Spring Appeal 2018-3 After raising nearly £16000 for the Maria Skobstova House in Calais last Autumn we are opening up the appeal once again as the work goes on to reach out to young people adrift in Northern France, set on reaching the UK. On our European pilgrimage we were fortunate to meet dedicated Secours Catholique volunteers helping and monitoring the situation, which some have been doing for many years. Dismantling the ‘Jungle’ has not meant an end to the migrants’ quest to reach the UK – only a riskier environment. See our appeal leaflet for more details.
Blog Post by Phil Kerton
It was sad to leave the ancient hill-top town after the previous day’s drenching by unseasonal rain during our visit to Rome. It was hard to shake off the feeling of residual dampness, which was in fact a reality for some items of clothing and footwear.
After watching the welcome sunrise lighting up the distant hills, we made another early start and our coach was soon bowling along in a generally northerly direction on a new set of Italian motorways. Despite the unwelcome rain, we dozed and chatted about the new memories that had been brought by the eternal city. And what’s more, Pope Francis had chosen the day of our visit to issue a new exhortation, Gaudete et Exultate, encouraging us to keep a sense of humour while making daily acts of charity and joy, serving and defending the vulnerable, the marginalised and the poor, such as migrants, victims of trafficking and the unborn, and warning us against any tendency to suggest that God’s grace is controlled by doctrine.
We are, as so often, heartened by his words, which reflect many of the concerns that brought us to this pilgrimage, and which we had discussed in Rome with members of the Sant Egidio group and the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. Matters which are, of course, so prominent in the lives of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.
Sunshine intermittently gave way to torrential rain, perhaps reflecting the ups and down of our spiritual journeys, as we eventually got back to the stunning mountain scenery of the Aosta valley and made our way up to the snowline near the entrance to the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel, France produced much more consistent sun for the final part of our eleven-hour journey to the town of Anneliese which houses several hotels that are convenient for visits to the larger and more expensive Swiss city of Geneva.
So why Geneva, some may ask? This was the home of the League of Nations for a few years before 1939, and organisation that made way for today’s United Nations Organisation. The striking Classical exterior of the Palais des Nations hides stately interior corridors, conference halls and meeting rooms that provide important examples of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles contemporary to its construction. Of course, the UN General Assembly and Security Council meet in New York, but a large amount of work is carried out here, especially in the fields of peace, arms control, migration and sustainable development. (These include preparation for aspects of the pending new UN Global Compacts for refugees and migrants that have attracted the Pope’s attention.) So, after a few adjustments to bedroom allocations that had involved climbs into bunk beds that were much too close to the ceilings for comfort, we went off to sleep looking forward to learning more about the complexity of activity to the site – in some cases fuelled by the odd glass of wine.
Blog Post by Ann Wilson
It was a 6.30am start for those of us going train from Assisi. How marvellous to have a 2-hour return journey for 20 euros instead of the £80+ for a trip of the same length from Manchester to London! We joined the commuters as we crammed into a carriage to the Coliseum, adding underground to our list of public transport ‘experiences’ on our pilgrimage.
We decided the few who had stayed behind in Assis had chosen the better part as we trudged through the rain sodden streets of the capital realising that ‘waterproof’ on our jackets was being economical with the truth. The rain had brought Rome to a standstill but, eventually, we, very cold and wet, pilgrims arrived at Saint Bartolomeo church. Francesco was waiting for us to explain the origins of the St Egidio community and his role in it for the last 20 years. It began in 1968 when a group of students decided to do something about the deprivation in their locality of Trastevere. Their enthusiasm reflected the energy of the time and, as they gathered round the Gospel, they asked how they could live out what they were reading? They decided to reach out to the poor and still do. This community of lay people with no rules and no hierarchical structure now numbers 60,000 people worldwide. Members do not live in community but with their own families or alone with each member doing what they can. They have a threefold focus of prayer, serving the poor and peace. There is mass and evening prayer each day to which members can attend if they wish and are able to, but it is not obligatory. They have communities overseas, for example, in Latin America, Ukraine, some Countries in Africa and the UK working with people in poverty. Their peace initiatives focus especially on conflict resolution.
