Hundreds of churches across Britain demonstrated their solidarity with migrants and displaced people over the weekend, taking part in Racial Justice Sunday.
On 12 September 2010, the theme of the annual event was 'Migration: Building Bridges or Barriers?' and the focus was on the practical and biblical question 'who is my neighbour?'
Materials for local congregations were developed by the Catholic Association for Racial Justice and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland - the official ecumenical body for Anglican, Catholic, Free Church, Orthodox and other indigenous and Black majority churches across the four nations.
Sermons, discussions and prayer and worship liturgies stressed that "all human beings long to find space to tell their story", not least people whose economic, social or spiritual situation requires them to be on the move.
The materials used by local churches emphasised the biblical call to welcome and embrace the stranger, contrasted to the often harsh, insensitive and discriminatory practices adopted by government towards migrants.
The Roman Catholic Church across Britain has recognised that it has been particularly been effected by population flux in recent years.
Bishop Patrick Lynch, chair of the Office for Migration Policy at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales declared last week: "The phenomenon of migration has always been part of human history. The International Organisation for Migration defines migration as 'the movement of people either across an international border or within a State. It is a population movement, encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes the migration of refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people and economic migrants."
He continued: "The Church recognises that migration of people, both voluntary and involuntary "has turned into a structural reality of contemporary society" (Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi ). It is a global phenomenon, touching all regions, crossing all ecclesiastical and national boundaries and affects millions of human beings."
"In Britain over the last few years, there has been a transformation of the social character of the dioceses in England and Wales," said Lynch. "We sometimes call it 'the Changing Face of Britain'. Across the country in all our dioceses but especially in our large cities, we have migrants from many parts of the world adding vibrancy to our parishes. In the 'Mission of the Church to Migrants' the Bishops of England and Wales have considered this new social reality and have called for a more visible culture of welcome, hospitality and solidarity with migrants."
The Catholic leader concluded: "Racial Justice Sunday gives us the opportunity to recognise the suffering migrants have experienced through misunderstanding, exploitation, insecurity, uncertainty, injustice and poverty but also to celebrate the rich cultural and spiritual patrimony of migrants and to give visibility to the ways they are enriching us in our parishes and dioceses. It is an opportunity not to be indifferent to those around us, 'who unsettle us and do not look or speak like us' but to identify them as our neighbours and to reach out to the people we do not know, to migrants, to refugees and people seeking sanctuary who share the pews in our parishes.
"The Church calls us to be open minded and welcoming to migrants and refugees, to listen to their stories to celebrate the values they bring to our communities and to stand in solidarity with them," the bishop emphasised.