Ethiopian hymns, the Dubs amendment and bivvy bags – Update on Calais

PrayerSpaceOn Sunday evening in Calais I was present at an Ethiopan Orthodox community service, at which a ‘Calais migrant’ officiated for his compatriots. Young men were quiet, prayerful, but sang powerfully their well-known hymns.

I was representing Westminster Justice and Peace which has supported the Catholic Worker house there for over 2 years, and which has just run an appeal for unaccompanied migrant children. Our astonishing success (£13000 plus) supports this fragile facility. Although, while our help is important, Brother Johannes maintains that the young people’s resilience is the priority. Regular prayers in the House support their identity and faith in this time of trial.

When we started raising money, it was seen as an emergency, one-off action. We are having to revise our assessment, and to understand that supporting refugees in Nord/Pas de Calais as the region is called, may be for the longterm. Calais is far from empty of refugees. With the burning of the Grande Synthe camp at Dunkirk and earlier razing of the Jungle, many camp in the dunes or woods, while the Calais authorities are taking aggressive steps to prevent another mass informal camp growing up. We reported back in September that the national police are raiding the Calais region to move migrants on, sometimes violently, even with pepper gas (Nobody should live like this, by the Human Trafficking Foundation details the situation).

The UK border sited on the other side of the Channel disguises the reality that there a huge metal grid, called by French human rights groups the ‘Wall of Shame’, ‘protecting’ the UK from invasions, but in practice preventing legitimate and urgent asylum being offered.

It is hard to know the numbers involved, and counting a population on the move is difficult but according to the Guardian,

‘The charity Help Refugees conducts monthly headcounts and estimates that there are at least 600 migrants in Calais, around 300 in Dunkirk and another 200 in small camps along the coast. The Refugee Community Kitchen, which cooks food for people living in small groups in wasteland around Calais and Dunkirk, says it is distributing 2,500 meals a day… The Calais prefecture said that it believed there were 450 migrants in the Calais area’. (Guardian 10th Aug 2017)

The Catholic Worker Drop-in centre was recently offering 100 showers a week as well as clothes washes in an impressive turnaround. On my visit I helped fold laundry which seemed to come in never-ending bundles.

The recent good news reported in ICN about better processing of young people was very welcome. Safe Passage organiser Juliet Kilpin wrote to us after our lobby of MPs,

‘I have some great news to share with you. Today the UK and French governments announced that they have opened a centre near Calais to enable the proper processing of unaccompanied child refugees. Children will be able to claim asylum safely and legally. While this centre is open, children with family in the UK won’t have to risk their lives making dangerous attempts to cross the channel to be with loved ones. Instead they will be able to have their case considered by British authorities in Calais. We understand that children with no family in the UK will also be able to be assessed at this new centre.’

This was indeed hopeful, as was the Parliamentary debate on unaccompanied minors shortly afterwards and available via the Safe Passage link:

If you need your faith in Parliamentary procedure boosted, do watch this debate. We must of course hold government to account on this. Meanwhile, many agencies are championing the rights of migrants on our border, here, and across the Channel:

“Safe Passage” and “Help Refugees” are helping Lord Alf Dubs to call for full implementation of both his amendment to the 2016 Immigration Act (meant to allow 3,000 minors to come to the UK) and the EU’s Dublin III Regulation (allowing children to join family in UK). Seeking Sanctuary continues to take clothing and sleeping bags across to Calais, while the Auberge des Migrants, Secours Catholique, Care4Calais and others continue to battle with the Calais authorities for the right to distribute food, water and clothing on the streets. Have a look at all of their impressive work online.

As previously, we suggest that those who want to take goods should look at the Seeking Sanctuary website for current ‘asks’, and if willing to take goods to Calais, should head for the Auberge des Migrants. We at Justice and Peace will shortly launch a Christmas appeal for the Catholic Worker house, and send a new list of requirements, including sleeping bags and ‘bivvy bags’ to enable sleeping outdoors on the Calais coast. This is a serious humanitarian situation which looks set to run and run.


Pope Francis rewiews urgent call to COP23 Bonn Climate Conference

Pope Francis has sent a letter to participants in the COP-23 UN Convention on climate change, taking place in Bonn, Germany on 6-17 November. The letter was sent to Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of the Fiji Islands, which is officially hosting the event, and was read out to COP-23 participants.

In the letter Pope Francis congratulates the world leaders present at the COP-23 event and invited them “to maintain a high level of cooperation.”

