The Church without frontiers, Mother to all

POST BY GClapson

A refugee at a JRS class in Kenya: Christian Fuchs/JRS
A refugee at a JRS class in Kenya: Christian Fuchs/JRS

Advent has always held a special place in my heart.  It is a special time of the year – one in which we prepare for Christmas and so traditionally think of family members, friends and loved ones. 

It is also a time of expectation and longing, of preparation and of waiting for Someone to come along with all of the promise of a new beginning, a new way of living and, of course, of eventual redemption. 

There is something particularly poignant about Advent and Christmas when working with people who are marginalised and unwelcomed.

The people we accompany at Jesuit Refugee Service have been forced to leave everything behind, including family and friends.  Many have been in the UK for years with no final resolution of their situation, never quite knowing whether eventually they will have that new beginning and new life themselves or if they must continue to wait.  Some are able to make some preparation towards a new life, for example, through studying or volunteering or learning English.  Others are unable to do this for a variety of reasons: ill health, depression, lack of opportunity and lack of encouragement.

Most of the people we accompany are left destitute, with no permission to work and no access to benefits or assistance beyond what is offered by faith communities, charities, friends and, indeed, casual acquaintances or complete strangers.  They speak of feeling unwelcome and unwanted.  They speak of their lives being on hold and of feeling useless.

Others we accompany are detained under the immigration rules, some for years.  As you might imagine they feel even more isolated as they are held in prison like conditions, making it difficult for them to contact the outside world.  What is worse is that they never know when they might be released or if they will be returned to country of origin:  immigration detention in the UK is unlimited.  Christmas can be particularly difficult for them.  Those detained have told us in the past that they don’t know if they will still be detained still next Christmas. 

Every year the Pope issues a message on the theme of refugees and migrants which concludes with a blessing for them.  The message for next year – the 101st of its kind – has already been issued and the theme is “The Church without frontiers, Mother to all”.  In the UK we will celebrate the day on 18 January, so very soon after the Christmas period is concluded, and very soon after many of us will have already broken one or more of our New Year’s resolutions (if we make them). 

There is something of a resolution or promise in the message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees which focuses on the centrality of the dignity of the person:

“The Church without frontiers, Mother to all spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable.  When living out this motherhood effectively, the Christian community nourishes, guides and indicates the way, accompanying all with patience, and drawing close to them through prayer and works of mercy”. 

All it needs is for each one of us to try to live up to that acceptance and solidarity, that accompaniment through prayer and works of mercy.  So please spare a thought and a prayer for some of our refugee friends, perhaps particularly when you see or hear an anti-refugee or anti-migrant report in the news.

For more information about the work of JRS-UK phone 020-74887310 or go to www.jrsuk.net

This article by Louise Zanré of JRS UK was originally published in the Catholic Times.

Photo: A refugee at a JRS class in Kenya: Christian Fuchs/Jesuit Refugee Service