‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’—these words of Jesus may be familiar to us, yet like so much of what Jesus had to say, it can be a challenge putting the teaching into practice. To welcome, to make space for another, in particular a stranger, is not always easy. It may mean reprioritising time and resources. It calls on us to make an emotional investment, to learn about someone else’s story, to appreciate what he or she has been through in the past and to walk alongside and embrace hope for the future.
We in the cathedral have worked over the past year towards the designation ‘Cathedral of Sanctuary’, awarded by the organisation Places of Sanctuary Ireland. Places of Sanctuary is a network of groups in towns, cities and local communities which share the objectives of promoting the integration, inclusion and welfare of refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants. To this end, we have sought ways to engage with those in the asylum process and living in direct provision, to welcome them to our city, and to contribute the cathedral’s voice to the necessary task of awareness-raising around the direct provision system and its problems. We believe it is important that we devote resources and make space to engage with those who are marginalised by this system.
This year was our first year to mark Refugee Week and we wanted to engage in a variety of ways. The first event was ‘Prayers of Lament, Prayers of Hope’, an evening of quiet and reflective prayer. This offered space for scripture, song and silence, and those attending were invited to write down a prayer, light a candle or simply be present in prayerful solidarity.
We also partnered with the Irish Refugee Council to host a free screening of Chinese artist and filmmaker Ai Weiwei’s visually impactful documentary Human Flow. We were delighted to further our ongoing relationship with Our Table, an asylum-seeker led group whose aim is to highlight the need to end the direct provision system in Ireland, by facilitating change through conversation over food. Our Table were on our grounds for four days selling their delicious food creations, prepared by founder, asylum-seeker and Ballymaloe-trained chef Ellie Kisyombe. Their events also included an appearance by author Melatu Uche Okorie whose book, This Hostel Life, is a reflection on her experiences in direct provision. We very much consider Our Table as part of our community now and we hope to continue to partner with them in the future.
Pictured are Our Table members using the cathedral’s crypt kitchen.
Rev Abigail Sines is Dean’s Vicar in Christ Church Cathedral