He renews his “urgent call” for renewed dialogue “on how we are building the future of the planet,” saying: “We need an exchange that unites us all,” he said, “because the environmental challenge we are experiencing, and its human roots, regards us all, and affects us all.” The Pope warned participants not to fall into “four perverse attitudes” regarding the future of the planet: “denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions.”

Finally, Pope Francis sent his well-wishes that the COP-23 would be “inspired by the same collaborative and prophetic spirit manifested during the COP-21” event at which the historic Paris agreement was signed.

The official translation of the Pope’s message follows:


Nearly two years ago, the international community gathered within this UNFCCC forum, with most of its highest government representatives, and after a long and complex debate arrived at the adoption of the historic Paris Agreement. It saw the achievement of consensus on the need to launch a shared strategy to counteract one of the most worrying phenomena our humanity is experiencing: climate change.

The will to follow this consensus was highlighted by the speed with which the Paris Agreement entered into force, less than a year after its adoption.

The Agreement indicates a clear path of transition to a low- or zero-carbon model of economic development, encouraging solidarity and leveraging the strong links between combating climate change and poverty. This transition is further solicited by the climatic urgency that requires greater commitment from the countries, some of which must endeavour to take a leading role in this transition, bearing in mind the needs of the most vulnerable populations.

These days you are gathered in Bonn to carry out another important phase of the Paris Agreement: the process of defining and constructing guidelines, rules and institutional mechanisms so that it may be truly effective and capable of contributing to the achievement of the complex objectives it proposes. In such a path, it is necessary to maintain a high level of cooperation.

From this perspective, I would like to reaffirm my urgent call to renew dialogue on how we are building the future of the planet. We need an exchange that unites us all, because the environmental challenge we are experiencing, and its human roots, regards us all, and affects us all. […] Unfortunately, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis are often frustrated for various reasons ranging from denial of the problem to indifference, comfortable resignation, or blind trust in technical solutions (cf. Encyclical Laudato si’, 14).

We should avoid falling into the trap of these four perverse attitudes, which certainly do not help honest research or sincere and productive dialogue on building the future of our planet: denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions.

Moreover, we cannot limit ourselves only to the economic and technological dimension: technical solutions are necessary but not sufficient; it is essential and desirable to carefully consider the ethical and social impacts and impacts of the new paradigm of

development and progress in the short, medium and long term.

From this perspective, it is increasingly necessary to pay attention to education and lifestyles based on an integral ecology, capable of taking on a vision of honest research and open dialogue where the various dimensions of the Paris Agreement are intertwined. It is useful to remember that the Agreement recalls the “grave … ethical and moral responsibility to act without delay, in a manner as free as possible from political and economic pressures, setting aside particular interests and behaviour” (cf. Message to COP-22). This means, in effect, propagating a “responsible awareness” towards our common home (cf. Encyclical Laudato si’, 202; 231) through the contribution of all, in explaining the different forms of action and partnership between the various stakeholders, some of whom do not lack to highlight the ingenuity of the human being in favour of the common good.

While I send my greetings to you, Mr President, and to all the participants in this Conference, I hope that, with your authoritative guidance and that of the Fiji Islands, the work of these days will be inspired by the same collaborative and prophetic spirit manifested during the COP-21. This will enable an acceleration of awareness-raising and consolidate the will to make effective decisions to counteract the phenomenon of climate change while at the same time fighting poverty and promoting true human development as a whole. This commitment is supported by the wise providence of God Most High.

This post already appeared on ICN News

Shift in Church position on deterrence and possession of nuclear weapons

Source: Pax Christi is not often that students, diplomats and Nobel peace laureates from around the world meet to reflect on how, together, we can work for a nuclear free world. This unique gathering was convened by the Dicastery Promoting Integral Human Development in Rome on 10 and 11 November. Pax Christi was a participant.

Pope Francis addressed the gathering in a speech that presented a shift in the position of the Church with regard to deterrence and the threat and possession of nuclear weapons. He said: ” … genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices, if we also take into account the risk of accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned…they exist in the service of a mentality of fear….

Later in the Conference Bishop McElroy, from San Diego said: “The Church’s fundamental goal in this transformation is to dispel the complacency that currently subverts and paralyzes international efforts at nuclear arms reductions, complacency based upon denial and the false assumption that the logic of nuclear deterrence and proliferation has not fundamentally changed in the past fifty years.”

The event also celebrated the awarding of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for its work on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which was adopted in July 2017. Beatrice Finn, Director of ICAN spoke of the important role of people of faith as a constant life-light to campaigns such as this. Pax Christi, along with a host of other organisations and communities have been working with national governments and Church leaders to encourage ratification of the Treaty. This work will continue as the UK Government has resisted any participation in these negotiations.

