 2020. He reminds us that an encounter with displaced people, as it is with any marginalised people, is an opportunity for an encounter with God. He says ‘The pandemic has reminded us how we are all in the same boat. Realising that we have the same concerns and fears has shown us once more that no one can be saved alone. To grow truly, we must grow together, sharing what we have, like the boy who offered Jesus five barley loaves and two fish… yet they proved enough for five thousand people (cf. Jn 6:1-15)!’

The current narrative surrounding refugees and asylum seekers especially regarding the present summer Channel crossings is very negative. Liam Allmark, Head of Public Affairs for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, reminds us that “there are many reasons why a small number of people driven from their homes by war, poverty or persecution are currently trying to reach the UK from mainland Europe. Some have family here. Others have been mistreated by the authorities and are scared to remain where they are. Several know basic English, so have better life chances this side of the Channel. Essentially, they are making the kind of decisions any of us would in their circumstances. There is an urgent need for more safe and legal routes to the UK, so that people do not have to undertake dangerous journeys in the first place. This is essential for saving lives, but also integral to our understanding of one global family, in which we all must take responsibility for those who are most vulnerable”.

But what can we personally do and what is the Diocese of Plymouth doing? Of course, we can donate money to the usual charities, which is necessary and good, but how about welcoming a refugee family, presently living in a refugee camp, bringing them to the UK and integrating them into life in your parish area?

Under the encouragement of Bishop Mark, this is exactly what Caritas is doing in the Plymouth Diocese. With Caritas’ help, one of our parishes has achieved approval from the Home Office to resettle a family under the Home Office’s Refugee Community Sponsorship Scheme. Each family arriving under this scheme will have been selected and screened by the UN and identified for resettlement in the UK. Other groups are also exploring the possibility of welcoming a family into their community. When the present Covid restrictions ease, we will one day soon be at the airport welcoming our first family into the Diocese. For a good introduction to the Refugee Community Sponsorship Scheme, this video gives a great explanation and shows what parishes can achieve. If you want to learn more about this life-giving project, please get in touch with Caritas Plymouth.

Finally, please keep refugees and migrants in your prayers. CAFOD has a range of prayer resourceslobby your MPs and politicians to ensure that there are safe and legal migration routes and that people are treated with dignity and respect; remind friends and neighbours that ‘behind every refugee is a face and a story’ and share Pope Francis’ Message for the 2020 World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Also please support organisations such as CaritasSeeking SanctuaryJesuit Refugee Services and  Safe Passage.

Deborah Fisher OBE