By Carol Hill, Director, Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds)
Over 120 people from every corner the Leeds Diocese attended the Diocesan Refugee Response: One Year On event on 31 January 2018, at Hinsley Hall. As in November 2016, when the Leeds Diocesan Response was first launched, and in spite of the wintry weather, people’s enthusiasm to help the most marginalised in our society was as strong as ever. The buzz in the room was electrifying.
The purpose of the evening was to update each other about the work taking place in response to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers and also to connect those wanting to be involved with a variety of volunteering opportunities.
We watched a short film highlighting the work of Catholic Care’s Gianna project, which is more and more being called upon to support asylum seeker and refugee families. The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Rev Marcus Stock, invited the meeting to join him in prayer and gave a brief reflection on his visit to PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) that had taken place earlier in the day.
First to present was Sean Ryan MBE, National Coordinator for the Community Sponsorship Scheme, which seeks to settle Syrian refugee families in the UK. Sean reported that this is a growing area of action in the Church, with over 70 parishes in England and Wales already working their way through the application process with the Home Office.
John Battle introduced several organisations working in the area, that then made an appeal for additional volunteer support. These included the SVP’s St Vincent’s Centre in Leeds, City of Sanctuary in Wakefield, the Conversation Club, and St Monica’s Housing. Many more organisations had a stall in the “Market Place” which was the focus for the second part of the evening.
Finally, to highlight the powerful Spaces of Sanctuary photographic exhibition, two former asylum seekers, who have been helped by, and now volunteer for, the Refugee Council, told a little of their harrowing stories. The first had been in the country for 16 years, often sleeping in churches where she found sanctuary, before finally being given leave to remain 3 years ago after 13 years. The second was on the verge of suicide, she was so desperate, and it was only the kindness of a GP that enabled her to turn the corner and keep going.
So much good work is already taking place but there is so much more to do. After this inspiring event, many more are positively charged to help those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised, living in our very own communities.