Local Events and Blogs

Event – Southwark Archdiocese Commission for JPIC
Autumn Assembly – ‘COP26: What next?’

A continued response to the huge environment issues of our time. At Corpus Christi Catholic Church, Brixton Hill, London SW2 5BJ.  Saturday 20th November from 10am onwards.  Entrance is free.  Everyone welcome.  Email jpiccontact@rcaos.org.uk to reserve your place. Please bring a packed lunch.  Tea and coffee provided.

Event – Refugees Welcome Rally
Wednesday 20th October, 4.30pm to 6.30pm, Parliament Square, London.

Details from ‘Solidarity with Refugees’. Hear from refugees and add your voice to the movement to welcome them. The event is for everyone who cares about the rights of people to seek asylum, and they ask you to bring your own banners with your own message! Every one of us has a part to play now. Every one of us can make this country a more welcoming place

30 September  
BLOG: Camino to COP – A walker’s reflection

JPIC Steering Group member, Barbara Wilson, spent two weeks on Camino to COP, a 500-mile pilgrimage from London to Glasgow, arriving in time for the start of the COP26 Summit in November. Parting from the pilgrimage when they reached Birmingham, Barbara shares some of her memories and reflections on her experience.

“Hello, we’re walking to Glasgow. Would you like to know why and what we are doing?” This was our regular refrain as we walked in and out of towns and villages distributing leaflets as part of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Faith Bridge Camino to COP26. XR Faith Bridge is an interfaith group formed during the Extinction Rebellion of April 2019. Members are of all faiths and none – spiritual but not religious.

COP26 (the Conference of Parties) is meeting for two weeks in Glasgow this November and will make decisions about the Climate Emergency which will affect all of us. Our intention as walkers has been to raise awareness of the climate crisis and the importance of the Conference as a moment for humanity to pause and make key decisions to reduce/ mitigate the impact of the crisis.

Most people are now well aware that Climate Emergency is very real and will impact all of our lives. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) recently published a report which was described UN Secretary General António Guterres as “Code Red for humanity. Many of those living in the global South are already directly affected by drought or floods or fires or other natural disasters. Climate change is also increasingly a cause of refugee movement.

In Britain we are, for the present, less obviously directly affected. Nevertheless, walking through our beautiful countryside over the last couple of weeks it has been noticeable how there are fewer birds, insects and wild flowers than there would have been a few decades ago and how large and uniform many fields are, with fewer hedgerows and trees. We also passed near the route of HS2 and mourned the loss of many natural habitats destroyed by its progress.

A core group of about 15 are walking the entire route from London to Glasgow and we were joined in Birmingham by a group which had started in Bristol. Some like myself have taken part for extended periods (in my case 120 miles from London to Birmingham) and many others join just for part or all of a day. The route is about 10 miles each day with walkers carrying rucksacks containing all their belongings. It’s sobering to realise how little you need to live when you have to carry it all: about 8-10 Kilos on average with a couple of changes of clothes and washing kit plus sleeping bag and mat. We slept on church hall floors and, for the odd night, in churches. When you are really tired you sleep well even on a hard floor though we were delighted where there was a carpet or the offer of a shower.

We received a warm welcome everywhere. Almost all our hosts provided a delicious vegan meal. Most evenings this was followed by an outreach event where a couple of the group told their stories of why we’d been drawn to the walk and to become activists for the Climate Emergency. This was followed by small group discussions.

Here, and in our many encounters on the road, we generally found that people are aware that there is a Climate Emergency. Some respond by making small or larger lifestyle changes – recycling, walking rather than driving short distances, eating less meat. These are all good. Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical written before the last COP Summit, enjoined all of us to do this. But it is nowhere near enough to make the real and radical changes which are needed and are called for by the IPCC.

Laudato Si calls for change at personal, community and political levels. Some churches we visited were Ecochurches; Catholic churches follow LiveSimply. These communities are beginning to make a real difference. But, despite the Government’s plans and broad targets, even its own Climate Change Committee has said that progress is nowhere near urgent enough.

