Conference calls for 'welcoming the stranger'

Left to right, speakers Bishop Patrick Lynch, Don Flynn, Mary Grey and Neil   Jameson

Left to right, speakers Bishop Patrick Lynch, Don Flynn, Mary Grey and Neil Jameson

Defending migrant rights in the UK and challenging the racist British National Party (BNP) were two themes to emerge from this weekend’s annual National Justice and Peace Network Conference in Derbyshire. In a week that BNP leader Nick Griffin said that boats carrying illegal migrants to Europe should be sunk, more than 300 adults from Justice and Peace groups across England and Wales stressed the Gospel imperative to welcome the stranger. They listened to the stories of refugees and asylum seekers from Ethiopia, DR Congo, Zimbabwe, Iran and other countries who joined the gathering. Some called for the right to work in Britain, others for the voucher scheme to be scrapped. All called for their human dignity to be respected, in line with the Church’s Social Teaching.

“We need a ministry of welcome and accompaniment” said Bishop Patrick Lynch, auxiliary in Southwark Diocese and the Bishop with pastoral responsibility for migrants. “And welcoming is more than saying ‘hello’” he added. The theme of migration was close to his heart, he said,  and he described the annual conference as “a great contribution towards building the kingdom of God”.

Neil Jameson, executive director of the Citizens Organising Foundation and a lead organiser of the Strangers into Citizens Campaign, spoke of the work to regularise undocumented workers. He suggested that the government’s present approach to around 750,000 such workers in the UK amounted to forcing people into destitution. Don Flynn of the Migrants Rights Network called for faith groups, trade unions, citizens organisations and others working on migration to come together to offer friendship and solidarity to migrants.

Theologian Mary Grey suggested that Justice and Peace activists must continue building communities where migrants are respected. She also urged that the “push” factors in migration are addressed, such as unsustainable development, conflict and climate change. CAFOD and Progressio picked up on this in discussion groups.

The Justice and Peace contacts in Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood dioceses, along with Housing Justice and the Jesuit Refugee Service were warmly thanked for organising this year’s conference. It provided its usual blend of lively analysis, theological reflection, good humour and creative liturgy. More than fifty youth and children, whose programmes ran simultaneously, prepared dramas and songs on the theme. An audio visual of the primary age group at the conference was cheered at the concluding liturgy before participants dispersed back to more than 20 participating dioceses. It showed British children playing alongside refugee children, producing artwork and praising God together.  

Photo on Headline page shows  Bishop Patrick Lynch with CAFOD staff, Westminster J&P, Columban Faith  and Justice and some of the refugees attending the  conference.

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