Read the full text of the address by Pope Francis here:

Advent Declaration for Fossil Free Churches

This article first appeared on Independent Catholic News

By: Ellen Teague

Could your church join with other local churches and religious communities across the UK in making a commitment to divest from fossil fuels? In doing so, you can support the campaign for UK Churches to divest at a national level.

If your church has existing fossil fuel investments, this would involve a commitment to divest within five years. Churches without fossil fuel investments (for instance those with just a bank account) can make a divestment commitment by pledging not to invest in fossil fuels in the future.

Operation Noah, an ecumenical Christian organisation responding to the climate crisis, is expecting a joint divestment announcement will be made on the weekend of the First Sunday of Advent (Sunday 3 December). If your church would like to join the announcement, please let Operation Noah know by Thursday 30 November.

For more information or to register your divestment commitment, please email James Buchanan on

The text of the Advent Declaration can be found below:

Advent Declaration for Fossil Free Churches

As we prepare for the coming of Christ into our lives this Christmas, we the undersigned wish for our investments to be a sign of hope, contributing to the flourishing of God’s creation, both now and for generations to come.

We support the campaign for fossil free Churches and, conscious of the impact of climate change on our sisters and brothers around the world – especially those living in poverty, we recognise the urgency of the need to shift from fossil fuels to a brighter, cleaner future.

Our church / religious community, [insert name here], therefore commits to divest any existing fossil fuel investments within the next five years (for churches with existing fossil fuel investments) and pledges not to invest in fossil fuels in the future.

For more information see:

Human Rights in a post-Brexit era

Barbara Kentish


Sr Liz O’Donohoe with 3 students from Queen Mary College who study Human Rights

Around 60 people took part in the Westminster Justice and Peace annual day on Human Rights on Saturday October 28th. The Commission had decided that in this uncertain European transition period, it was time to reflect on the state of human rights across the continent, particularly, but not only, with reference to the migrant and refugee phenomenon. The session began with prayers around the Lampedusa Cross, symbol of welcome onto European shores.


Julie Ward says EU is a Peace Project

Julie Ward MEP for the North West opened with the emphatic statement that the EU was first and foremost a Peace project in its conception, not simply a set of trading agreements. She pointed out in passing that there was not a European refugee crisis, as it is called, but a crisis of solidarity and humanity. Julie came late to politics, only becoming an MEP in 2014 after much campaigning through the arts, on, amongst other things, women’s issues and trafficking. She expressed outrage that no guarantees had been made to EU citizens living abroad whether in the UK or other EU countries. The so-called ‘Henry VIII law would short-circuit discussion and implement government wishes without challenge. The EU is a powerful human rights institution, and while we will remain with the Convention on Human Rights, we will leave the Charter of Fundamental Rights which strengthens many basic rights including those concerning data protection, children, disability, and workplace discrimination. The global achievements of the EU on human rights are not reported back sufficiently in the UK.

Patrick Riordan says the ground of human dignity is the basis of all rights

Dr Patrick Riordan SJ, lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, gave a scholarly examination of what we mean by rights, which, he explained, are discussed in very different registers. Lawyers talk about rights as principles to be defended legally. Philosophers try to establish whether there are intrinsic rights to being human, such as for water, air, food, while rights can also be claimed by individuals simply because they have a very strong wish for something. As to the question of why we believe in rights, this depends on what we believe to be the origin of human dignity, – which Christians see as deriving from our being made in God’s image. The dignity of the human provides the common language of rights.


Nicolette Busuttil of JRS reminded us that standing up for rights costs us personally

Nicolette Busuttil, of the Jesuit Refugee Service, gave a vivid presentation of the relationship of her work to the rights which for many asylum seekers, are being violated: rights to safety, to work, to have a home, to asylum from persecution and so on. She spoke honestly of how reaching out to refugees can touch us in a very personal way: a man claiming asylum had had to be admitted to hospital for a serious medical procedure, and rang her shortly beforehand, to ask if he could name her as the next-of-kin. He had no-one near to hand when in such a vulnerable situation. Reaching out demands faith and courage, and defending rights becomes a very practical matter.


l to r Fr Joe Ryan, Julie Ward MEP, Dr Patrick Riordan SJ, Nicolette Busuttil, JRS, Barbara Kentish

After a delicious lunch provided by St John Vianney parish caterers, participants chose from a variety of workshops on action for human rights by partner agencies: the Apostleship of the Sea, the Catholic Association for Racial Justice, the London Catholic Worker, Safe Passage, London Mining Network, Haringey Migrant Support Network and Taxpayers against Poverty, and Human Rights in a Brazilian community.