They have no political power but use their Gospel authority to realise that nothing is impossible. With this notion, the Saint Egidio community has been involved in conflict resolution in Mozambique in 1992 and were part of the Rome General Peace Accord. They have since set up a ‘Humanitarian Corridor’ in Italy and, for the last 3 years, have enabled 1,000 refugees to have safe passage to Italy. Francesco spoke of all this in a gentle, understated manner and one which firmly believed that anything is, in fact, possible.
As for the church building, where we were hearing this extraordinary story of ordinary lay people, we could but be impressed by the icon of the new martyrs, dominating the sanctuary, depicting examples of those who have passed through great persecutions including Maximilian Kolbe and Oscar Romero, as well as scenes of persecution and poverty with images of people with leprosy, a train going to Auschwitz, barbed wire and soldiers with rifles. Pope John Paul II gave the church to the community which now houses the relics of martyrs from all over the world. These ‘relics’ not the usual bones of saints but items belonging to those who have died martyrs in the last and present century. Each altar is dedicated to ‘relics’ from different countries such as Nazi Germany, Latin America, the Communist era, the Middle East and it was very moving to see personal items of those people. I was especially struck by an exercise book which had belonged to an 8-year-old boy killed in Aleppo. The relics seemed very contemporary. Similarly, in Saint Egidio church, just a short walk away from Saint Bartolomeo, this small church has two side altars, one containing bibles in all different languages in the world and one with crosses from all over the world. These two churches were not places of sorrow but hope, the cross being the symbol of hope not death. Francesco reminded us that where there is sorrow, we can bring light and there was ample evidence that the Saint Egidio community are doing exactly that. There was a sense of a community alive to the world and one which reads the signs of the times and acts. It was an inspirational morning despite the inauspicious beginning….
After lunch in Trattoria de Gli Amici, a co-operative promoted by the Saint Egidio community, where people with disabilities work alongside professionals and volunteers, Fr August Zampini Davies joined some of us. We knew him from his role as theological advisor for CAFOD but he now works in the Vatican in the Dicastry for Promoting Integral Human Development. In his elucidating talk, we were
reminded of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si and its reference to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. This was beautifully illustrated as Augusto picked up his bowl of bread to emphasize the link between creation and the earth which grows the wheat and the people who create the bread. The interconnection and the interdependence of the two spoke to us. The faith we share between our sisters and brothers, who we are as people and our humanity is inextricably linked to the earth and all of creation. If we break that bond, we are all undone…
The evening saw us in the chapel at La Cittadella in Assisi where we appreciated the quiet of meeting for worship arranged by two of our Quaker friends on our pilgrimage. The quiet of the prayer was welcomed after the bustle of the day in Rome.
Blog Post by Julia Corcoran
The morning started with the ringing of the bells across the hillside. Gently waking up those who were sleeping. Our group had arrived in Assisi late the previous evening after a long coach journey through the Alps.
We started our day together, how we have started all our days, in prayer. This morning we were challenged in prayer about what we had learnt and what action were we going to take when we return home.
This was followed by a stroll through Assisi up to the Basilica taking in the streets and buildings. Assisi is like no town I have seen before. Consistent in its style of architecture and as I walked through it, I felt like I was walking through a film set. It is beautiful and worth going to see.
We walked up to the Basilica and joined the 10.30 Solemn Mass in the Upper Chapel. Despite the Mass being in Italian (and most of the group lacking this language) we were able to participate in Mass and appreciate the beauty of both the liturgy and its setting. I found myself struck by the paintings around the chapel, detailing St Francis’ life. It is a Basilica to visit for sure.
Post Mass, we had some time to explore Assisi for ourselves. Many of our group walked around Assisi as part of Caritas Internationale’s campaign ‘Share the journey’. CAFOD (one of the UK organisations of Caritas) are encouraging people to walk at least a mile and then are hoping to add all these miles together to be the equivalent of walking around the world to show solidarity with refugees around the world.
Others in the group went to explore the many churches of Assisi, one of the beauties of Assisi is how easy it is to walk from the Basilica of St Francis to the Basilica of St Clare. Which is St Clare’s final resting placing. Visitors to the Basilica can sit and quietly pray knowing that is what the two saints would have wished them to do. There is also the opportunity to see the crucifix that talked to St Francis.
