Led by Ger and Sister Margaret, the morning was used to help us become still, listen to our hearts and focus our thinking.
The work of the Sanctuary is inspired by the words of Christ, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Mt. 25: 31-46) Above the serving counter stands a banner depicting the escape of the Infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph into Egypt, with the words, ‘We too were asylum seekers’.
If our spiritual lives are real, they will express and reflect the events of our day-to-day experience. As Christians we say the Lord’s Prayer, with its petitions, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” So, what are we doing to help turn these petitions into a reality? Is my life focused on the coming of God’s Kingdom or is it actually driven by the coming of my petty kingdom, my comfort, my schemes, my ambitions, my rights?
A nightly review of the passing day is a long-established Christian practice which gives us the opportunity to look back over its events. We are moved to thank God for its joys and successes, to ask forgiveness for our sins, and to pray for the discernment we need to see how we can live by Gospel values for the future.
We had time to reflect on scripture passages on the treatment of the dispossessed alongside media extracts on the subject of asylum seekers. Then we came together to share these reflections with the rest of the group.
Sister Margaret reviewed the huge increase in the numbers of people who now come to the Sanctuary, with the work-load this entails. As a result there are times when we run from one task to another, simply trying to cope. The danger is that people who come to us hoping for a welcoming greeting, a sympathetic ear, or just a companionable silence, are neglected, even ignored. We need to be aware of this pitfall and be determined not to stumble into it.
In the afternoon Rose presented a ‘People Bingo’ game in which we learned a few surprising things about each other. A good ice breaker for getting to know your colleagues, assuming they are telling the truth!
Emma (Birks), then led us through an exercise on some of the issues surrounding the process of asylum application. I think it’s fair to say that we all learned at least a few sobering facts, and has some popular myths dispelled. The asylum scene is complicated by the different categories of applicant, different responses by the authorities, different levels of support. A large number just disappear from the system, eking out an insecure and nomadic existence dependent on handouts from friends or charities, ‘sofa surfing’, or doing illicit, dangerous and badly-paid work.
Finally, Jane Jones, the Safeguarding Co-ordinator for the Archdiocese of Birmingham, spoke to us. Asylum seekers, being mostly adults, and not obviously physically frail, are rarely thought of as being people ‘at risk’. In fact, it’s hard to think of a group who could be more vulnerable. Exposed to exploitation of all kinds, and not knowing where to turn for help, they particularly need the reassurance that here they are welcome, safe, respected and cared for.
Jane outlined different types of abuse, some tell-tale signs of physical abuse, and showed how we can safely respond to a situation in which we suspect abuse to be taking place. We finished our day with a concluding prayer led by JayJay.
It was a packed, thought-provoking and, despite the nature of some of the topics we looked at, an encouraging day. It would be easy to let the sadness we witness, or the tragedies we hear about, make us demoralised or feel there is nothing significant we can do. But those who come for our help don’t feel that. They have refused to let their experiences break them. They are resilient, resourceful, patient, determined. They know they deserve better. We know it too.
By Gerard Boylan