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Thursday, December 8, 2016
London: Notre Dame refugee centre plans anniversary celebrations
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¬†The Notre Dame Refugee Centre in Leicester Square, is preparing to celebrates its tenth anniversary next Sunday. The Centre, which particularly focusses on the needs of French speakers, invites all of its friends, supporters, volunteers, and anyone who has benefited from its services, to join with them in celebrating this occasion. The Notre Dame Refugee project opened in November 1996, when Father Paul Walsh and a group of parishioners became concerned at the effect of new refugee and asylum regulations on individuals coming to the Church for help - changes which they believed were damaging to the rights of those entering the UK. The aim, at that time, was to provide a practical response to changes in immigration law and to provide services for those who were falling through the net of social welfare. A deliberate effort was made to aim services at refugees from French-speaking countries, whose lack of English often made it impossible for them to access vital services. Notre Dame Refugee Centre offers a welcome to asylum seekers and refugees; it provides practical help when that is needed; and it supports and resources them in their efforts to improve their situation and cope with their many problems. Just hospitality, a meal and a place to chat can be oases in difficult lives. The Centre's approach takes very seriously the words of Benedict XVI: "Love needs to be organised if it is to be an ordered service to the community within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life." (Deus Caritas Est, January 2006) The Centre welcomes people of all faiths and none, although many of its visitors are Christians. The aim of the chaplaincy is simply to be with those people who have turned to the Centre for a practical solution to their problems. "For most, the situation is dire. Nothing is progressing, their appeals are rejected, their benefits stopped," said Fr Jean-Marie Bloqueau, Chaplain to the Centre. "The chaplaincy is there to provide a human, believing presence, to recognize people's dignity, and to help them bear the weight of their situation. People share their suffering, their exhaustion. For me, this means being present, as a welcoming friend, while everything in our visitors' lives reminds them that they are unwelcome and undesirable. "Coming from Africa, many asylum seekers are strong believers, and many of them are Christian. I marvel at the depth of their faith. They put all their hope in God and find in Him the strength to go forward. When God might appear to be absent or deaf, they speak with more than words of their trust in the God who commits Himself to them. What touches me also, in this mostly African community, is the solidarity of those who have nothing. This nothing, they share! Therefore it seems natural that they refer to all as 'my brother, my sister'. Yes they are poor: but they are rich in humanity. The chaplaincy would like to bear witness to this." The tenth anniversary celebrations will include a Mass of thanksgiving in the Church of Notre Dame de France, Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BP, at 2pm on Sunday 19th November. Bishop Tom Burns will preside over the Mass, which will be celebrated in French, English and Lingala, and the homily will be given by Fr Paul Walsh, one of the Centre's founder members. Refreshments will follow the Mass. From 4pm ≠ 6pm the Venue Theatre, below the Church, will host a concert by seven-piece Congolese band Kaisai-Maisai. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance, either by calling Christine Diaz on 020 7440 2661 or emailing Anniversary@notredamerc.org.uk.
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