Keep up active citizenship with the new UK government

Two key issues for the Columbans internationally are Environment and Migration. Ellen Teague explains how we must pick up on these issues with our government and provides details of the Refugee Council's fair new plan for refugees which the Columbans in Britain support.

On the Environment, the Columban Justice, Peace and Ecology team joined Laudato Si’ Animators, Westminster J&P and others in the colourful London march, ‘Restore Nature Now’ on the 22nd June 2024, involving upwards of 80,000 people. On the theme of Migration, Columbans in Birmingham have supported the work of Restore, which celebrated 25 years of service to refugee friends on the 3rd July 2024. Columban Inter-religious Dialogue Co-ordinator Mauricio Silva and his wife Nathalie Marytsch, Co-ordinator of Columban Lay Missionaries in Britain have, for over two decades, befriended refugee individuals and families and volunteered for summer and Christmas programmes. They have helped to run a voucher exchange scheme and Mauricio chaired the management committee for six years until the end of last year.

All this ties in with Columban international projects with, for example, migrants in Taiwan, and international engagement with UN Conferences on Biodiversity and Climate Change.

So, it was heartening that Catholic organisations preparing for the UK General Election on 4 July highlighted Environment and Migration among the key issues important to Catholics generally. These included the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, the Bishops of Scotland, Jesuit Missions, CAFOD, SVP and Pax Christi.

“Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”

Pope Francis

Here, in England, Wales and Scotland, dioceses and parishes distributed our own Columban May Vocation for Justice which suggested questions for candidates on these issues and some Catholic parishes, such as the Westminster parish of Our Lady of Fatima at White City in West London and the Arundel and Brighton Church of Our Lady of Sorrow in Bognor Regis, hosted hustings, putting questions to prospective candidates.


At June’s colourful London ‘Restore Nature Now’ march, the Columban JPE team joined Laudato Si Animators, Westminster J&P and other Catholic groups in the march alongside environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth, Surfers against Sewage and various Wildlife Trusts. People dressed up as stingrays and beavers and giant puppets of threatened bird species headed down Park Lane towards Westminster. Many banners called for a new law that will halt and reverse nature’s destruction by 2030 – The Climate and Nature Bill. There was concern that nature and climate have not featured sufficiently during election campaigning. Some 350 organisations participated.

The rally at Parliament Square heard speeches from many prominent individuals, including naturalist Chris Packham, actress Dame Emma Thompson, and musician/water campaigner Feargal Sharkey. Environmental issues such as the diminishing of species, climate change and pollution of rivers were highlighted and there was a call for our next government to set up bold plans to make urgent policy changes towards environmental sustainability.

Before the march, Christians packed an ecumenical service at the Jesuit Church at Farm Street with the theme ‘Restore Nature Now’. The Canticle of creation by Saint Francis of Assisi was read and Pope Francis’ prayer, Laudato Si’, was recited at the service. Fr. Dominic Robinson SJ, Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, gave the final blessing. Christians were urged to work and pray together for Justice, Peace and Environmental Justice. Columban JPE Co-ordinator James Trewby, who was there with his family, said afterwards: “It was a privilege to join the service and march with members of the Columban Justice, Peace and Ecology team – and family and friends. The UK must do better – for our sake, for future generations, and for our sisters and brothers around the world!”

On the issue of refugees, James Trewby also attended the monthly vigil at the Home Office during Refugee Week in June, along with a group of students from St. George’s School, Maida Vale, who made some striking placards. Their messages included: ‘Jesus was a Refugee’ and ‘I was a refugee and you did not welcome me’. The students – several of whom were from migrant families – also contributed some heartfelt prayers. The vigil remembered those who have lost their lives in their efforts to escape war, persecution, and starvation – often linked to the climate crisis – and build a new life in another country. Hundreds of names of refugees who lost their lives in just one month in June 2023 were read out. Pope Francis has said, ‘Everyone has a name, a face and a story’.

The final blessing was given by Bishop Paul McAleenan, Lead Bishop for Migrants and Refugees for the Bishops Conference. In his message for Refugee Week, he said: “The UK Government has a responsibility to ensure that we have an immigration system that upholds the dignity of human life. Let us be thankful for the work of so many people in England and Wales to welcome migrants, but not be afraid to ask ourselves what else can we do to assist migrants and refugees.”

Now that the election is over, active citizenship must continue.  We must contribute to the building up of God’s Kingdom of ‘love, justice and peace’ here on Earth, as the Church Social Teaching document Gaudium et Spes put it, and as we stress every time we say the ‘Our Father’.

For over one hundred years, Columban missionaries have left our homelands to live and work alongside people living in poverty and Indigenous communities around the world. Everyday we see close-up the devastating impacts of the loss of biodiversity, the collapse of ecosystems, and climate change on communities who contribute least to these problems and whose natural resources are exploited and destroyed for the benefit of others.

Columbans are a voice for transformation by providing humanitarian assistance and accompanying communities in their struggle to care for the environment, protect their livelihoods, and participate fully in society.

We support people who have been excluded in society to tell their own stories, and through education and advocacy, work for structural change to address the root causes of injustice. Our experience has taught us that an economic and social order that collaborates mutually with creation is necessary for the care and protection of all of life.

Columbans support refugee action that:

  • Ensures protection for people fleeing war and persecution by upholding the UK’s commitment under international law to the right to claim asylum and for safe routes.
  • Provides a proper strategy for welcoming refugees and ending immigration detention.
  • Forges stronger global cooperation to tackle the root causes that force people to flee their homes.

Pledge your support

We have proudly signed the campaign for a fair and humane asylum system and encourage you to pledge your support too. 

Visit the Refugee Council website here