Migrants Mass in London

23rd May 2017 - by Julia Corcoran

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The Mass for Migrants took place on 20 May at St Anthony’s in Forest Gate. The church was packed and Mass started with a procession led by the Kerala community singing a traditional hymn, six girls dressed in white performing a traditional dance and older women following behind carrying traditional parasols.

The Mass is an annual event where the three London Catholic dioceses (Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood) come together to celebrate the international nature of the church and specifically to appreciate migrants living in Britain. The Mass took place in the diocese of Brentwood and the main celebrant was Bishop Alan Williams of Brentwood.

The Mass started with four powerful testimonies, the first from Salvation Army Captain John Clifton from Ilford who spoke of how he has collaborated with Catholic organisations such as Caritas to assist Syrian Refugees. The second person to share her testimony was from Spieza, a charity that works in the UK with refugees. The third speaker was a 19-year-old girl from Albania that had been granted right to stay after coming to the UK two years ago. She spoke about being ‘lost and confused’ when she had first arrived but thanks to organisations such as Spieza and Citizens UK she is feeling settled and she is working with people who are in a similar situation to her. The final speaker was a year 8 student from St Bonaventure’s school who spoke about his experience in school and the work they do to help refugees.

Bishop Alan, gave a wonderful homily using the words of the four testimonies and thanking the people involved including the ethnic chaplaincies, refugees and migrants. He also reminded us that the Cardinal encourages people to get involved with the community sponsorship scheme. He spoke about how the Pope encourages us to be a voice to the voiceless but also how we have to provide practical help for refugees.

The bidding prayers were said in six different languages; Tagalog, Spanish, Tamil, Malylayam, Bengali and Irish. We were encouraged to say the Hail Mary in our own language. The offertory procession was led by the Tamil community. The Mass really was a multicultural Mass with all communities represented and welcomed.

One of the most inspiring parts of the Mass was the involvement of young people from the local community and parish, but also from the three schools in the area. Before Mass the beautiful voices of five girls from St Angela’s filled the church and during communion the same choir and choirs from St Anthony’s primary school and St Bonaventure’s school led the hymns.

Next year the Mass will be back on the first May bank Holiday, organised by the Diocese of Southwark, so do keep an eye out and put the date in your diary.

Julia Corcoran is the Advocacy worker with the Columban JPIC team, specifically focusing on Migrants and Climate Change.