Remember the Calais Children! – Parliamentary Debate


Remember the Calais Children!  – Parliamentary Debate

Safe Passage, a lobbying group allied to Citizens UK, is urging as many as possible to write to their MPs, asking them to attend a Parliamentary debate on October 24th, about the specific issue of stranded young migrants in Calais.  It is known that the numbers run into 100s, and that they are being very roughly treated by French police, who are implementing a policy of not allowing a resurgence of the ‘Jungle’.   To abandon children to this treatment so near to home is a scandal, and UK immigration law is being flouted, as we do not honour the Dubs Amendment, which would allow any unaccompanied minor to enter, and the Dublin 3 Agreement, which would allow one to enter if he or she had family in the UK.

What’s the ASK?

Safe Passage asks as many as possible

a) to write to their MPs (helpful bullet points will follow, as well as being on their website), asking to meet  them and ask them to attend and speak at the debate on October 24th,   AND

b) to be part of the action at Westminster which starts at 12 noon, with a ‘World Citizens’ choir of activists and refugees, followed by lobbying, all before the debate itself.  

Justice and Peace will shortly publish suggested bullet points to go in your letter, (it’s suggested that this should not be an email, but a paper, even handwritten! letter, as this gets taken more seriously), but meanwhile try and plan a letter writing session with friends, to get a letter in the post arriving at Parliament by October 20th.

See website  

Very successful appeal for unaccompanied minors in Calais to be extended!

Donations arriving in CalaisWe are very grateful to all those who were able to respond, despite the holiday period, to our appeal for goods, clothes and cash for young people in Calais.  Our main contact in Calais is Brother  Johannes Maertens, who with other Catholic Worker members is running a small house for young people stranded in Calais with no means of moving on.  We raised an astonishing £4300 in 5 weeks, and the amount has shot up again in the last week.  Brother Johannes was very grateful and continues to do sterling work there.   We have extended the deadline for donations to November 5th, for those who would still like to contribute.  Here is the link to our Justgiving page.

We are also supporting other charities, such as Secours Catholique in France, and Safe Passage here in the UK are working on the long term issues such as caring for the other migrants (including women and children) drifting back to Calais, and working for legal entry for those who qualify under the Dubs Amendment and Dublin 3 agreement.

North London parishes mark Creation Day with a picnic and Tug of War

CreationDaySt Mellitus Justice and Peace group organised a splendid picnic in Finsbury Park, north London, to mark the World Day of Prayer for Creation yesterday, Sunday 3 September. The weather was not on their side, but it did not stop all present, including Fr John O Leary, parish priest, from having a great time.

A sprinkling of parishioners from St John Vianney’s West Green and St Thomas More, Manor House Parishes, as well as Catholic Worker members, made it possible to organise two Tug of War teams – St Mellitus versus the Rest of the World.

Alas, St Mellitus proved greatly superior to the latter – a mystery to Fr Joe Ryan, a former Irish champion in this sport! Food to bring and share was abundant so that a pile of respectable leftovers was donated to the nearby Catholic Worker. All appreciated the joys of creation amongst many other picnicking groups. This is St Mellitus’ third Creation picnic. The parish looks forward to many more, with the silly games that are such a fun feature!

No Faith in War prayers outside DSEI Arms Fair

Pat Gaffney, general secretary of Pax Christi quoted the words of Pope Francis during prayers for peace outside the Excel Centre in east London on Tuesday – where the DSEI Arms Fair is due to open next Tuesday:

“It is an absurd contradiction to speak of peace, to negotiate peace, and at the same time, promote or permit the arms trade.

Is this war or that war really a war to solve problems or is it a commercial war for selling weapons in illegal trade and so that the merchants of death get rich?

Let us put an end to this situation. Let us pray all together that national leaders may firmly commit themselves to ending the arms trade which victimises so many innocent people.”

There were also prayers and testimonies from several faith leaders – among them an Anglican pastor, who called on everyone present to pray for the police who work so hard to keep our country safe. A Muslim speaker from Bahrain lamented the fact that the vast amounts of money being spent on weapons could be so much better used in medical research and care for the sick. Buddhists present were a reminder of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In line with the ‘No Faith in War’ theme, the afternoon saw prayer services led by the Quakers, Taize community and Pax Christi with around 100 people participating. The backdrop was peace banners: ‘Bristol Peace’, ‘Brummers for Peace’, Pax Christi, Christian CND, CND and Campaign Against Arms Trade.

