Students from Chester travelled to Rome carrying a cross carved from the driftwood of refugee boats and attended an audience with Pope Francis, who spoke of ‘welcoming the stranger.’
To mark the beginning of Lent, a selection of students studying at the University of Chester made a five-day pilgrimage to the Italian capital. The students, who are part of the Catholic society, dedicate their annual pilgrimage to the refugee crisis after being inspired by the Lampedusa Cross.
The cross, which is carved from the wreckage of refugee boats, was made by Italian carpenter Francisco Tuccio, after meeting survivors from a refugee boat disaster which killed more than 300 people.
The crosses have become international symbols of hope after Pope Francis carried a cross at a memorial service for those who had perished and the aid agency, CAFOD, ran a campaign which saw every cathedral in the UK display one. During their trip, the students attended Lampedusa service which involved a prayer service and a discussion.
Society vice president Siobhan Doyle, who is currently in her fourth year studying international development and Spanish, said: “The Lampedusa service was a beautiful way to remember the challenges refugees face both overseas and in the UK and reminded us that we need to do more to support the millions of refugees.
“We noticed that Italy had a different approach to the refugee crisis, there were posters around the airport about supporting refugees; this was an interesting point as, during our discussion, we talked the challenges refugees face regarding mental health, which is often forgotten about.”
Joseph Barnes, a first-year politics student, added: “Our service for refugees was very powerful and reminded us all to always welcome the stranger.”
The students were blessed to have an audience with Pope Francis. Jacob Hutchinson, a third-year theology and religious studies student and president of the society, said: “When having the honour to listen to Pope Francis, he asked the question ‘is it better to be an atheist rather than a bad Catholic?’ This struck me, because I was not doing enough to help organisations and communities especially in Chester and throughout the UK who work with refugees.
“So, with the words of Pope Francis still fresh, my Lenten challenge is to find an organisation and do my part in helping refugees in any way I can.”
The aid agency CAFOD, which works work with refugees in various countries including Syria and surrounding countries Lebanon and Turkey, have collected more than 25,000 messages of hope from UK communities to share with refugees. During their trip, the students also wrote their own messages.
Third year primary education student Sarah Mather said “Writing messages to refugees was a thoughtful and beautiful way of showing God’s love across the world.”
CAFOD is working with local partner organisations in Europe and beyond to provide practical help to those fleeing their homes, calling on the UK government to take a fair and proportionate share of refugees – from both within and outside the European Union – and pushing for the establishment of safe and legal routes to enable refugees to reach safety.
Find out more at: cafod.org.uk/refugees