Refugee Week – an invitation to counter the globalisation of indifference

Louise Abraham is an International Development student at King’s College in London and a former student of the Brentwood Ursuline. Here she offers her thoughts on Refugee Week and how it is an opportunity to counter  negative attitudes towards refugees by reflecting on the church’s teaching to love our neighbours, and to gather in solidarity for those who have been displaced across the world.

As I drove through France this summer, I noted two perceptions concerning refugees. The first was of pity and compassion. Often phrases such as “Aw, how terrible that this poor Syrian family has to beg at the side of the road” was often accompanied by nods of agreement and words of pities. However, it was the non-verbal gestures that struck me: people locking the car door as they drove past refugees in standstill traffic and avoiding eye contact as they pleaded for help in the streets. The road that preceded Calais was refugee-children-play-whilst-waiting-at-the-border-credit-cafod-natalia-tsoukalaadorned with extensive barbed wire fences that stretched for miles.

Although not openly communicated, there is a resounding perception that refugees are a threat to society and public safety that has pervaded Europe. This perception is often exacerbated by media coverage of refugees committing terrorist attacks or perpetrating sexual assaults. More subtly, news articles often associate words such as “masses” to the movement of refugees into Europe; which is an overstatement as 80% of the world’s murtaza-his-wife-and-two-daughters-are-living-in-a-refugee-camp-in-athens-send-a-message-to-people-in-the-uk-credit-cafod-natalia-tsoukalarefugee population currently resides in Africa. But with those who decide to flee, their struggle begins with the decision of how to undertake the perilous journey that lies before them. Whether they make their journey through land or sea, they are often met with obstacles in a bid to better their lives.

Pope Francis has called on Catholics worldwide to “to protect, to welcome, to promote and to integrate” our fellow citizens. Our attitude towards refugees must go beyond words of compassion. In a world that is consumed by social media there has been a “globalisation of indifference”, as Pope Francis so perfectly described on his visit to Lampedusa. We can become numb to the sufferings of others worldwide. Subsequently, Pope Francis inspired the Share the Journey campaign to promote the rights of all peoplePope+with+refugees+in+Rome+banner+credit in transit. This campaign aims to symbolically “share the journey” with refugees that have been forced to flee their homes. As the United Nations move closer to finalising two new compacts on refugees and migration towards the end of 2018, it becomes increasingly more important that we urge our world leaders to put the lives and dignity of refugees before their own political interests.

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Chelmsford parishioners sign action cards following a Share the Journey walk

CAFOD is doing great work all over the world to aid refugees. For example, in Lebanon CAFOD provides training for young refugees in order to increase their chances of employment. In Myanmar, CAFOD provides basic necessities such as shelter, food and clean water to those who have fled their homes. But this work will only have short-term effects if the global community is not unified. This is why CAFOD urges the UN compacts on refugees and migration to:

  1. Respect human dignity
  2. Protect the vulnerable
  3. Support host countries
  4. Keep families together
  5. Tackle the reasons for migration.

“Refugee Week is an opportunity for the Catholic community to go beyond words and prayers and turn them into action”

This week is Refugee Week, and it is a great reminder of the Churches’ teachings on how we should care for our neighbours. During this week, we should take time to reflect how each individual is made in the image of God, which means that everyone should be treated with the upmost respect. Unfortunately, many refugees report that this is not the case, as they are often beaten and harassed by border officials, or even other refugees. This ordeal is made even harder as many refugees are often separated from their loved ones, often not knowing when they will see them again.

“The Church work cannot alone in this matter, there needs to be a global collaboration on all fronts if we are to see less barbed wire and more open arms”

brothers-keep-warm-under-blankets-as-they-wait-at-the-border-credit-cafod-natalia-tsoukalaRefugee Week is an opportunity for the Catholic community to go beyond words and prayers and turn them into action by signing petitions, participating in the Share the Journey walk, or even volunteering at refugee centres. This week is a global recognition of all refugees who have been displaced by wars, persecution and natural disasters.

While Refugee Week will not solve all the problems faced by refugees worldwide, it is Zoe message resizedimportant for them to know that we stand in solidarity with them. In a world where news is constantly available, refugees are aware of the negative sentiment towards them. Hopefully, a physical stance of solidarity within our communities can create the wave of impact that is needed to push our world leaders to do more for refugees. Nevertheless, it is a step towards tearing down the “helpless” and “threatening” perceptions that many hold against refugees. It is the Church and CAFOD’s aim to ensure the treatment of all refugees as human beings; beings that are free to roam, work and live as they wish, with dignity and respect. But the Church cannot work alone in this matter, there needs to be a global collaboration on all fronts if we are to see less barbed wire and more open arms.

Chelmsford parishioners walk in solidarity with the world’s refugees

Last Saturday 33 parishioners (and a few dogs too!) from the Blessed Sacrament Church in Chelmsford walked in solidarity with refugees and migrants across the world by participating in a Share the Journey walk.

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All set to Share the Journey

The Share the Journey campaign aims to inspire people to walk 24,900 miles (the distance around the world) in solidarity with those who have been forced to flee their homes through war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty.

The walk was 1 mile around Melbourne Park so the 33 parishioners clocked up 33 miles which were added to CAFOD’s totaliser. At the time of writing an amazing 20,434 miles had already been walked by CAFOD supporters across the country.

