Beyond the headlines: the ‘Jungle’ in Calais
Jonathan Herbert, from the Hilfield community, and I visited Br Johannes Maertens, who recently spent some time with the Brothers at Alnmouth, at his Catholic Worker house in Calais, in February 2016. We spent two days visiting refugees, reaching them by walking 4km through the Calais suburbs, to a sandy wasteland, the Jungle, named after the Afghan word for woodland.
The Police never came into the Jungle in the daytime, but there were stories of teargas at night. Similarly ambulances would only come to the edge, even in extremis.
On both days we enjoyed bright sunshine which made the mud and rubbish-filled frozen puddles slightly less grim. Refugees get though lots of shoes here as they rarely get dry. Most refugees looked in their teens and 20s and overwhelmingly male. Some young women around were British volunteers. We found shops just as you’d expect in a south Asian village. At the entrance of the camp was the Hamid Karzai Restaurant, quite smart of wood and plastic, with glass or Perspex windows, a generator powering a few lights and phone chargers inside, and hot food on display. We later had a very nice meal of rice, dhal and naan bread for about 4 euros each. Johannes and Tom, a British Buddhist, in blue overalls, listened at length to an older Afghan who had things to get off his chest. Tom has lived in a caravan here for some months. Christian and Buddhist, both have the same task of listening and presence, largely to Muslims, and peace-making between the various groups and nationalities, and between the many NGOs who work with varying degree of cooperation. I saw the library with ESOL and French lessons offered, though I saw no class in progress. I saw the dome where the National Theatre in London had put on Hamlet a few weeks ago, and met a journalist/ artist from the National Theatre.
I believe the portaloos had been installed by NGOs, not the French authorities. However French and British money had gone to a section of the camp, sterile and lifeless, filled with gleaming containers, with 3 windows each, where the most desperate resigned to signing in by giving their finger prints, with the strong belief that they would never be allowed to claim asylum in the UK. Everyone seemed think the UK was a much better place to go to than France. I longed to tell them about the Verne Immigration Removal Centre, which I visit.
We shook hands with many people, among others with Eritrean Orthodox at the now famous church and with a Sudanese young man who served us supper of bread and veg stew, which we ate with our fingers lying on a mattress in his hut. Few told us their stories in any detail. The overwhelming impression is that no one would choose to live in this place rather than claim asylum in France – but choose they do. It is extraordinary that this is Western Europe; that no social services do anything about the unaccompanied teenage boys; that Calais town so close by shows almost no sign that this is here. Almost the only French I heard spoken was in the little baker’s shop near Johannes’ house.
The photos I took very deliberately show almost no refugees at all close; few were happy with cameras.
Mobile Monastery Update – eight months on
Since the blessing of the mobile monastery last June, a journey began of much learning: driving and caring for a large vehicle, finding a secure parking place for it, and a calling the AA with small trials like flat batteries and tyres!
Requests for engagements have come in by word of mouth and no formal advertising has been needed, e-mails arrive with ‘We’ve heard about the prayer bus, can you come to us?’
Events which have happened so far include a week at the ‘New Wine’ conference in Shepton Mallet, Somerset; Leicester Cathedral for a ‘Lay Ministry Celebration; ‘Treasures Old and New’ day and the Leicester Diocese’s annual Vocations Day. In November, Sister Christine James and I went to Taunton for three days at King’s College School where we spent time with students in classes, provided focal points for prayer around the school, said Night Prayer, and led the school Morning Worship on the final day. We received the gift of great hospitality and many opportunities arose especially over the meal times to answer questions about our way of life. In December we went to a Peterborough city centre church where an exhibition of religious life was being held and the ‘van’ was a very visible presence in the midst of the Christmas Shoppers.
The presence of the ‘prayer bus’ has caused surprise, delight, and curiosity. People have dropped into pray, who would not normally go into a church, and opportunities for prayer have naturally come. A prayer tree in the van has been a focus for people to add their own prayers people come forward (some in deep distress) for a time to share and, I hope, a space to be heard and listened to.
