"Faced with the tragedy of thousands of refugees fleeing from death from war or hunger, heading for the hope of a new life, the Gospel is calling us and asking us to be 'neighbours' to the littlest ones, the most abandoned ones. To give them real hope. Not just to say, 'Be strong, be patient!'
"Christian hope fights with the tenacity of someone aiming for a definite goal ... I am appealing to the parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines of the whole of Europe to show how real the Gospel is by welcoming a family of refugees ... Every parish, every religious community, every monastery and every sanctuary in Europe ought to host a family."
These words are as challenging now as they were when we first heard them. In our diocese we responded by producing a booklet titled 'A guide: Refugees, Asylum Seekers & Migrants. Welcoming the Stranger' which has been distributed at the Metropolitan Cathedral during Year of Mercy pilgrimages and can be downloaded from the diocesan website at www.liverpoolcatholic.org.uk/refugeesituation. Copies for your parish are available free from the J&P desk in the diocesan office (0151 522 1080).
When the British government announced an agreement to resettle 20,000 Syrians over four years, it asked local authorities to volunteer to organise the process. These local authorities were cautious in case they were taking on extra responsibility without extra resources. For our part, we continue to hold meetings across the diocese in groups based on local authority boundaries and now we have some good news about two practical ways for parishes, or groups of parishes, to get involved:
• Community Sponsorship Scheme
It is possible to follow the example of St Monica's parish in Salford diocese and provide a home and support for a Syrian family. In this scheme, which requires a five-year commitment, the sponsoring group must have the agreement of the local authority and the approval of the local MP. They must be able to supply a house and structured ESOL classes, have a ring-fenced income of £4,500 for each adult in the family to use if necessary, and be able to find appropriate school places for children. A housing association could help with finding a house and maybe a group of churches could raise the money together.
• Green Pastures Scheme
Organised by the Evangelical Shoreline Church in Southport, this scheme entails a) identifying a suitable house that Green Pastures will buy and b) providing a group of at least ten people to offer pastoral support to a Syrian family. Shoreline has devised a business model that allows them to purchase property as investments for their shareholders while at the same time supplying accommodation for homeless or refugee families. It makes no financial demands on the pastoral accompaniers.
There are certain things to do before anything can happen with either scheme:
- Find a group of like-minded people
- Get the approval of your parish priest
- Get the approval of the local authority
- Working with other parishes in your pastoral area
- Inviting other Christian churches to collaborate with you
- Identifying people with useful experience and expertise, e.g. parents, those familiar with the local area, medical and educational systems, local authorities, etc.