So, what were my own highlights from this walk? I love walking – twice to Santiago in Spain and many long-distance walks in Britain: the South Downs way, St Cuthbert’s way and many more. So, I was pleased to find that despite the hiatus of lockdown I was still easily able to walk 10 miles a day with my rucksack.

The walkers in the group were delightful. Their ages varied from recent graduates to grandmothers (as I am). A common characteristic was their generosity and kindness to each other and those we met, as well as our shared concern for the environment and those affected by the crisis. We grew closer through regular ‘check ins’ sharing our joys and sorrows including large blisters! We met many wonderful people as well as generous hospitality.

In Coventry, this year’s city of culture, we were entertained by two wonderful women from Zimbabwe. One remembered her daily five mile walk from her village to collect water – and was surprised we took such pleasure in our walking for a less immediate purpose. The other recited her poetry, including a poem called ‘I See You’.

In Dunstable, the evening group included the local MP who was persuaded to don our Coat of Hopes: a patchwork garment made of embroidered pieces of blanket and decorated with patches by the diverse range of people encountered along our walk. We took it in turns to wear the coat and my own wearing of it was partly through a field of maize much taller than I! I had to hold the coat’s hem carefully so as not to get it caught up.

The five Year-6 boys who joined us that day were delighted by that adventure and even more so by the next field with alternate rows of stubble and slurry! Other joys were herons and a kingfisher by the canal and fields full of gold flowers.

Not far from Milton Keynes, we held an evening session where local residents who had sewn patches for the Coat of Hopes told us about their hopes and fears. In Milton Keynes the next day, we took part in a service in the Tree Cathedral. A friend and I then spent much of Sunday sewing patches onto the coat in between catching up with everyone’s laundry.

There were many brief but meaningful encounters by the roadside to explain what we were doing – from small children on their way to school to pensioners out for a gentle stroll. Almost all were inspired by our actions, responding thoughtfully as well as sharing a little of their own stories.

Other memories come back to me: a welcome in Birmingham Progressive Synagogue as they built their Sukkah; a local mosque with a reading from the Koran about the environment. There were periods of reflective silence as we crossed fields of stubble and shared prayer with other Christian Climate Action Caministas on several evenings, sometimes with our hosts.

My abiding memories will be of the companionship and love in the group – constant as people came and went – the warm welcomes and hospitality on our route, the beauty of the English countryside and our common sense of purpose. I can’t wait till I rejoin the group in Glasgow.

Please pray for the group as it continues its journey. But even more pray for wise, far-sighted decisions by world leaders as they meet in Glasgow.

LINK

A NEWLY DEVELOPING TOPIC – REFORM TO THE ASYLUM AND IMMIGRATION SYSTEM

In June 2021, Archbishop John signed a joint statement with leaders of dioceses alongside the English Channel, asking that we create a ‘climate of welcome and understanding for strangers’. It can be downloaded here.

This echoes a letter sent to the Home Secretary in May by the leading bishops in England and Wales and in Scotland repeating concerns expressed by Catholic charities when responding to a government consultation on plans for new immigration laws. They expressed strong opposition to the proposed creation of a two-tier asylum system, warning that tougher border security could drive more people into the hands of traffickers and asking that we continue to make room for people who seek safety and a home among us.

A new “Nationality and Borders Bill” was introduced in the House of Commons on 8 July: it seeks to bring most of the objectionable measures into law. Various groups such as the SVP and the Jesuit Refugee Service are producing material to help people to write to their MPs asking for a more humane approach to be adopted. Links to this advice will be added below, as they become available.

A template letter to MPs, about the Nationality and Borders Bill can be found here.

JRS will be very grateful if people will use this as a basis to write to their MPs and ask them to speak out and vote against the Bill at the second reading on 19th July – and continue to object afterwards during the Committee stage – and encourage others to do likewise. A briefing note is also available.

