Given at the migrants' Mass in honour of St Joseph the Worker on 2 May 2016 at Westminster Cathedral.
Today we come together to pray. Prayer is our key activity. We pray for courage and compassion, especially for refugees fleeing for their lives and safety; and we pray for migrants, far from home, striving to make their way and play their part.
The reading we have heard from the Acts of the Apostles has a remarkable resonance. We hear of Paul and his companions setting out from the port to Troas to make the 100 mile sea crossing to Neapolis. Troas is in northern Turkey. Neapolis is in Greece. This is a crossing of the same sea that is being made by so many desperate people today. At Neapolis Paul found the beginning of the Egnatian Way, the Roman highway that stretched for 500 miles from the Aegean Sea to the Adriatic, and then on to Italy, to western Europe. This, too, is the journey made by so many in these days.
The pathway of the spread of our Christian faith, then, is the same as one of the pathway followed by refugees and migrants today. May it be a pathway on which they meet the fruits of that faith: compassion, encouragement, help and respect.
Indeed this has been the case in many places. I think of the testimony offered by the Catholic parish priest of the island of Lesbos who said that never before in the island’s history had such consistent generosity been shown by its inhabitants. Now the pressure on them is intense, as civil authorities try to implement international plans that often seem to treat people purely as problems or even as packages to be sent from place to place. We hope that the way in which governments respond to the immense challenge which faces us will take more seriously the personal generosity of so many, in this country too, who are willing to welcome refugees and desperate migrants and yet are hindered from doing so by policies shaped more by caution and fear.
Today we pray. We pray in the words of the hymn to Mary ‘Hail Holy Queen’. We will sing it in Latin. The words are clear and so relevant: Hail, mother of mercy….to thee do we cry….to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.’
Yes, these words are true. For many, as we have heard, this is often a vale of tears. We hear reports of sadness, dismay, frustration, anger, rejection and humiliation: from Iraq and Jordan, to Libya and Calais. Yes, this is a vale of tears as both the Mediterranean and the Aegean Seas become, in the Holy Father’s words, graveyards for children, the elderly and their families. Today we pray for all who weep and sense that they have been abandoned.
Today we also pray for all 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. We pray that there will be 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. For them we invoke the prayers of St Joseph, the patron saint of all who work hard in this way. May he give you strength and perseverance in body and soul. And from those who deal in creating fear of migrant people and who seek to profit from that fear, whether financially or politically, we ask for a more responsible leadership, a leadership that looks at all that we gain as well as the problems we confront.
Today we pray for each other, that we may truly see our world with the eyes of faith. We know that every person is precious in the eyes of God. We know that every person is endowed by God with a dignity and worth that goes beyond legal status and documentation. We know that there are both dangers and opportunities facing host countries as well as those who are in search of stability and peace. We know that our best pathway is that fashioned for us by Jesus, a pathway of compassion and justice. We know that its principles are well expressed in Catholic social teaching and require both clear international cooperation and scope to find solutions locally. We know, too, that at times a voice of protest is needed for while it is right to keep silent when children are asleep, it is never right to stay silent when they are perishing at sea or at risk in hostile camps.
So today 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.
In our prayer to our Blessed Lady we ask her ‘to show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus’. It is he who promises to send us his Advocate, ‘the spirit of truth who issues from the Father’ to enable us to be his witnesses even in the face of adversity. It is Jesus who shows us, in the words of the psalm, how to ‘take delight in his people’, no matter who they are or where they have come from. When ‘the praise of God is on their lips’ then truly ‘they may shout for joy and take their rest.’ Let this day be a day for the praise of God, for joy and for rest, even in the face of all adversity, for the Lord promises always to ‘crown the poor with salvation’ and he is faithful to his promises.