Christmas greetings from St. Chad’s Sanctuary. We wish you and your loved ones a very happy and peaceful Christmas and many blessings in 2012.
We want to take this opportunity to thank our many benefactors for helping us to provide so much relief from hardship and despair over the past twelve months. We are deeply grateful to the many individuals and groups, parishes and schools who help us to meet the needs of those who are far from home especially destitute asylum seekers and refugees.
“I was a stranger and you me welcomed.”
It is amazing how the project has grown. Two years ago we were looking for a place where we could offer hospitality to asylum seekers while they waited for appointments in the city and were blessed indeed when the Salvation Army made us the very generous offer of a building in Shadwell Street. Thank God for so many willing volunteers who helped to clean, decorate and make it a place of welcome and safety.
Over 1200 people have visited the Sanctuary and we have welcomed about 80 nationalities. Our visitors included a Secret Millionaire! In the Letter to the Hebrews we are told: ‘Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it’. (Heb 13:2) The generosity of Aria Taheri catapulted us into orbit! Aria is an extraordinary angel. As a result of very positive publicity many have since come forward to volunteer or with goods to share. Nicolas Barré, founder of the Infant Jesus Sisters, urged members of the Institute to be totally dependent on the ‘wise, loving and all-powerful providence of God’ and he assured them that such an attitude was the source of all the graces and blessings they needed for mission. Well, how true and how extraordinary are the ways of God. In a letter to one of his directees he writes: ‘Be at peace. Do not be afraid. God’s ways can be strange and surprising.’ (Letter 8)
Every day we give out more and more food parcels and hygiene products; these past few weeks we have been very busy trying to find warm clothing and shoes for those who come and who are literally ‘perished with the cold’. It is particularly difficult for those who have recently arrived from warm climates and are experiencing the cold and the rain of our winters for the first time. Many depend on friends for a place to sleep; they are known as ‘sofa surfers’. Some have to spend the night on the street. Thank God we can give them some warm refreshments. This has recently included hot soup, thanks to John who works in St.Chad’s Cathedral kitchen. We are particularly grateful for harvest festival food which enables us to prepare hampers. A big thanks to those who provide us with a regular supply of hygiene products and so we can meet the needs of all age groups. When we have a shortfall in any of these items we use the money given by Aria to stock up.
Most people who come do not speak English. There is a huge demand for ESOL and our classrooms are full. We get a great mix in our groups – from those who are professionally qualified to people who have never been to school. It’s a challenge but made all the more worthwhile when dealing with people who are keen to learn and so well behaved! A joy to teach! Our Secret Millionaire gave us five computers. We have a computer class once a week and have access to the internet by appointment. Our computer suite is a much appreciated and well used facility. Thank you again Aria.
Thank God we can do so much but we couldn’t do any of it without our generous benefactors and a most amazing group of volunteers. People are willing to do whatever has to be done and are so generous with their time. Most of all they have a great respect for those who come in and each one helps to create a space and an ethos where all can feel welcome and at home. As well as teaching, there is a lot of hard physical work involved in the sorting and distribution of goods and also in keeping the Centre clean and tidy but we are never short of willing hands and loving hearts among the volunteers.
Every day we listen to the most harrowing stories and sit with people who are deeply sad and traumatised. It’s not easy but we are encouraged when people make progress in their quest for asylum. Many of our volunteers were once asylum seekers themselves. They do not forget their own struggle and do all they can to help others who are seeking a place where they can be free from oppression and persecution. They show us how to love, welcome, understand and be in solidarity with the stranger.
Working in St.Chad’s Sanctuary we have plenty of reminders of how deportation and exile featured in Salvation history and about how much our God has revealed of himself and his Word at times when the Chosen People were on the move from one country to another. It is very hard to understand why there is so much negativity towards the strangers in our midst; most of us won’t need to dig too deep before we find the ‘the wandering Aramaen’ among our ancestors. The majority of the volunteers in St.Chad’s Sanctuary were born in other countries!
Like so many immigrants, Jesus too left his heavenly homeland and came to live among us. Early in his life he and his family had to flee as refugees toEgypt. As Christians we follow a God who seems always on the move, going through towns and villages and who often had ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (Mt8:20)
Let us pray that this Christmas we will see in the stranger the face of Christ. He has journeyed to our world in order to be with us. Let us welcome him.
With prayer and every good wish for Christmas and the New Year.Margaret Walsh (IJS)