The Quakers led a series of refrains, including “Choose life not death” and “We will love even our enemies”. Those who made money out of arms trading were warning not to be “barn-building fools”, a reference to the warnings of Luke 12:18. The Taize-led liturgy included their most popular sung refrains such as ‘Ubi Caritas’ and prayers for victims of war. There was a prayer for those displaced by severe weather and the hope that governments would seriously address one of the causes – Climate Change. All this carried on during heavy rain showers.

The final liturgy of the day was led by Pat Gaffney, the General Secretary of Pax Christi. Pax Chirsti members were there in force, including Bruce Kent, Valerie Flessati and Patricia and Michael Pulham of Christian CND. Fr Joe Ryan represented Westminster Justice and Peace, and Fr Aodh O’Halpin and Ellen Teague the Columban missionaries. Sr Margaret Healy, a Sister of St Louis was amongst the religious sisters. Arms trading companies were named and asked to repent – BAE Systems (the world’s third largest arms producer, whose weapons and equipment are deployed across the world, including in Iraq and Yemen), Lockheed Martin and Rolls Royce amongst them.

This report from the DSEI Arms Fair came from Independent Catholic News

Calais: Nobody should live like this – report from Westminster J&P visit

‘The overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by the French authorities and the police on children is one of the more shocking findings of this inquiry, whether it be the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. The UK must work with our European counterparts to ensure that in all cases safeguarding processes are prioritised, the rights of the child and the child’s best interests are upheld’. (‘Nobody should live like this’ Report of Human Trafficking Foundation)

On a wet, cold, end-of-August day, four members of Westminster Justice and Peace left London for the Catholic Worker house in Calais. It was our third or fourth ‘day-trip’ in two years. We arrived to find Brother Johannes tired and preoccupied with health and practical issues in the house. A volunteer sister had accompanied someone to hospital, while some young people were waiting for showers and clothes washing. Johannes took us quickly to a point near the former ‘Jungle’ camp, where several charities were serving hot meals to 40 or 50 young people who looked damp and chilled in the un-summery weather. We had arrived at the tail end of the proceedings.

Help Refugees, Calais Kitchen, Auberge des Migrants and others have banded together to provide nearly 2000 meals a day (lunch and supper) to those who have come back to Calais still hoping to cross the Channel by one means or another. From there we were taken to the far side of the city to another industrial estate where these big charities take deliveries and have a giant industrial size kitchen to cook the meals in large steel containers. Brother Johannes is able to get a good deal of food for the house from this distribution centre.

We were able to tell this very energetic Franciscan brother about the generous donations from parishes and individuals who responded fast to his appeal, which Westminster J&P publicised at the end of July. We raised an astonishing £3,500-plus sum, which Brother Johannes will put towards the drop-in work of Maria Skobstova Catholic Worker House. The bills for electricity and water, alone, are shooting up as some weeks more than 100 showers and clothes-wash-and-dries are offered.

The charity Seeking Sanctuary, has been monitoring and helping the migrant situation in Calais for so many years. They quote the Human Trafficking Foundation as follows:

‘Rt Hon Fiona Mactaggart and Baroness Butler-Sloss GBE, recent Chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, oversaw the production of a report (ii) from an independent UK inquiry on 10th July, “Nobody deserves to live this way”. It examines the situation of separated and unaccompanied minors in parts of Europe, including France, and was sponsored by the Human Trafficking Foundation. It concludes that protecting children on the move is an issue of child protection and prevention of serious crime as well as immigration. There is overwhelming evidence of violence inflicted by French authorities and police, whether the indiscriminate use of truncheons or the tear gassing of children and their sleeping bags. With the premature end of the “Dubs” scheme and a police-induced mistrust of officials, young people see their routes to the UK as paying people smugglers or becoming entangled with traffickers. The UK should devote resources to devising legal schemes for transferring young people, with more transparency in procedures, improved liaison with charities working with children, and better dissemination of relevant information in appropriate language and formats. (see for further reports and information).

It is clear from just one short visit, that proper procedures are essential so as to respond to the needs and demands of these young people. A Home Office presence in Calais to deal with applications is a minimum requirement. Indeed, the report, Nobody should live like this maintains.

The administration of the Dubs scheme cannot be a solely London based exercise it requires multi-agency teams of specialists on the ground where most children are located, including Calais and Dunkirk to build confidence in safe routes and resistance to traffickers.

After seeing young people abandoned on the edges of the Calais industrial estates, we couldn’t agree more.

The summer in Calais has been difficult but volunteers are very worried about what will happen to the young migrants on the north French coast once the cold weather sets in.