Responding to the refugee crisis

By Steve Atherton

When Pope Francis gave a recent Angelus reflection on our duty of compassion towards refugees, he unleashed a surge of energy that reached across the Catholic world and into every parish. In case you did not hear his message, this is part of what he said:
 
"Faced with the tragedy of thousands of refugees fleeing from death from war or hunger, heading for the hope of a 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."
 
The 'definite goal' he means is to give real help to real people. We must be practical. It is not enough only to feel sorry or just to say prayers. The bishops of England and Wales responded to the Pope by asking each diocese to get organised to welcome some of the 200,000 refugees that the government said it would accept over five years. 
 
There has been a very generous response in our diocese with priests and people alike asking for ways in which they can help to ease the suffering. There have been offers of presbyteries, of access to social housing, of translation skills, of legal advice, of clothing, of food, of money, of friendship.
 
After the first flush of enthusiastic relief that our Church is doing something coordinated to respond to this humanitarian crisis, the inconsistencies start to gnaw at me and basic questions re-emerged: Whom are we being invited to help? Are we creating a distinction between two categories of refugees: 'good refugees' and 'bad refugees'?
 
We are being encouraged by the government to prepare to offer shelter to a certain group of refugees, namely people who are chosen and vetted by government agencies before being brought from refugee camps on the borders of Syria. Are we saying that the ones who left earlier in search of peace and security are the wrong sort of refugee? Are refugees already in the UK or in the squalor of Calais to get no sympathy?

I hope you are able to attend one of the series of meetings in different areas of the Archdiocese to hear what people have to say, to find out what people have to offer, to listen to plans and to acknowledge worries. The most important question is: How we can be the face of Christ to our brothers and sisters? We are responding to Pope Francis's restatement of the Gospel, not to the limited vision of politicians.  

If you want to learn more or to get involved in the effort, please ring 0151 522 1080 or email s.atherton@rcaol.co.uk.