A similar briefing from the SVP is here.
SVP Briefing – Nationality and Borders Bill

Opinion among French Catholics has recently been measured  as 20% sympathetic to refugees and 20% against, with 60% stating that they do not have enough correct information with which to form an opinion. The UK situation may well be similar, so here are some relevant facts.

If you flee persecution and want the protection of the UK government, you must must reach UK soil and apply to the Home Office for recognition as a refugee. Traditionally around two-thirds of these applications are refused, although in 2019 and 2020, around half of the applicants were granted refugee status or another form of legal protection at the first time of asking. Many of these decisions are wrong: thousands of appeals are allowed every year, amounting to 49% in 2020/21. Combining initial grants of asylum with the successful appeals, a clear majority of asylum seekers become recognised refugees or get a similar status. The Home Office’s own figure for 2019 is 64%. The right to seek asylum is universal and does not depend upon how people travel. Our government’s proposals set out to undermine the refugee convention and categorise people as ‘inadmissible’ if they reach Britain by irregular means or have passed through third countries, despite the fact that more than half of them are likely to have valid reasons for claiming asylum.

In 2020, almost 30,000 people applied for asylum (not including dependent family members). This is well below the 2019 level despite the increased number arriving across the Channel by boat. In fact these do not form an extra new flow, but rather represent people who have diverted from crossings in vehicles. Getting on for half of these – 46% – were from five countries: Iran, Albania, Eritrea, Iraq and Sudan, whilst other significant contributors include Afghanistan, Vietnam, Pakistan and Syria. None of them noted as territories of peace and safety.

The UK’s share of the world’s refugees is light. The World Bank put the number of refugees in the UK in 2018 at around 127,000, or 0.5% of the world’s total. Even by UK standards, the number of asylum seekers today is not particularly high. Numbers peaked around the turn of the century, reaching over 100,000 during 2002, if dependants are included, and have been fairly steady recently, averaging 39,000 over the past five years. The cost of food and shelter for asylum seekers has not risen because more applications are being made, but because they are not dealt with efficiently. The number waiting for more than a year for an initial decision increased almost tenfold from 3,588 people in 2010 to 33,016 in 2020. Within this total, the number of children waiting longer than a year increased more than twelve-fold from 563 children in 2010 to 6,887 in 2020. What is needed is a system that works by making timely decisions and ensures that everybody in need of safety gets a fair hearing.

Some refugees are ‘resettled’, i.e., brought directly to the UK. Politicians like to stress that resettlement is good and coming to the UK under your own steam (“jumping the queue”) is bad. There are said to be 26 million refugees worldwide, while over the past five years, the UK has resettled around 26 thousand. No-one can apply directly for resettlement in the UK, but instead they must wait in camps near their places of origin and hope to one day be pulled out of the pile by UN agents and assigned to a resettlement programme (not in a country of their choice). There is, in fact, no queue to join! Despite the announcement of a new UK resettlement programme for about 5,000 people a year in 2019, hardly anyone has been resettled since the Covid pandemic began and the 2019 proposal has been withdrawn, pending a replacement.  

Why not plan an event during 2021 to mark one of the United Nations International Years?

2021 – UN International Years:  

   + of Peace and Trust
   + of Fruits and Vegetables
   + for Elimination of Child Labour
   + of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development

Saturday 1 May, the Feast of St Joseph the Worker is a Day of Prayer for Human Work. The London dioceses, Brentwood, Southwark and Westminster, take it in turns to host an annual Mass for Migrant Workers organised in association with the capital’s ethnic chaplaincies and London Citizens. 

It was Southwark’s turn to do this in 2021. To conform with Covid restrictions the Mass was livestreamed from the Parish of St William of York in Forest Hill, starting at 11.30am, with Bishop Patrick McAleenan as the principal celebrant. You can view a recording of the livestreamed Mass at www.facebook.com/swoyse23/live  and a review is available here

Please note that the JPIC Office is not responsible for the content of external websites. The views expressed in them must not be taken to represent our views and policies. Organisations that are outside the Roman Catholic Church, may not always fully agree to Catholic Social Teaching. However, we do work with them when we find common ground and aims.