Bishop John Kirby, the Bishop of Clonfert and Chair of the Bishops’ Council for Emigrants, has celebrated a Mass to mark 60 years of the work of the The Irish Chaplaincy in their support of Irish emigrants in London. The Mass was celebrated in the Sacred Heart Church, Kilburn, a parish with a long association with Irish people in Britain.
In his homily, Bishop Kirby noted that immigration and emigration were both ancient and modern phenomena. He said, “In the first book of the bible, Genesis, the Lord says to Abram ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’ and that is the start of the people of Israel, later, Jacob and his sons follow Joseph to Egypt at a time of famine and 430 years later, Moses leads the people of Israel back to Canaan, the Promised Land.
Bishop Kirby went on to address the further wave of migration which took place in Ireland at a time of recession and hardship in the 1940s and 1950 . He said, “Many of you here in this church in Kilburn are Irish born or are descended from Irish born people of that period. Your work and life here have contributed to your own prosperity and to the prosperity of this country. Indeed, you have also helped the Irish economy through the practice of what became known as ‘postal remittances’, money sent to assist families back home in Ireland.
“Sadly, not everyone was able to contribute to life in the new country or in the old. We know that there are Irish people who continue to need help and the Irish Chaplaincy Service exists precisely to help them.”
Bishop Kirby went on to reflect on the many migrants now on the move to Europe as they try to flee persecution or conflict. Bishop Kirby said that the problems of those trying to get to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa continue to grow. It is a huge problem for all the countries of the Western world and particularly for us here in Europe.
Noting that Pope Francis is the son of Italian migrants who travelled to Argentina, Bishop Kirby said, “Pope Francis has made the care of migrants one of his main initiatives. His first trip outside of Rome as Pope was made to the Island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily. This was one of the main landing points for those from Libya trying to gain entry to Europe. Large numbers drowned whilst attempting the journey. Those who landed faced further difficulties. In Ireland the system of Direct Provision for migrants arriving from very difficult situations is a very unsatisfactory arrangement, and we need to change it into a more respectful system for those coming to Ireland.”
The chalice used in the Mass yesterday was partly made from wood salvaged from a boat used by asylum seekers. Bishop Kirby explained, “The chalice is a silver cup inside a wooden shell. It was made by the same wood-turner who made a chalice for Pope Francis when he visited Lampedusa four years ago. In both cases the wood used had been part of a boat carrying migrants from Libya to Lampedusa. It was given to me on loan specifically for this Mass as we are commemorating migrants. The cup of the chalice is silver and is stamped 2016 in memory of the centenary of the Easter Rising. Thus, it links the migrants coming to Ireland with those who fought for Irish freedom 100 years ago.”
“The care of migrants is one of the major problems being faced by governments of the developed economies”, the bishop said, adding that “it was also a major challenge for the Church and for all of us as individuals”. He continued, “Remember the parable of the Last Judgement in Saint Matthew’s Gospel – ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ or ‘I was a stranger and you did not welcome me’ as the case may be. If we take the gospel seriously, the care of migrants has to be placed high on all our plans.”
The Irish chaplaincy is an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and is partly supported by grants from the Department of Foreign Affairs. Many Irish priests have served in the Irish Chaplaincy in different parts of London down through the years. Today, much of the chaplaincy work is carried out by lay people. As needs have changed, the chaplaincy’s ministry is focused on three key areas: Irish prisoners held in UK prisons, the older generation of Irish emigrants, and the Irish Travelling Community in Britain.
Some of the services provided by the Chaplaincy’s support for prisoners include: visiting Irish prisoners and providing them and their families with advice and information; keeping in contact by letter; assisting families in Ireland to visit prisoners in England and Wales; offering pastoral support if requested; researching, identifying and responding to prisoner needs; and, working closely with other organisations and prison departments caring for the welfare of Irish prisoners and their families.
The Irish Chaplaincy Seniors Project services consist of: visits to older Irish people regularly in their home, in hospital or residential care home and spending quality time with them to offer positive support and encouragement; maintaining regular telephone contact to ensure isolated older Irish have someone to talk to and share their hopes and concerns with; liaising and advocating on their behalf with health and social care providers and a range of other organisations as required; helping them to reconnect with their families back in Ireland; supporting those who want to move back to Ireland and making this transition as smooth as possible; offering a knowledgeable and comforting presence, in relation to end of life questions and concerns, and providing advice on funeral planning in London and in Ireland; exploring older people’s faith and spirituality with them, and linking them to a local faith community if requested.
The Travellers Equality Project works closely with the Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service; provides information, advice and free bespoke resources for practitioners working with travellers; holds Traveller forums in prisons; provides diversity training for support group; and, carries out thorough research to identify the needs of Irish Travellers.