Welcoming the stranger

By Steve Atherton, Justice & Peace fieldworker

One of the priorities for the Justice and Peace Commission this year was to do something useful to help reduce some of the confusion and misinformation surrounding the refugee and asylum-seeker situation. We are delighted to have produced a 52-page booklet which has been published by Churches Together in the Merseyside Region. The guide was a real ecumenical project, written by a sub-group of the Justice and Peace Commission which features members of the Anglican Diocese, with Together Merseyside influential in the key decision to include illustrations. We think it is ground-breaking in the clarity of the information, the use of stories and illustrations, the prayers and the list of useful contacts. We hope it will help churches and other groups find a way to respond positively to the refugee crisis.
The ten easy-to-read sections begin with explanations of how the words 'asylum seeker', 'refugee' and 'migrant' are used before exploring the reasons people flee their countries in the first place. The booklet gives important factual information and busts myths that accompany this national and global crisis. Importantly the document offers guidance and support to help church communities and others provide practical help as they seek to welcome the stranger.
The booklet intends to "inspire us to 'see, judge and act', a process, in the Christian tradition, of reading and responding to the signs of the times. We aim to provide the basic information which will allow the reader to inquire further, and judge the matter for themselves, so we can respond and act as Christians to the plight of asylum seekers and refugees."
One of the most moving sections of the booklet is the collection of stories from actual refugees and asylum seekers. The stories and the straightforward information make the booklet an easy-to-understand and easy-to-use guide for anyone feeling overwhelmed by the crisis. The stories are backed up with photographs, the facts by diagrams.
The call for action to all churches and communities include:
  • Helping new arrivals integrate into local communities
  • Donating money to groups and charities who help asylum seekers and refugees
  • Donating clothes and goods to these organisations
  • Volunteering to develop skills, like teaching English to asylum seekers and refugees
  • Helping asylum seekers with transport costs, like buying saver tickets or travel passes
  • Campaigning and adding Christian voices to the local and national picture
  • Praying and reflecting, and keeping the issue in the forefront of our minds
  • Supporting the City of Sanctuary and Places of Welcome local and national movements
The booklets were produced primarily for church groups and have been distributed to any parishes asking for them. Copies were made available during the Chrism Mass at both cathedrals and will be available in the Metropolitan Cathedral during Year of Mercy pilgrimages. The booklet, available from LACE, can also be downloaded from the Archdiocesan website http://www.liverpoolcatholic.org.uk/refugeesituation.
"When Pope Francis reminded us of our duty to respond to the refugee situation he touched our hearts and our consciences. This booklet will help to remove some of the confusion surrounding this complex situation so we will be better informed. We can then hope to make wise decisions about how to use our resources in the face of this continuing crisis." Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, Archdiocese of Liverpool