The Blessed Sacrament and Sacred Heart CAFOD groups in Exeter ran an ecumenical event on Friday, 28 April, entitled: The Refugee Journey – Global, National and Local perspectives.
We were inspired by the words of Pope Francis who has spoken about the “moral imperative” to protect migrant workers, those in irregular situations as well as those “exiled and seeking asylum” or “victims of trafficking.” Pope Francis made clear that “defending their inalienable rights, ensuring their fundamental freedoms and respecting their dignity are duties from which no one can be exempted.”
In light of this and our recent involvement with CAFOD’s work on refugees focused around the Lampedusa Cross, we wanted to involve our local communities in understanding the, sometimes desperate, ‘journeys’ that refugees take seeking sanctuary and explore how we might make a difference.
We were blessed with four excellent speakers. The event began with a presentation from Fr. Jonathan Stewart, parish priest at Blessed Sacrament Church, Exeter. Fr. Jonathan used works of art and scriptural passages to explain how we are all spiritual refugees. He drew on Catholic social teaching and the words of Pope John Paul II to explore the notion of separation which all refugees experience.
The second presentation was by Neil Thorns, CAFOD’s Director of Advocacy and Education. It was great to have someone of Neil’s expertise and experience to give the global view of the refugee journey. I was surprised to learn that most refugees are internally displaced people who never cross country borders. Neil explained that these people are some of the most vulnerable because they are often fleeing persecution from groups within the country in which they are still living. Neil also pointed out that the countries who take the majority of refugees are developing countries, and the impact on their social services can be great. It really made us think about how much or how little our own country does to welcome refugees.
Neil’s presentation was followed by Nick Gill who is a Professor of Human Geography at the University of Exeter. Nick was an excellent speaker and took us through how the media report on refugees including some very distressing language used on social media about our fellow human beings. The shocking reporting about these desperate people along with the bureaucratic nightmare many find themselves in brought home just how lucky we all are not to be in that situation. Nick also reminded us of the importance of the language we all use when talking about others.
The final presentation focused on the local scene. Wendy Milne from Exeter City of Sanctuary gave us a real insight into what is being done in our local community. It was great to hear how City of Sanctuary is getting local organisations and small business to commit to some form of action related to welcoming refugees.
There was also a plenary session during which the speakers answered questions from the audience. One question which particularly struck me was around the fear people have of Islam. In response Fr. Jonathan showed us how thinking in terms of Islam or Muslims was a way of de-humanising people and that we should remember to call people by their name, as God calls us.
Around 70 people attended the event from the Catholic community in Exeter as well as from various local churches, other faiths and non-faith groups. It was lovely to meet new friends and to discuss this important issue.
The whole event was chaired by Kathrin Forster who is a member of the Blessed Sacrament CAFOD group and is also teaching at the University of Exeter. Kathrin drew on her expertise to provide us with some contextual information and some statistics about the numbers and types of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are journeying across the globe.
The event was a follow up to our Climate Change event in 2015, and given the response from the audience we expect to follow up with another similar event perhaps next year.
Blessed Sacrament CAFOD group, Exeter
The team at Plymouth CAFOd would like to give their personal thanks to Shirley and Kathirn and all the members of Exeter’s CAFOD groups who worked so hard to make the event such a success. We would also like to thanks all the speak and everyone who attended the inspirational event.