During the Mass, which was held last Saturday, 1st May, Bishop Paul McAleenan criticised recent attempts to put migrants into different categories depending upon how they arrive in the UK. He said, “any attempt to introduce what is divisive needs to be resisted by the Churches.” The Church calls for “safe and legal routes for all who need refuge” and “every story must be listened to.” Constructing categories, “suggests that some migrants and refugees are less deserving, but everyone must be treated equally and policy should reflect this.” He was speaking against the backdrop of new government proposals for an overhaul of the asylum system, which will make it more hostile to refugees.
Columbans support Pope Francis’ call to welcome the stranger and endorse Bishop McAleenan’s words. Already, many refugees in UK are denied the chance of permanent settlement and asylum claimants are often forced to live in detention or in ‘ghetto-like’ reception centres whilst awaiting outcomes on claims.
Columban JPIC, as in other years, joined the 1st May Mass, which was organised by the Justice and Peace Commissions of Southwark, Brentwood and Westminster. Citizens UK gave the official welcome and thanked the Church for its “moral authority” in protecting migrants. The service also marks the International Day of Workers and migrant workers’ rights were highlighted. St William of York at Forest Hill in Southwark hosted and Fr. Habte Ukbay, chair of the Southwark Commission, is parish priest. Around 60 attended, including ethnic chaplains, and more than 500 joined online.
Past Masses before the pandemic have been held in overflowing cathedrals with several thousand participants, processions of migrant community banners, Chinese dragons held aloft in the aisles, and colourful Offertory processions danced by African and Asian communities. Yet, this celebration in 2021 remained significant. Fr Habte described this Mass as, “powerful” and “we celebrated in a parish church where the heartfelt and generous involvement of parish groups and the school was wonderful.” He pointed out that the Patron Saint of Migrants, St Francis Xavier Cabrini, was a worshipper at the church. Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, chair of Westminster Justice and Peace, said afterwards, “the Church in London in its wonderful ethnic diversity is clearly still vibrant, resilient and strong in its universal witness to the power of faith.”
A strong international flavour included a ‘Lord have mercy’ from Brazil in Portuguese, a Gospel Acclamation from Cameroon with drums and shakers in full swing, and a ‘Lamb of God’ from the Philippines. The children of St William of York Primary School sang the Our Father in Swahili. They also led bidding prayers in French, Spanish, Igbo, Twi, Romanian and English, calling for workers to “find just conditions of labour and be paid a proper living wage to meet the needs of their families” and for remembrance of “refugees and victims of war, especially children who have lost their lives”. They prayed for the people of London, that the city, “may continue to be a place of hope, opportunity and belonging”. People suffering in Myanmar, Syria and Hong Kong received particular mention.