Chester students complete pilgrimage to Rome in solidarity with refugees

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, carrying a cross carved from the driftwood of refugee boats.

The students, who are part of the Catholic society, decided to dedicate their annual pilgrimage to the refugee crisis after being inspired by the Lampedusa Cross. 

Learn more about 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 over 300 people. During their trip, the students held a Lampedusa service which involved a prayer service and a discussion. 

“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.” said Vice President, Siobhan Doyle, who is currently in her fourth year studying International development and Spanish.

Take action on the refugee crisis  

With the Cross

“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 about 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.”

During their time in Rome, 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 felt 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 students also wrote messages to send to refugees. 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.”

Write your own message of hope to send to refugees 

CAFOD have now collected over 33,000 messages of hope to send to refugees around the world and we continue to help our partners to develop programmes to aid refugees in Syria, and surrounding countries, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. 


St Alban’s School write messages of hope

Cecilia Davison from St Alban’s in Macclesfield writes about the wonderful opportunity she had to take the Lampedusa Cross in to the Parish Primary School.

As a member of St Alban’s (Macclesfield) Justice & Peace Group, on Monday 4 July I children-holding-crosshad the privilege of taking the Lampedusa Cross to St Alban’s Primary School during the week one of such crosses was staying at our Parish.

I was given the opportunity of leading Morning Assembly, and aided by a short presentation we had a very lively, interactive, and moving discussion about the plight of the refugees.

Prayers and messages of hope were mentioned as ways of showing compassion and support for all displaced people, and on leaving assembly the children were allowed to gently touch the cross from Lampedusa to show their sorrow and respect.

After the other children left, the G.I.F.T. team had the opportunity to hold the cross and to listen to more stories about fleeing families.

assemblyWith the full support of Mrs Teresa Cooke, St Alban’s Headteacher, the G.I.F.T. team took the responsibility over the following weeks, for encouraging other children to:

  • write messages of hope and
  • participate in prayers organised by the team.

G.I.F.T. stands for Growing In Faith Together, a Chaplaincy type of initiative, which Shrewsbury Diocese has recently launched in 5 of its schools (4 Primary – St Alban’s; St Bernadette; St Mary’s; St Paul’s, and 1 Secondary All Hallows). It is aimed at children who have already received their First Communion, and at present at St Alban’s there are 5 Year 5 and 1 Year 6 girls making up the team led by Mrs Mónika Zorengi. They meet for 20 min every Friday lunchtime.

With the cooperation of teachers (Mrs Rhodes from Year 6 in particular), the team not only wrote messages themselves, but invited friends to do so. In total the G.I.F.T. team, gathered 40 cards, which they were very happy to pass onto to me on Monday 24 October, when I was invited back to the school.

In October they also organised occasions of prayer for the refugees. As October is the month of the Rosary, they prayed the whole rosary over three lunchtimes. They chose rosary-of-lightsto meditate on the Mysteries of Light, and they would switch on a candle every time they prayed either ‘Our Father’, ‘Hail Mary’ or ‘Glory be…’. As they were in the playground ‘building’ the rosary as they prayed everyone who wanted to join them was made welcome and at times they had more than 20 children praying together. It was at such times that some children also wrote their messages of hope.

One more idea from one of the girls in the G.I.F.T. team was to use the picture of the Lampedusa Cross to finish their rosary, as a reminder that their prayers were being offered up for the refugees.

It was simply wonderful for me to have had this opportunity. Thank you to all, especially Keith Taylor, and Bridget Fenwick for this!

The Lampedusa Cross at Holy Angels, Hale Barns

Symbol of rescue, sign of hope, sign of our times

Mary Nono, our Parish Volunteer at Holy Angels pens her thoughts on the refugee crisis, stimulated by having the Lampedusa Cross in the parish.

mother-and-childA shipwrecked shore line of rocks and sand and shells, broken boat, rotten wood, lost soft toys once held firm in courageous little hands, clinging tightly to life and limb.

Turbulent seas rush by, white-topped waves crashing over bow and gunwhale, feet in ‘freezing’ water floods fear through limp limbs.

Messages and prayers of encouragement penned byolivia priests, Sicilian plumbers and visiting Christians Together.

Babes in arms and toddlers draw boats and lots of people praying for you and your safety.

Praise and 24 hours of Adoration recollect minds and hearts.

signing-messages-of-hope‘Stay Awake’ pray-ers encircle the cross, moved to touch your lives with theirs,  knowing that this wood once held you.

Teens open their hearts to growing understanding of other youngsters, adulthood emerging with empathy, the realization that somehow, but for different continents and country, the loss could be theirs.

What shall I say to someone whose Mum and Dad both have drowned? How do I express my stunned silent solidarity?  What can I say? How can I express the shock  I feel to know you no longer have your brothers and sisters? Your home?  Is there anything I can say?  I will say ‘welcome’!

I will write these words of hope with openness and generosity in my heart. I willfamily encourage you.

I will trust God and I commit myself to make the world a better place for us all. I will pray not to be distracted from my commitment. I will share my hopes and dreams for our world.

I will share myself.

I will love you. ‘Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!’