On Friday 13th July, reflecting Pope Francis’ ‘Mercy Fridays’ Cardinal Vincent visited a drop in centre run by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Wapping, East London.
The centre is open every Thursday for refugees and asylum seekers, who are welcomed to a safe space staffed by volunteers, where they can talk and share their difficulties over a meal.
Upon arriving, the Cardinal was taken on a tour of the centre, meeting some of the volunteers before joining the guests for lunch, which is freshly prepared. Over dinner the Cardinal talked to the guests and heard their stories of what it’s like to seek asylum in the UK.
Reflecting on his visit afterwards, the Cardinal picked up on the work of accompaniment in particular. He acknowledged that we cannot always solve the problems that are brought to us, but we can accompany those who are struggling. This accompaniment, he said is shown ‘most powerfully in the sharing of a meal’.
He went on to say that this accompaniment offered by the JRS in Wapping is a direct contrast to the harshness of the procedures experienced by many of the asylum seekers who visit the centre. Procedures ‘where people are not allowed to work, they’re not allowed to have a residence, they’re not allowed to study’ leaving them as ‘non people’, are a ‘shame on our country’.
The Cardinal praised the JRS for the work they are doing with refugees and asylum seekers, saying that they are ‘shining a light on’ some ‘heart-rending, terrible stories’ that the guests have shared with him.
This comes after call by Bishop Paul McAleenan, the lead Bishop in the UK for Migrants, for ‘society as a whole to reflect on how we can better help refugees’.