'Refugees Welcome!' was the loud and and clear message called out by the 500-strong crowd at an interfaith prayer vigil organised by London Citizens in the Piazza outside Westminster Cathedral last night.
Prayers and reflections were led by Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious and civic leaders, among them Fr Simon Cuff from Ealing, Rabbi Miriam Berger from Finchley Reformed Synagogue, Rabbi Janet Darley from South London Liberal Synagogue and Sajid Muhammed, director of Nottingham Citizens.
Rabbi Darley quoted from the Hebrew teaching: "you cannot stand by while your neighbour's blood is being spilt."
Rt Rev Peter Hill, the Anglican Bishop of Barking, pointed out that Jesus had also been a refugee during his childhood. When he was asked 'who is my neighbour?' Jesus replied 'the one who needs your help'.
Westminster Auxiliary Bishop Nicholas Hudson, read a message from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who recently visited a refugee camp in Iraq. "When we arrived in the camp they said - 'we don't call them refugees, we call them relatives."
Organised in a very short time by London Citizens, the gathering was one of several taking place around the country last night to pray for the thousands of people who have died escaping the war or reached the overcrowded refugee camps. Speakers commended David Cameron's pledge to take in some refugees, but appealed for the government to accept many more.
One speaker said: "This is the largest movement of displaced people since the Second World War. It is too much for one government to deal with. We are all called to play our part."
There were testimonies from refugees and asylum seekers, and a series of pledges given by town councils, churches and other faith groups, private landlords; individual families, health and education leaders - among them a group of students from Waltham Forest - and others, offering housing, hospitality, mentoring and English lessons. Since CUK put out their appeal this week, one Anglican Diocese has offered some houses and is looking into converting a disused church into accommodation. Bob Geldoff has offered four houses. Newman University has offered two college bursaries.
There is a particular need for foster families for unaccompanied children - "They need homes - not just houses" a speaker said. But since the appeal went out, hundreds of families have pledged to help.
Music and singing throughout the vigil was led by Canon Pat Browne. As the sun set, many people in the crowd lit candles or held up their phone lights as they chanted: "Refugees welcome here".
The Citizens UK website has a form for anyone able to offer support or any kind. For more information see: www.citizensuk.org/
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