BY ED WEST AND DAVID V BARRETT
MORE THAN 2,000 Catholic immigrants to Britain packed Westminster Cathedral on Monday for the fifth annual Mass for Migrants.
Organised jointly by the Diocese of Westminster, the Archdiocese of Southwark and the Diocese of Brentwood – the three London dioceses – and supported by their Justice and Peace Commissions, the Mass was celebrated two days after the May 1 feast of St Joseph the Worker.
The first Mass for Migrants was celebrated on May Day 2006 when Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor first raised the possibility of an immigrant amnesty – the Strangers into Citizens initiative, which would allow up to 750,000 illegal immigrants to be legalised.
Shortly before the start of the Mass members of many migrant communities and parishes took part in a procession into Westminster Cathedral.
Entering the Cathedral, dressed in national costumes and carrying colourful banners, they joined the congregation, which included mayors from several London boroughs and ambassadors from the EU and other countries.
This was the first migrant Mass Archbishop Vincent Nichols has presided over in Westminster, and in his homily he welcomed the representatives from across the world:. He said: “The Catholic Church, is your home. Here you are appreciated, treasured and, indeed welcomed.” Asking all present to draw strength from their faith, he continued: “Today we rejoice in our wonderful gift of faith. We thank God for our faith through which we get a glimpse of who we truly are.
“In faith our eyes take in all the present scene, with its hardships, its loneliness and its pain. But our eyes can also see through this present world to all that lies at its core.
“Here, in this open tent, we know that God is with us; that nothing happens outside of his gaze; that he sees all with his gaze of love, knowing the path we will take until his day truly comes and we find our true home.
“When we gaze on the Body of Christ held before in this Sacrament, we can also know that this is what we are going to become: the risen Body of Christ, enjoying all the fullness of life and love in the mystery of God, in his new creation, when justice shall flourish and peace, until the moon fails!
“Now we know who we truly are! We are sons and daughters of God, destined to be with Him for ever. Now we see our true dignity! Now we see the true worth of all that we do! Everything about us is given for the glory of God! Everything is to be done so that his kingdom may be glimpsed and may be fulfilled, in his day.” The procession of gifts was carried out by representatives of the Nigerian community, and the Procession of Thanksgiving by the Vietnamese.
Fr Paul Chanh, the chaplain serving the 3,000 Vietnamese Catholics who live in the London area, and who is based in Poplar, east London, said the Vietnamese community was keen to express thanks.
“We owe a lot to the diocese,” he said. “The community feel that the diocese supports us and feel that it gives them everything they need. That is why, if the diocese ask them to do anything, they do their best to get involved.” Fr Albert Ofere, chaplain for the Nigerian community in London, said: “Migration has its painful and most discomforting challenges. Religious challenges are no less exceptional. The chaplaincy has got a legal surgery and a project team to help point people in the right direction in settling. The chaplaincy also creates a family and friendly atmosphere for interaction and networking.”