Over 2,000 Catholic migrants living and working in London have attended a special Mass for Migrants at Westminster Cathedral on Monday, 3 May 2010 .
Shortly before the start of the Mass many migrant communities and parishes took part in a procession into Westminster Cathedral. Entering the Cathedral ,dressed in national costumes and carrying colourful banners, they joined the congregation which included mayors from a number of London boroughs and ambassadors from EU and other countries.
Photographs of the Mass for Migrants can be downloaded here
Welcoming all migrants to Westminster Cathedral, in his Homily Archbishop Nichols said: 'The Catholic Church, is your home. Here you are appreciated, treasured and, indeed welcomed.'
Asking all present to draw strength from their faith, he continued: 'Today we rejoice in our wonderful gift of faith. We thank God for our faith through which we get a glimpse of who we truly are. In faith our eyes take in all the present scene, with its hardships, its loneliness and its pain. But our eyes can also see through this present world to all that lies at its core. Here, in this open tent, we know that God is with us; that nothing happens outside of his gaze; that he sees all with his gaze of love, knowing the path we will take until his day truly comes and we find our true home.'
(The full text and an audio recording of the Homily can be downloaded fgom this webpage.)
This was the fifth Mass for Migrants to have been organised jointly by the Diocese of Westminster, the Archdiocese of Southwark and the Diocese of Brentwood and supported by their Justice and Peace Commissions.
During the Mass, the Procession of Gifts was carried out by the Nigerian community.
“Migration has its painful and most discomforting challenges” writes Fr Albert Ofere, ethnic chaplain for the Nigerian community in London.
“Religious challenges are no less exceptional. The Chaplaincy has got a legal surgery and a project team to help point people in the right direction in settling. The Chaplaincy also creates a family and friendly atmosphere for interaction and networking. “
“Our Nigerian Masses, devotional activities, cultural activities, youth activities and pilgrimages are meant to meet religious challenges. The Nigerian Catholic Community is a growing but exciting community.
'Like every other growing community it has its challenges but thanks to God our help in ages past and our hope for years to come. With Him on our side and with the continual love, trust and support from the local Church the Chaplaincy will be yielding more positive and useful results.”
The Procession of Thanksgiving was carried out by the Vietnamese Community:
The Vietnamese Chaplaincy is based in East London, in Poplar. Fr Paul Chanh is the chaplain serving the 3,000 Vietnamese Catholics that live in and around London.
Fr Paul explains that the main reason people use the chaplaincy is so they can celebrate Mass in their own vernacular. “They want to say Mass in their own language, and they want to teach their children the catechism in their mother tongue.”
The chaplaincy has been successful in uniting the Vietnamese community in London and one of the ways it has done this is by providing a place for them to socialise.
“Every weekend we feed everyone because it’s a good way to gather them. We have a cooking group which cooks for every parishioner. That’s the best way to support and gather the community – through their work they come to know each other.”
The Vietnamese will be represented in good numbers at the Mass for Migrants and Fr Paul explains that this is because the community wants to return some of the diocese’s generosity: “We owe a lot to the diocese.”
“The community feels that the diocese supports us and feel that it gives them everything they need. That is why, if the diocese ask them to do anything, they do their best to get involved.”
Supporting and integrating migrants
Supporting and integrating migrants is one of the key work areas of the Justice and Peace and Social Responsibility Commissions in the Diocese of Brentwood and Westminster.
One of their priorities is providing English language classes for migrants. Although statutory provision is available, this is being substantially reduced due to cuts to English as a Second Language (ESOL) funding.
Paying for travel costs
The Diocese of Brentwood Justice and Social Responsibility Commission recently wrote to all its head teachers and parish priests asking whether their school or parish halls could be used for English language classes for people living close by as paying for travel costs to English classes is also a problem for refugees.
They had an overwhelmingly supportive response and now have classes operating in four areas: Seven Kings, Goodmayes, Grays and Harlow.
Provide the students with local knowledge
These classes are attended by a wide cross-section of migrants and as well as teaching English it is planned to provide the students with social skills and local knowledge to enable them to integrate more easily into their local communities.
In the Diocese of Westminster, the Justice and Peace Commission has also developed a number of free English language classes.
The classes have been developed as a way of reaching out to some of the most vulnerable members of migrant communities in London, including refugees, with the aim of helping them to acquire basic or intermediate English skills.
The classes are run by volunteers who are willing to pass on their linguistic and teaching skills and who are united in their belief that being able to communicate in English is an effective way to challenge the isolation of many migrants and in the long run contributes to their social integration.