Much of the mainstream media dismisses responses to the international refugee crisis as “compassion fatigue”. The active responses of the parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Leeds was more than evident at a meeting of the Diocesan Refugee Action Support Group with Bishop Marcus and over 100 parishioners from across the Diocese at Hinsley Hall on 30 November.

attendees at refugee information evening
Picture courtesy of the Diocesan Communications Office – see the Diocesan website for a further write up about this event

Following a diocesan-wide pastoral appeal from Bishop Marcus and a newsletter prepared by the Diocesan Refugee Action Support Group (comprising representatives of the SVP, Catholic Care, the Justice & Peace Commission, St.Monica’s Project, the safeguarding office and the new Diocesan Caritas co-ordinator), the group organised this evening for information sharing about what is happening at a diocesan level and to find out what individual parishes in the diocese are doing.

Encouragingly, as well as representatives from the organisations mentioned above, there were parishioners present from all the major towns and cities across the diocese. Moreover, many are already involved in practical action in support of refugees in their neighbourhood. Nor was the approach to wait for Syrians to arrive (delivered through the Government scheme). Most were already supporting refugees and asylum seekers that have come here from the Middle East countries such as Iraq, Iran, and a number of African countries such as Somalia and Eritrea.

The responses from parishes can be summarised under the four headings of Welcome, Hospitality, Sanctuary and Celebration:-

Welcome

  • Our Lady & All Saints in Otley, working through Otley Churches Together, organised an imaginative symbolic “Welcoming Hand”.
  • At St Mary’s in Horsforth (part of the parish of Our Lady of Kirkstall) they have worked to make their primary school a “school of sanctuary” and their local GP’s “practices of sanctuary”.

Future Action

  • At the meeting a booklet called “Welcoming the Stranger” was distributed (see box below).
  • If you would like to organise an event with a speaker then please check with the Diocesan Refugee Support Group to see if they can help.
  • What still needs to be developed is properly co-ordinated advocacy and lobbying of MP’s and local councillors in relation to asylum seeker issues.
  • Parishes could consider holding awareness-raising sessions to help get beyond the hostile narrative that is predominant in the mainstream media. St Benedict’s in Garforth, for example, organised a ‘myth-busting’ event.
  • A part-time Diocesan Refugee Co-ordinator will soon be appointed
  • A Directory of local support agencies for each deanery is being prepared.
  • Funding to support activities still needs to be built up
  • Speaking at the meeting, two Syrian refugees appealed for support from businesses and possible employers – though legal restrictions apply to the activities that asylum seekers can undertake

Welcoming the Stranger

front page of bookletA background booklet called “Welcoming the Stranger” was launched at the event. This booklet spells out the various terms used, the kinds of assistance that can be provided and it summarises the Church’s call to action at all levels – as well as dispelling some of the myths surrounding this whole area.

 

Further copies can be obtained from the Justice & Peace Office (email jandp@dioceseofleeds.org.uk ). They could be used just to provide further information to people within a parish or they could be used as a workbook for a parish refugee support group.

Sanctuary

  • St Anne’s in Keighley has been providing basics for families and children and even funeral support.
  • St Benedict’s, Garforth, was actively involved in the collection of food and goods.
  • Sr Teresa of the Holy family sisters in Allerton helped organise a ‘women’s club’ English classes, a ‘model Christmas’ event and a jewellery-making project.
  • St Jeanne Jugan parish in Headingley provides hot meals for refugees.
  • The St Vincent’s Centre in Leeds provides ESOL  (English as a Second Language) classes.
  • The SVP at Christ the King parish in Bramley has supported Syrian families moving into the area with some household goods – as have many other SVP conferences throughout the diocese.
  • Catholic Care provides family, children and babycare backup through the Beacon Project.
  • Churches in Bradford provide language classes and “Hampers of Hope”.

Celebration

  • Use of school halls for celebrations with refugee groups is already underway.
  • Holy Redeemer parish in Huddersfield organised a cultural event with food and music and raised £2,000. Cultural celebrations have also been organised by St Matthew’s Allerton and St Benedict’s Garforth.
  • Keighley Churches Together and St Mary & St Michael, Settle, plan a ceilidh for all.
  • St Benedict’s Garforth held a refugee-focussed Stations of the Cross whilst Holy Redeemer organised a service centred around CAFOD’s Lampedusa Cross (see article below). Can we think of ways in which asylum seekers can be a more integral part of our masses and other liturgies?

There is a further write up of this event by the Diocesan Communications Office and this can be viewed on the main Leeds Diocese website

Communications office write up of event

This map is based just on the people who came to the 30 Nov meeting. Many more parishes will be actually doing things. If you think your church is missing then let us know and we would be delighted to add you to the map