A group of over 130 participated in a ‘walk of witness’ with a Lampedusa cross on Sunday 2 October, outside the Conservative Party Conference to show support for action to assist refugees.
Following Sunday morning Mass at St. Chad’s Cathedral, the a group of over 130 people walked along Birmingham’s historic canals, reading liturgies and reflecting on the refugee crisis, as they headed towards the Conservative Party Conference.
They were led by Archbishop of Birmingham, The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, alongside CAFOD Head of Campaigns, Dan Hale who in conjunction with Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), local charities Brushstrokes and Father Hudson’s care organised the event.
The Archbishop carried a ‘Lampedusa cross’ made from the driftwood of refugee boats which has become a symbol of solidarity during the refugee crisis. Every Catholic cathedral in England in England and Wales has received one of the crosses – carved by Italian carpenter Francesco Tuccio on the island where thousands of people seeking sanctuary have landed.
There was a diverse range of parishioners taking part in the ‘walk of witness.’ Retired couple, Annette and Alan Bloor, both 74, travelled from Great Hayward, Staffs, in order to participate because they felt very strongly about the treatment of children in the crisis. “We think it is just awful how children are suffering through this crisis and as a country we need to act,” said Alan.
Emily Tierney, a lay chaplain from Birmingham had recently returned from a trip to the Calais refugee camp, where she witnessed some very distressing scenes. “I visited the camp several times to deliver aid, but the situation there has deteriorated. There is unrest and uncertainty and the police are using tear gas on protestors in the camp.” Despite this, Emily stressed that people should “never give up on the dream of a new life” as she stressed that we must look to HH Pope Francis as our best example.
Paulette Stephenson from Hall Green brought her children, niece and friend to the event. She stated that: “It is important for kids to understand what is going on in the wider world.” Her daughter, Beth said: “I came to show people that the refugees are just normal people like us.”
Michael Bassamr, who fled Eritrea also came along with his children and their cousins. He said: “We’re very happy to get involved. Lots of people are dying and I’ve known many people who have died in the Sahara trying to flee Eritrea.” Michael spoke about the requirement for Eritrean men to participate in indefinite military service in the country, “may people want to leave so they can just live their own lives.”
Upon arrival at the Conservative Party Conference, the group was addressed by Conservative MP, Dame Caroline Spelman, the Second Church Estates Commissioner. She welcomed those in attendance and expressed her solidarity with the group as an Anglican. She said: “We all have a responsibility to address the culture of fear and insecurity that we have around the refugee crisis.”
She continued: “We must be consistent as Christians. our deeds must match our words. This means offering practical help to those in need – clearing out of cupboards for donations, or offering English lessons.” Dame Caroline praised the efforts of UK aid agencies such as CAFOD and stressed that they are at the forefront of efforts to alleviate suffering in the affected regions.
Archbishop Longley then addressed the group. He reminded us that “our prayers should also extend to those attending [the] conference, as policymakers they have the power to act.” He also reminded the group that the event was “not a walk of protest, but rather a walk of witness as we seek to work together to find a solution to this issue.”
Archbishop Longley also praised the success of the walk. He remarked that “it is wonderful to see so many faces, old and new. It is a great opportunity to network and explore how we can work towards confronting this crisis.”
CAFOD is working with local partner organisations in Europe and beyond to provide practical help to those fleeing their homes. The charity is calling on the UK government to take a fair and proportionate share of refugees – from both within and outside the European Union. CAFOD is also pushing for the establishment of safe and legal routes to enable refugees to reach safety.