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Community Routes

Welcoming the stranger

John writes:

Four brothers and four sisters from around the Province joined the seven of us resident at Alnmouth early in January for a formation conference focusing on the plight of sanctuary seekers and refugees in Britain and exploring opportunities that we have to serve some of our poorest and most vulnerable neighbours.  At our initial session we were surprised at the breadth and depth of experience already accumulated in C/SSF.  Lesley Dean-Stewart from a refugee agency based around the corner from the friary in Leeds helped us to construct an image in our mind’s eye of a young Congolese ‘everywoman’ arriving in this country and the process of assessment, induction, dispersal or possible deportation that she would typically undergo.  This was complemented by Kentigern John’s resumé of the history of legislation surrounding immigration and human rights, and accurate, recent statistics of the number of cases dealt with, including the country of origin of applicants, and outcomes.


Kentigern John SSF with Ali

We then had the privilege of listening to the horrendous accounts of two of those granted leave to remain in the UK.  Grace, from Zimbabwe, was subjected to a ten-year wait for a decision from the Home Office, during which time she struggled to survive alone in precarious circumstances and retain a sense of her own human dignity.  When asked what she would have most coveted from residents in this country, she replied “pure friendship”.


Finally, following a screening of “Shooting Dogs”, Ali told us his inspirational story of surviving the genocide, only to be tortured as a political prisoner in Rwanda.  He also described some of the many atrocities he witnessed along the way.  A speaker of nine languages, he now works with the West End Refugee Service in New-castle in supporting their clients, many of whom suffer depression and mental illness because of the stress levels they endure daily for years on end, while awaiting a decision on their refugee application or because they are unable to find work commensurate with their skills.


Together we identified a range of responses we aspire to make from our Franciscan community, notably offering non-judgmental hospitality in our houses and relationships even though it may pose some risk to our present way of being; building alliances to challenge systemic injustices; and, by way of advocacy, remaining conversant with the ever-evolving facts to effectively counter misinformed public opinion especially about sanctuary seekers and refugees.


A truly European Province

There has been a real international flavour to Alnmouth in the past two years and brothers from America, Latvia, Mexico and Scotland – as well as England – have been resident at some stage in that period.   The European dimension was further enhanced with the arrival of new postulants last September including two from Sweden, one from Germany and one from Romania, though the latter’s later childhood and early adulthood in the Lebanon provides a further new cultural dimension.  All four have now been admitted as novices (see Roundup).   Hymns in Swedish and German have been gamely attempted by the English Anglophone brothers, and solo carols in those languages also featured when the Friary led a local village carol service.  Various national cuisines have been represented in meals in the refectory but a particular highlight was on St Lucy’s Day, 13th December, when all four postulants as they then were contributed to a celebratory tea in full Swedish style.  Saffron buns were baked and white robes and home-made hats were donned:  the pointed ones most often worn by boys in Sweden represent St Stephen but it fell to the youngest, David, to represent Lucy with a red sash around his waist and a crown of live candles  as they all processed into tea singing in Swedish and bearing the buns to grateful brothers and guests.


There is no particular connection between the original St Lucy and Sweden, but her name (like that of Clare) means ‘light’, hence the candles, and people in northern latitudes have an acute awareness of the value of light at midwinter.  It used to be thought that 13th December was actually the darkest day of the year – just as 25th December and 6th January (Epiphany in the West) have all been regarded as the date of the Winter Solstice at some time in history.


Making saffron buns at Alnmouth for St Lucy’s day.

St Lucy’s Day procession: David Robert, Micael Christoffer and Cristian Michael

New work at Metheringham

On 20 February, Liz was licensed as Assistant Curate in the parishes of Metheringham with Dunston and Blankney and Branston with Nocton and Potterhanworth.  She will work alongside the priest in charge and a team of retired clergy, with a focus on the spiritual nurture and pastoral care of the parishes.  It is a part time post, and will enable her to continue to assist the other sisters at Metheringham with the ministry of hospitality and conducting retreats and quiet days.


Judith Ann, Maureen and Liz at Metheringham

Andrew SSF

An English brother who has spent much of his Franciscan life in Papua New Guinea, Andrew now resides at the Hilfield friary.  While in PNG he trained as a psychiatrist because he was concerned at the lack of care for people with mental health problems there.  He travelled many miles on foot through the bush to attend to patients.


Brother Andrew SSF

Round up

Sue has been elected Minister Provincial for CSF in the European Province.  She took office on 8 February. She and Helen Julian were blessed for their new ministries by the Bishop Protector at Evening Prayer, during the Sisters’ Meeting at Hilfield, on 25 February.


Four postulants who had arrived at Alnmouth last September were admitted as novices on 11 January: Cristian Buliga, Micael Carlström, David Länström and Robert Ritter took the names respectively of Cristian Michael, Micael Christoffer, David and Robert.  Catherine Wood, who lived in the Leicester and Metheringham houses during her postulancy, was admitted as a novice on 8 March, at Metheringham, taking the name Catherine Iona.


Peter has moved from Alnmouth to the House of the Divine Compassion, Plaistow.


The sisters in Gumi, South Korea, have, after a long search, bought a house.  Built in the traditional Korean style, it is in a village just outside the city of Gumi.  Once some necessary renovation has taken place, the sisters will be able to leave the rented flats which have been their home since the community started, while continuing their work with the church and other projects in Gumi.  Sue will be visiting Korea in May, so we hope to have some up to date pictures in the next issue of franciscan.


As franciscan went to press, the brothers in the European Province were in the process of electing a Minister Provincial to replace Samuel whose term of office ends at Pentecost 2012.  f