Hello everyone, I am here to speak to you on behalf of the Parish Core Team.
I am sure there isn’t anyone here who hasn’t watched in horror as the dreadful violence in the Middle East has unfolded on our screens. Night after night for years our news bulletins have been filled with warfare and utter evil. Like me you probably at times have to close your eyes or switch off the sound as we watch in sadness, seeing helpless victims: men; women; little children living in fear caught up through no fault of their own in life-changing carnage. Many countries such as Syria have nothing left, no homes, no schools, no hospitals, no infrastructure, nothing but bombing; fear and despair. Children having to witness things we can’t even imagine. We’ve seem families who have previously lived in peace, living lives just like ours having to flee with nothing.
How many times have you thought - What’s the West doing? What’s our Government doing? What can I do? By the end of 2017 more than 25 million people had crossed borders from war and persecution. These are the people we call refugees and asylum seekers.
In Syria over 12 million people had to leave their homes. Of these many have crossed the border but most are not even living in refugee camps. They are living instead in poverty on the edges of towns in urban areas in places like Jordan and Lebanon. The refugee crisis is probably the greatest sadness in our world at this present time.
In September 2015, Pope Francis made an appeal to us all when he said
“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe welcome one family”
And in November 2015 our own Home Office responded to the Pope by saying
“The UK will develop a Community Sponsorship Scheme to allow individual charities, parishes, faith groups and businesses to support refugees directly.”
So, what does this mean for us here in Bishop Eton?
The government launched its scheme in 2016. The scheme allows local communities to take in refugee families normally from Syria.
The government looked at the Canadian model which was launched in 1998 and since that time has taken in over 300,000 refugees into Canada. The model has proved more successful than any other approach because local communities take responsibility for the whole resettlement process of the family, and thereby they are settled into the Canadian way of life much more quickly and more fully.
In Liverpool Archbishop McMahon is keen for parishes to respond.
We as a Parish Core Team became aware of this scheme just before this Christmas. We did a lot of research into the programme and we met this week and agreed that we here in Bishop Eton together, have the capacity and the ability to respond to the Popes’ call and to respond to our government’s scheme.
But before I talk about this opportunity that awaits us as a parish, I’d like to welcome Sean Ryan the National Caritas Community Sponsorship Coordinator. Fortunately for us Sean is based in Salford so he is our near neighbour. Sean and his parish were the first in the country to respond to the scheme and have since taken in a refugee family. Sean, you are very welcome
Good evening everyone, I’ve been at Masses all day today and its been an absolute joy and pleasure for me to me here and meet everybody. Speaking as a proud Mancunian of Irish descent there is probably only one place in the world where I’d feel just as proud if I came from – and that’s this great city of Liverpool.
A quick true story for you, there was a man coming back to his hospital bed in Walton Hospital after a consultant’s examination and his wife was waiting for him, and she asked him, “Have they got the results yet of the autopsy?” Quick as a flash the old man in the next bed said “yeah how’d ye get on Lazarus’.
I’ve got an awful lot of affection for Liverpool, and I also have a great deal of affection and admiration for a very succinct, fearless, modest, ex-pro bouncer, who drives around Rome in a 10 year-old battered Ford Focus. What an amazing Pope we have!
Ever since he made that call in autumn 2015, we’ve been opening door after door of the Catholic Church in England and Wales to do exactly as he asked by means of this revolutionary approach to welcoming the stranger.
Under Community Sponsorship, unlike anything else that’s ever been tried, responsibility for the entire journey that a refugee family goes on, from landing at an airport, to being resettled, integrated, happy, speaking English, working, children in school, and best of all loved and feeling they belong in the community in which they live. That responsibility will now rest with ordinary people like you and me, making up a sponsorship group some people with relevant professional skills and experience.
I’m not going to talk too much about how the scheme works. There will be other opportunities to find that out as the weeks go on.
What I would like to talk to you about is what the experience has been like.
When people ask me, “What’s it like to be a community sponsor for a refugee family?”. I usually say
“Well how’s this grab you, transforming the lives of people who have lost everything, whilst utterly transforming the life, vibrancy and togetherness of your parish, so down the track raucous laughter, singing, jokes, I kid you not it has been that wonderful.