One of the joys of spending the day in Assisi was the ability to sit in the sun and appreciate everything we have already experienced from this pilgrimage and where it has left us in both the spiritual form and the ideological form. How has these last six to seven days shaped the action I will take when I return to my usual daily life? And how will the last few days make a difference.
In the evening, we joined together once again for evening prayer. It was a joyful experience of sharing. It gave us another opportunity to reflect on our journey so far with reminders of each of the places we stopped and a chance to light a candle to remind us to take the light of the world into the world and share our experiences and the things we have learnt during these days in Europe.
We sonder if we are called to take radical action, as they did – and, if so, do we have the courage to act? In the earlier days of our pilgrimage we met so many people who regret the UK’s planned departure from the EU; did we unduly raise their hopes for a reversal of policy? Should we, instead encourage our fellow-citizens to concentrate upon other institutions in which we are linked to Europe? After all, some wonder, can a common sense of destiny and a moral code really emerge from a Union that seems to have become more and more concerned with economic prosperity and less about fellowship, sharing of burdens and the common good?
It took just half an hour to go from Tournus to Taize by coach where, even before we alighted, felt welcomed by the groups of young people waving warmly to us. The mood was set. Brother Paolo appeared to greet us. Despite his name, he is English and one of 100 brothers in the community made up of men from 25 countries speaking 27 languages, living ecumenically and simply.
Despite there being over 3,000 young people present in Taize this week, we were taken to a peaceful garden, where, for the first time on the pilgrimage, we felt the sun on our backs matching the warmth of the welcome. One of Paolo’s roles is to welcome the UK visitors and, although, most of us are far removed from the target audience of 16 – 35-year olds, he seemed pleased to have us in Taize…
We then watched an informative film depicting a typical week long stay in Taize along with two groups of German people. The theme of community continued as each group gave the reason for their trip. Due to the necessity of translation, there was an air of attentive listening and a moving moment when our group were applauded when their translator indicated that we were part of the 48% remainers in the Brexit debate. The applause was spontaneous and heartfelt, as I suspect, was our feeling of sadness and regret over the outcome. So, after being in Taize for less than half an hour, we had experienced what Taize is about – sharing something of ourselves and listening to others’ stories with mutual respect.
Prayer is an integral part of daily life and, despite being too late for morning prayer, we went into the church at noon for the 12.30pm prayer. It felt unusual to have to queue to get in and, even more unusual, to have to queue behind young people. I was struck by the simplicity of the prayer and the simplicity of the layout where we sat on the floor facing the orange light lit by candles and waited for the white robed brothers to arrive. The chanting and time of silence in the prayer enabled a personal reflection in a community setting.
The simplicity of the prayer was followed by a simple meal. It would be difficult to provide a la carte service for 3,000 people and would be out of keeping with the spirit of Taize. The young people served us and seemed not to mind their tasks of washing up which they did with great gusto…
In the afternoon, we had free time to reflect and some of us enjoyed the peace of the lakeside walk amidst the glorious sunshine, before hearing from Brother Paolo again about the origins of Taize with Brother Roger, its founder, who died in 2005. His spirit of welcome, especially to young people, lives on in the community. Since 1968, they have come to visit, and the numbers are growing. More recently, since 1992, refugee families have been housed in the village and, in 2015, 13 male refugees from Calais have been welcomed. This extraordinary story of the history of Taize was delivered in an understated manner and with a calmness of a trust gained by the experience of 40 years of monastic life.
We left Taize after the evening prayer at 9.30pm whilst the prayer continued with people gathering around the cross as the chants continued.
Blog post by Julia Corcoran
This morning started with a tour of the Council of Europe building. The Council of Europe is a separate organisation from the European Union with 47 members. The United Kingdom was one of the founding members and will still be a member after March 2019. The Council of Europe is an organisation that ensures human rights, in the countries of its members, are kept. To be a member of the Council, a country must comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. In the UK this is ratified into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998. If at any point anyone feels a member state has broken the conventions, after they have exhausted the legal system in the state, they may then take the decision to the European Court of Human Rights.
It was a worthwhile experience for the group to go the Council of Europe and see the plenary room as it gave a better understanding of where the UK fits into the European situation even after Brexit.
Part of the group was able to walk around the outside and see the European Union Parliament building in Strasbourg and the Court. While others were able to talk to people who were campaigning outside the Council of Europe.
