Bishop John Arnold with NW CAFOD supporters
A special service has been held to celebrate the support shown by Catholics towards refugees during the Year of Mercy.
The 'Welcome the Stranger' service, held on Saturday 3 December at the Spiritan Centre in Salford, recognised the many acts of compassion undertaken by the members of the Catholic community. The service, organised by CAFOD and Caritas Social Action Network, was celebrated by the Rt Rev John Arnold, Bishop of Salford.
Catholics across England and Wales marked the Pope's Jubilee Year with an outpouring of solidarity towards people who have fled their homes. More than 23,000 people - including children from 150 schools - have sent messages of hope and welcome to refugees, whilst hundreds of pilgrimages have taken place with people carrying a 'Lampedusa cross', made from the driftwood of refugee boats.
Madjet Fino is a Syrian refugee who has been granted asylum in the UK and has recently been reunited with his family with the support of Catholic organisation Revive.
Madjet said at the service: "This journey, I have lived it by myself, everything I have expressed honestly. It is something terrible to talk about, this journey. I have lost all my memories, our houses, our property, but more important than that, our home, the land we belong to.
"After we lost everything and our home was destroyed, I decided to flee. Not for me, I'm nearly 50, but for my children. I wanted to come to England, back when I was studying English literature at university, to see Shakespeare's England, and now I have come for a different reason.
"I have found many good people who have helped us too much, they give us their time and their support. Words are not able to express my feelings."
Brenda Garlick, a CAFOD supporter who arranged a pilgrimage for 30 parishioners to reflect and pray on the refugee crisis, said: "The invitation to talk at the service was really lovely, it was very meaningful. I think sending in messages for refugees is something that gives people hope. The whole issue of the refugee crisis is something that people almost brush to one side, they don't want to talk about it. It was a CAFOD service that brought it to the fore for my church, because it was so meaningful and got us talking about the issue.
"Being a Catholic is not just about coming to Mass on a Sunday, it's so much more than that, it's about asking ourselves, 'who is my neighbour?'"
Catholics around the country have also taken measures to welcome refugees currently in the UK. Cornerstone, a day centre in Manchester run by Sr Lucy Dunne and supported by Caritas Salford, has been serving food to up to 200 people a day and providing other practical assistance such as English lessons and help finding shelter. Parishioners in Lancashire have been organising community activities, including a series of 'Refugee Come Dine With Me' events and a 'Refugee World Cup'.
The Catholic community has donated over £4m to support the work of CAFOD and its partners with refugees, helping to fund vital work with Syrians suffering as a result of the civil war and with refugees from other countries who have fled their homes.
Write a message of hope for refugees at: www.cafod.org.uk/refugeeaction