Some quotes from my fellow parishioners
“One of the most humbling and rewarding experiences of my whole life.” “I can’t get out of bed fast enough in the morning.” “There’s no better feeling than to see our family smiling and full of joy knowing what they have experienced.”
We’ve been incredibly blest by our family in Flixton. They are a heart melting, delightful family of five (with three young children, now in school) from the now destroyed city of Homs.
Just to give you a couple of ideas, I can’t possibly do justice to all the wonderful things we’ve had but here’s a couple. When our family first arrived at Manchester airport they had just come off an exhausting two stage flight from Beirut. None of them had ever been on a plane before, despite that the two boys aged, I think, 6 and 7, came bursting through the gates and proceeded to high-five everyone of us in our group, high fived a couple of people over there from the Home Office and a couple of people on the right who had nothing to do with us. It was a wonderful moment of sheer exuberance.
A few weeks later what can only be described as a scratch vocal group forming in the family’s home, comprising of their delightful 3 year-old girl, an elderly Arabic interpreter from Iraq, two baffled young Mancunians and the Bishop of Salford all singing a rousing choruses of Frere Jaques, in their home. Another - you couldn’t make it up - sort or moment.
Our education team, our wonderful teachers, are teaching the family (to help them improve their English) songs like ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’, and of all things the calendar song by Boney M. If you remember them from the 70s.
And all the family have been singing the songs down the phone to their family members back in Lebanon, or singing them in the back of the car as they’re driven through Manchester. It has been as wonderful as that.
In terms of progress in just over 12 months the children are all settled, happy, hugely popular in school, and with all their neighbours and their English is great already. Dad only speaking a few words of English and Mum none at all when they arrived. Dad is well on the way to being fluent in written and spoken English already. Mum is fast catching up with him. They can certainly communicate with all of us no problem.
Dad is a wonderful chef he cooks the most exquisite Syrian and Lebanese food and not long after he arrived, a sort of Catholic social network swung into action, and we got him put as a volunteer chef in residence at a night shelter, for refugees and asylum seekers at the Holy Name Church in Manchester City Centre. He got a wonderful welcome there. That all went onto his CV. He’s now got paid work in a Spanish restaurant, and he’s just been head hunted for a job as a head chef in a new restaurant serving Syrian and Lebanese cuisine.
In 12 months or just over it is extraordinary progress – this is what Community Sponsorship can do.
A couple more things - last summer our group and the family were asked, by the Home Office, if we would take part in an official film about community sponsorship. At the end of the interview the Dad was asked how he feels about this country now you’ve welcomed by a Catholic parish in Salford. And he said ‘This country has given my children hope and a future. I would now do anything for this country in return.’
Pope Benedict once said ‘Being Christian is not the result of any ethical choice or a lofty idea but the encounter with an event, a person which gives life a new horizon, a decisive direction.’ Becoming a Community Sponsor of a refugee family will give you just such an encounter.
Now back to that chap who drives the battered Ford focus. Over Christmas Pope Francis said
“In order to find Jesus, we need to get up and go, not sit around, but take risks, not stand still but set out”
This is a unique and wonderful opportunity for all of you to do just that, and I strongly urge you to seize it with both hands.
Thank you very much for listening.
Thank you very much Sean.
So, as you can see there’s a lot that need to be done. This is our opportunity as a welcoming, loving parish to respond to the international crisis.
The resettlement process will take at least six months before we receive a family. We have to write a bid to the Home Office and then we need to support that family after they arrive with us for at least 2 years.
So, we’ll need a lot of people with professional skills and everybody else to help out. From the youngest to the oldest person in our parish everyone is welcome to support and help.
We’re going to have a parish meeting (taking out your diaries) Tuesday the 23rd January in the Fisher-More Hall.
We’ll share all the details of the bid with you, and if there’s anything you can do to help with our application please come to the meeting.
On the way out of Mass, Brian and one of the welcome team will be giving you a handout, and that outlines all the different tasks and skills we need and the groups that we’re going to form.
Please read it and respond in the best way you can.
Now I’m a very optimistic person, so in anticipation, I’m saying thank you so much for giving our parish this opportunity.