From the Council, we travelled six hours on the coach to Tournus. We are staying here until Saturday morning. Tomorrow, we will travel to Taize (not too far from where we are staying) to join in the activities that take place. While here we are exploring the theme of reconciliation.
When we arrived in Tournus, some of the group went on a walk around the village to see the different sites including a beautiful old church. Then we had an amazing four course dinner which was a welcome change from our previous basic meals.
The most beautiful part of today, was coming together after dinner for Mass. Ending our day listening to God’s word and sharing the Eucharist was the perfect way to end today as well as preparing us for the morning and gave us time to reflect on our theme of reconciliation.
After we leave here on Saturday morning, we will have a 10 hour coach journey down to Assisi through the Alps where we will spend a few days and even fit in a day trip to Rome. From there we will start our long trip home via Geneva.
As a group we have learnt a lot about our position as British Europeans and how Britain fits in with the rest of Europe. We have so far meet a variety of people and organisations that are doing similar work to the Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission which is great as we are here on this pilgrimage to build bridges not borders, in the words of Pope Francis.
Good Friday in Gaza
We have all been appalled at both the violent onslaught on unarmed civilians in Gaza and with the mainstream media’s coverage of it.
Most of us will have taken part in so many demonstrations, marches and protests, knowing that probably the worst that will happen to us is that we may be treated roughly, held in custody for a time, taken to court or imprisoned for a while.
Watching thousands of people, in a country we are passionate about, where the same actions means liability to be killed or maimed is horrific. It has been bad enough to see people shot but the fact that it was Good Friday and Passover time, with all that these mean, seems to make it so very much worse.
There have been a number of calls to Action and for those of you on Face book I recommend that for regularly updated information and for Calls to Action, you see the Palestine Updates and Kairos Palestine pages.
Following the message from the Pontifical Mission, below are some of the statements that have been issued in the past week.
The strongest came very quickly from Christian Aid. Others vary in their content and strength. They may be useful for advocacy to elected representatives – don’t forget MEPs while we can still use them – and to church leaders, especially those who have said nothing as yet.
Please light a candle and pray for Gaza over the coming weeks.
Wishing for all the justice of the Easter message,
This blog post is by Phil Kerton.
A six-hour journey, providing opportunities to snooze after absorbing many facts in Brussels. Every month, MEPs and their staff pack up all their papers in Brussels so that they can be transported by truck to Strasbourg for a week of business there. (Well, actually, more like Tuesday to Thursday.) The members and their attendant media circus follow on by plane or high-speed train.
Why all this expense and disruption? Is it really just a sweetener for France? Perhaps partly, but the more fundamental obstacle to change, we learned, is that the founding treaty of the EU specifies that plenary sessions are held in Strasbourg. A new treaty would have to be agreed and ratified by all member states to make any change – and establishing new treaties is both time consuming and expensive and the process usually ends up by gathering clauses related to other matters to gain support!
And as a consequence of leaving the EU, a nation’s diplomatic mission to the Parliament will its right to office space in the parliamentary buildings, an added aggravation to the process of keeping tabs on developments with no MEPs available to assist.
Rain set in as we left Brussels and headed across the Walloon region to travel through the Ardennes into Luxembourg. And we realised that on Tuesday we had heard the answer to the question, “Why can the Walloon parliament hold up ratification of treaties?” It’s another result of respecting national democracies and putting subsidiarity into practice. Belgium’s constitution requires each of its elected parliamentary bodies to approve such measures, and this procedure is respected by the EU.
Travelling South, the rain intensified, but remarkable ceased as we arrived at our apartment hotel. Consequently, the more adventurous pilgrims could walk the city streets and lanes to find its impressive cathedral and be uplifted by vision of its builders for the glory of God. In cutting across from a shopping mall to a river bridge, we found ourselves beside to site once occupied by an important synagogue, burned to the ground during WWII, while the Vichy government acted for the occupying German forces. The UK population does not spend its daily life next to reminders of such recent inhumanity. Perhaps this is why the merits and demerits of EU membership are debated almost entirely on economic considerations, with no space given to matters of international solidarity and burden sharing and to the remarkable absence of armed conflict in Western Europe for the past 70 years?