In March, I drove the van to Manchester University where a ‘Franciscan Festival’ for the Manchester Higher Education Community took place with Nicholas Alan, Robert and David, and Simon Cocksedge TSSF. In July, a three-day heritage festival will take place in Peterborough where 22,000 people are expected to attend, and a lay readers conference in Leicester at De Montfort University for 2,000 delegates.
During this present year members of other Communities will join us for day and residential events, too.
We are very grateful to the SSF Legacy Fund for the grant, which enabled the purchase of the motor home and covers the running costs for a three-year period.
Please continue to pray for this venture, and watch this space!
Rugby Players of faith in Belfast
David Jardine writes:
There was standing room only in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, on 25 January, 2016, for the visit of three Ulster Rugby Players to the Monday night healing service. Well over 1,000 people had come from all over the Province to hear the group talk about their Christian faith. Probably the best known of the three was Ruan Pienaar, who has 88 caps for South Africa, and played for his country when they won the World Cup in 2007. Ruan said ‘I have always believed, with my Christianity, that there’s so much more to life than rugby, and being here gives me an enormous sense of purpose. I am not just here for rugby, I’m here to touch lives.’
Also speaking was the Chief Executive of Ulster Rugby, Shane Logan. When I went to talk to him in June, 2015 about the possibility of the players coming to speak we had a short time of just getting to know one another. Then, before we got down to business, Shane said ‘Do you mind if we have a prayer?’ He prayed beautifully, as only someone close to God could.
What struck me most about Shane and the three players was their humility. They talked about their faith in a very down to earth way. I was pleased, as well, by the Godly calmness over the Cathedral, in spite of a very large crowd. That is the power of prayer. We had been praying for months. The event was also down in the Franciscan intercession leaflet. So I am glad to be able to thank the Franciscan family, and to let them know how effective their prayers were.
For the love of God
Richard Fryer writes:
Monday 25 January saw an Internovitiate study week held at The Convent of the Incarnation in Oxford, on the subject of Early Monasticism. Novices from a wide variety of Anglican Religious Communities attended. We looked at desert hermits, and discussed how largely illiterate people operating at a time when Christian monasticism was amorphous, armed with as many psalms and New Testament passages as they could memorise set out to seek God in the wilderness. Renouncing everything and having little sleep and little food, they sought to imitate Ezekiel, John the Baptist and especially Jesus. They forced themselves to do battle with a variety of temptations describing them as demons. These were later called passions or impure thoughts that needed driving out through prayer and hurling scripture at them.
These hermits formed small communities of around ten growing into larger more organised cenobia of up to five thousand. We looked at the rules of Pachomius, Cassian, Basil, Augustine, The Master and Benedict. We discussed how these rules, and the communities they governed developed over time until they had all of the basic features of modern monastic life. Focus was directed at their food and drink, novice formation, authority and rules governing excursions. John Cassians’ edict that postulants should lie outside the monastery for ten days before entering was, thankfully, omitted from later rules! I was struck by how madly, deeply in love with God these early monastics were, that they would go to such extreme lengths to purify their hearts and obtain the peaceful mind of the full knowledge of his love when all other distractions (demons) have been removed.
Richard Fryer was admitted as a postulant on 1 September and clothed as a novice on 29 March. He is currently resident at the Alnmouth friary.
After some time as Acting Master, Kevin has now been appointed as Master of Eastbridge Hospital in Canterbury and was installed by the Bishop of Canterbury on 25 February.
Cristian Michael has moved to Crofton Road, Edmund to Newcastle, Jason Robert to Alnmouth, and Thomas Antony to Alnmouth. Desmond Alban is still awaiting a visa for the USA.
Michael Jacob made his first profession in vows at Alnmouth on 12 December, 2015. In the Community of St Clare, Carolin Clare made her first profession in vows at Freeland on 2 April, 2016.
Damian SSF died on 17 January, 2016, in St Oswald’s Hospice, Newcastle. May he rest in peace.