Columbans at annual Migrants Mass in Westminster Cathedral

3rd May 2016 - by Ellen Teague

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More than 2,000 Catholic migrants living and working in London brought colour and international music to a special Mass for Migrants at Westminster Cathedral on Monday, 2 May.


Columbans were there too, since mission to migrants is a high priority of Columban mission. These included Fr John Collins and Fr Aodh O’Halpin, who has supported domestic workers’ groups for many years; Fr Jim Fleming who does outreach work to refugees and asylum seekers in the Birmingham area; and Columban Superior General Fr Kevin O’Neill, currently visiting Columban missionaries in Britain. Lay JPIC workers Ellen Teague, James Trewby and Julia Corcoran were also there.

The annual Mass was celebrated this year by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, along with bishops representing Westminster, Brentwood, and Southwark, and more than 40 priests from ethnic chaplaincies and missionary societies. It was organised by the Justice and Peace commissions of Westminster and Southwark and Citizens UK, in dialogue with Bishop Paul McAleenan, auxiliary in Westminster. Among those handing out Mass brochures to the congregation were Barbara Kentish of Westminster Justice and Peace, Phil Kerton of Seeking Sanctuary and Alison Gelder of Housing Justice.

A procession before Mass, led by the Brazilian chaplaincy, reflected the diversity of London’s Catholic community, as various communities made their way up the aisle, singing, drumming and dancing to their traditional music. Particularly appreciated was an accompaniment of the Offertory by London’s Vietnamese community, involving the dancing of garlanded young people and the singing of a Vietnamese choir.

In his homily Cardinal Nichols deplored “reports of sadness, dismay, frustration, anger, rejection and humiliation from Iraq and Jordan, to Libya and Calais”. He felt it was important to speak out when vulnerable children “are perishing at sea or at risk in hostile camps”, and to act with “compassion and justice”.  And vital too to acknowledge the hard work of refugees and migrants in Britain “who have arrived in this country, in this city, and who work hard not only to survive and to support their loved ones, but also to make their contribution to the well-being of others”. He called for “a change of heart in our society, so that we begin by appreciating the great contribution made by so many migrant communities, without whom this city would not function”.

Furthermore, the Cardinal urged more responsible leadership “from those who deal in creating fear of migrant people and who seek to profit from that fear, whether financially or politically”. He concluded by saying: “We pray earnestly for those who are in positions of authority and leadership that they will find the courage and imagination to respond more generously to those in need, speeding up our own resettlement programme and looking to see how other avenues of rescue and support can be provided.”

Biddings prayers at the Mass were spoken in a variety of languages, including Mandarin, Yoruba and Portuguese, by students of Our Lady’s Convent High School in Hackney. They remembered refugees who have died crossing seas and borders to escape wars and persecution, and victims of human trafficking. The well-being of migrants working in London was remembered with: “May we live together in harmony and may our employment policies enable all to be treated justly.”

Banners heading up the aisle at the end of the mass included the Ethiopian chaplaincy, London Chinese Catholic Association, Syro-Malabar churches of India, Catholic Nigerian and Ghanaian chaplaincies and the London Catholic Worker. They rubbed shoulders with Julian Filochowski of the Archbishop Romero Trust, Maria Elena Arana of CAFOD and representatives of Catholic organisations and religious sisters. Filipino migrant workers from the group ‘Justice for Domestic Workers’ (J4DW) were photographed inside Westminster Cathedral with the Columban team, Fr Joe Ryan, Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission and St Louis Sister Margaret Healy.

In recent years, Catholic Churches in London have seen a growing number of parishioners from Africa and Asia, from Eastern and Western Europe, from the islands of the Caribbean and more recently from South America. This annual Mass is a visible sign of the Catholic Church’s desire to celebrate this rich diversity which enhances parish life, and to underline the church’s pastoral care for migrants and their families. It has been celebrated on the first Monday in May (Bank Holiday Monday) since 2006.

Full text of Cardinal Nichols’ Homily:

‘Link to a short video of the Migrants Mass and interviews with Columbans.’

Further photos of the mass can be viewed here: