Inter faith gathering in Wisbech: ‘We came together in solidarity with the Syrian refugees in their desperate and dangerous journey into Europe’

ecumenical and inter-faith gathering took place in St Peter's Parish Church in Wisbech

ecumenical and inter-faith gathering took place in St Peter's Parish Church in Wisbech - Credit: Archant

We came together in solidarity with the Syrian refugees in their desperate and dangerous journey into Europe. That we had been disturbed into action by the moving images we had seen of the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Europe over the past fortnight.

ecumenical and inter-faith gathering took place in St Peter's Parish Church in Wisbech

ecumenical and inter-faith gathering took place in St Peter's Parish Church in Wisbech - Credit: Archant

And all of us wanted to represent our town as a place of compassion and welcome to strangers in need.

Each person arriving for the service was given a ragged piece of cardboard with the words: “Refugees Welcome” scribbled hastily over its surface: these signs paid homage to the German people welcoming the first wave of Syrian refugees to arrive in Munich.

Father Paul West welcomed everyone and prayed. Readings followed. Three members of our Opus Gratiae Youth Group (two of them are Polish migrant children) read short stories of the real refugee experiences of Syrian families and young people.

The harrowing in their own words stories were followed by quotes from various saints including St Faustina, St Vincent de Paul, St. Pope John Paul and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. The quotes encouraged us to have faith and care for the poor and suffering peoples of this world in small prayerful ways.


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Sean Finley, from Our Lady and St Charles Borromeo Church in Wisbech, gave a rousing address on the need for us to do something together and make a difference in the lives of refugee families. Lesley Mardle led the intercessions helping us to pray specifically into a very complex and messy situation.

The story of the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt was read from Matthew’s Gospel. Father Paul gave images of St Joseph, Our Lady and the Christ Child to members of our youth group. A procession was formed. Father Paul encouraged everyone to walk with the Holy Family (who were themselves forced to become refugees) and to hold their cardboard signs of welcome and think and pray for the Syrian families making a hard journey to freedom.

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Our servers led the way with the ancient parish processional cross and incense. Father Paul carried a relic of St Vincent de Paul that great Apostle of the Poor. As we processed around the Church, Richard, with his guitar, sang the song ‘When I need a Neighbour where you there?’

On re-entering the church we placed our welcome signs at the base of the art installation under the image of Divine Mercy.

The art installation was assembled as a focus for prayer and reflection: a place to experience silence like when you emerge from an emotional film at the local cinema and where no-one can speak for hours. The installation was a black piece of builders plastic representing a black sea of danger for families fleeing the terror of their homeland. On it was placed a rubber dingy/boat - the sort of unseaworthy craft many desperate families are climbing into to cross into Europe.

The dingy was filled with straw. The members of our youth group placed the statues of the Holy Family on the straw in the dingy making it the familiar crib-scene of the Nativity/Christmas. A very powerful connection of images! Beside it a beautiful square of lace was arranged on the black plastic sheet - on it place three discarded toddler shoes and a candle lit for all the children who have died and suffered as refugees. Father Paul blessed the art installation with holy water, incense and the sign of the cross.

The people returned to their pews for a blessing and then a number of people from Wisbech Churches Together and the Inter-Faith Forum to coordinate a town-wide plan of action for Refugees.

A short prayer vigil followed and people left the church in silence.

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