Boundaries, borders and identities - a CPW weekend

Author: Barbara Wilson, lambeth citizens

Many of us are exercised by the continuing refugee crisis. I am involved in Lambeth Citizens and it has made me think about my own identity - as the daughter of refugees after the second world war - as well as about the purpose and practicalities of boundaries and borders. Are they there to keep us safe? To keep others out? And if so who and why and how? How difficult are we making it for people to cross the borders into Britain and even more to remain here safely and able to flourish?

All these questions were considered at the Catholic People’s Week in Hyning, just south of the Laker District, last March. We began by thinking about our own identities - very few still lived where they had been born and several of us had parents or grandparents from outside Britain. Though, perhaps inevitably in a Catholic group, many had come from Ireland.

We looked at personal accounts, both factual and fiction, written by those who had experienced the pain of loss, suspicion, separation, fractured relationships and rejection. The Biblical stories of Ruth and Hagar reminded us of the particular and continuing vulnerability of women. This led us to tune in to the resonances, resistances and changes in us that these brought forth.

Acknowledging our own varied journeys, we completed CAFOD's "Share the Journey" walk around the grounds of the convent, listening to the difficult stories of those seeking safety and a future. Our sympathy was enhanced by the sudden snow showers and we were glad to be able to return to the warmth of the convent’s hospitality.

Pope Francis has emphasised the biblical imperative to welcome strangers. We looked at how this was being put into practise by Lambeth Citizens working with refugees who are welcomed (befriended) , protected (addressing vulnerable aspects of their lives), promoted (English language lessons as a priority for long term job prospects) and integrated (through sharing special events for instance) so that they can eventually find work and help other newcomers too.

It was clear during the weekend that many present were involved in assisting refugees, and everyone was keen to gather ideas on practical ways to help. We were encouraged to look at the Jesuit Refugee Service for stories of hope in the face of so much negative press. We explored ways in which almost everyone can contribute - donations of time, goods and money, awareness raising as well as practical support to individuals. Citizens UK has recently started a campaign to ‘Extend the Welcome’ encouraging the government to bring more refugees beyond the ’20,000 by 2020’ promised by David Cameron. (

Catholic Peoples Weeks have a long tradition of exploring current issues, grounding them in our faith. Weeks planned for 2019 include Mission, Parenting and the Eucharist as well as walking and cycling weeks. In each there is the combination of material to stretch one’s boundaries and open  borders as well as enriching identities by sharing aspects of one’s faith journey and day to day concerns in a supportive community. (