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Eileen leading the walk with the Lampedusa Cross

CAFOD parish volunteers Eileen and Peter Webster, who organised the walk, thought the Share the Journey campaign was a great way of raising awareness of the plight of refugees. ‘It highlights the injustices that are suffered by so many people in their own countries. In preparation for September 2018 when world leaders meet in New York, it will remind those who govern, the extent to which we are all aware of the refugee situation and want something done to rectify it.

Listening to comments from participants on the significance of the walk, Eileen learned that:

  • there was also an renewed appetite to do something practical to help refugees and enthusiasm to support local initiatives such as Calais Light which helps refugees in Calais & Dunkirk by helping to cook hot meals
  • explaining the background to the Lampedusa cross and being able to carry one on the walk made the walk all the more significant.
  • reading the 5 refugee stories at various stages of the walk drew attention to firstly, the plight of various refugees and secondly, but more importantly, the ways in which CAFOD has been able to give these people hope and a fresh start in life.

“it will remind those who govern, the extent to which we are all aware of the refugee situation and want something done to rectify it”.

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Prayer and reflection on the stories of refugees across the world

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Learning how CAFOD is giving displaced people hope and a fresh start in life

At the end of the walk people signed petition cards to send to the Prime Minister appealing for her to work with other world leaders when they meet in September to ensure justice for migrants and refugees.

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Walkers signing petition cards

Share the Journey : the kindness of strangers

Last weekend CAFOD Brentwood’s Chris Driscoll caught up with Ann Milner on her way around the London LOOP as she walked through the Brentwood Diocese in support of the Share the Journey campaign. 

A CAFOD parish volunteer from Hertfordshire has been recounting her experience of travelling through the Brentwood Diocese after a 35 mile walk from Enfield Lock to Purfleet in support of the Share the Journey campaign.

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Ann, Alison and Ian set forth from Enfield Lock to Chingford

Ann Milner, from the parish of Our Lady & St Andrew in Hitchin, walked with parishioners and CAFOD supporters from inside and outside the diocese to complete the Brentwood leg of the London LOOP route in the sweltering heat on Sunday afternoon.

Travelling through Chingford, Chigwell, Havering-atte-Bower, Harold Hill, Upminster, Rainham and finally Purfleet, Ann met several interesting and welcoming people, all sharing the desire to express solidarity with those who have been displaced across the world.

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Ann sets off from Most Holy Redeemer in Harold Hill

I met Ann outside the Most Holy Redeemer Church in Harold Hill following her 11 mile walk from Chigwell. Having walked the LOOP twice before she knew what she was getting herself into. She had carefully planned the places on the route which could be ideal for ‘prayer stops’ or moments for the walkers to pray and reflect on the often perilous journeys that refugees are forced to undertake.

“the idea of ‘pilgrimage’ has greater significance in that it provides meaning, purpose and opportunities for personal transformation”.

I was interested to find out why she would consider undertaking such a huge challengeas this, especially given that she had told me that she wasn’t even that keen on walking! Ilearned that the idea of ‘pilgrimage’ has greater significance for her, that it provides meaning, purpose and opportunities for personal transformation. Reflecting on a walking holiday she took with her son, she feels that sharing the journey with others can be a great way to understand each other more deeply.

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Ann, Alison and Ian are welcomed by Fr Francis Coveney at Our Lady of Grace in Chingford

Among the many highlights was a stop at Our Lady of Grace & St Teresa of Avila Church in Chingford where the walkers learned were given a tour of the church and heard how the church building in fact owes its existence to the generosity of a refugee.

Ann picks up the story: ‘Fr Francis (Coveney) was very keen to point out the link between this CAFOD campaign and the origins of his church. When the German army marched into Belgium in 1914 it caused a significant number of refugees to flee to Britain. One such refugee was Claire Coemans who arrived with her father, a professor of Ghent University, and subsequently, she having done well in England, donated the money that enabled land to be bought and eventually the church at Chingford to be built. “.

“One such refugee was Claire Coemans who donated money that enabled land to be bought and eventually the church at Chingford to be built”.

Recollecting on her journey from Chigwell, Ann alluded to the serenity of God’s creation, “There was a very pleasant interlude though Hainault Forest Country Park consisting of open meadow, lovely sheltered wooded walks and a lake with a family of geese. There were also interesting wood sculptures to be seen, arranged in a circle as though for some ancient pagan ritual.

Ann also recalls a ‘guardian angel’ who put her on the right track again after she lost her way just outside Upminster:  “Just as I was deciding which way to go (there were no waymarkers and the instructions were a little ambiguous) God sent along a guardian angel to help me in the form of Jim who was walking his two dogs. We exchanged a couple of pleasantries and I mentioned I was walking the LOOP. “Oh” he said, “You want to come this way”. Jim was also kind enough to recommend a local hostelry which provided some much needed refreshment after walking for miles in the hot sun. The kindness of strangers.

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Walkers set off from St Joseph’s church in Upminster

The following day Ann set off on a 10 mile journey to Rainham and then onto to Purfleet with some new walking companions: members from Pax Christi and parish volunteers from St Joseph’s and Our Lady of La Salette. On another extremely hot and sunny day, the walkers ended enjoyed a picnic near Rainham marshes and then found some much needed relief from the sun with a prayer stop at Our Lady of Salette Church before finishing the Brentwood tour with a stop at the Anglican church of St Stephen’s in Purfleet.

As for Ann, she was back on her way again the following day when she crossed over the Thames and into the Southwark Diocese.

Ann sets off Southwark

Ann chooses to walk the road less travelled in solidarity with refugees who do not have the choice