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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When compassion and courage meet reality

The greatest challenge of our lifetime - but we can’t say we didn’t see it coming. I recall watching on BBC way back in 1990 a docudrama written by William Nicholson, who has since given us Gladiator (2000) and today’s blockbuster, Everest. “The March” is a story of how a group of several thousand Africans migrate across northern Africa to Europe via Gibraltar. The motive is primarily economic: "We are poor because you are rich." They overwhelm the authorities. Surprisingly I have seen no reference to this prescient programme over the last few climatic months. It doesn’t even appear in Nicholson’s Wikipedia article. The story is based on a simple and obvious premise – the close juxtaposition of those living in grinding poverty under inept and unjust regimes with those, like us, enjoying prosperity with political stability. And separated by a few miles of water. The game changer is the rapid improvement in communications, both of information and of people. The poor now know how poor they really are. And soon there will be no stopping them. After all, in their situation what would we do? As it happens it wasn’t to be Gibraltar (yet) – it was the Aegean. And it wasn’t primarily north Africa; it was Syria and the Middle East. Nothing new in all this. After all the people of Israel made two migrations in the Old Testament: from enslavement in Egypt, then exile in Babylon to the land flowing with milk and honey. In neither case was it an easy journey. What is different today is the sheer scale. Earlier this month Pope Francis urged each parish to take in at least one family each. In her pitch for Labour leadership Yvette Cooper argued that Britain had to be true to our values by taking up to 10,000 refugees. “Britain has to respond to a humanitarian crisis on a scale we have not seen on our continent since the second world war,” she said. At our recent Fraternal the clergy of Ormskirk discussed how we could support WLBC in providing accommodation for such refugees, possibly upto ten families. We thought we were being generous. I am attaching a translation of an email a church member received just last week from her friend in Germany, from the township of Wissen, about 50 miles east of Cologne. Now Wissen has a population of just over 8,000, just smaller that the population of our parish. It seems a pleasant enough place. Last year it celebrated it's 700th anniversary. So how many refugees has it welcomed over the last few week? How many could we welcome here in Aughton? One family? Ten? In fact, to date 100 have arrived in Wissen. With more expected, at unexpected times. Michaela writes: “That leads to all kinds of problems. We are trying to house people in their own flat, but how long we can keep that up, I don't know - especially as new people are arriving in this area every week, with very little notice.” As a Christian she is torn between her compassion for the abused and vulnerable and her concern for the wellbeing of her community. The problem is that this is just the beginning. To offer such a welcome needs both compassion and courage. There was an excellent article earlier this week in Der Speigel on courage of “Mother Angela” (There’s a wordplay there) “We can do it,” reads the opening paragraph. “That's the message Chancellor Angela Merkel has been giving her country ever since she pledged in late August to provide refuge to anyone coming from Syria in addition to others seeking protection from violence and warfare.” The article goes on to explore the difference between politics that are good and politics that are right. “If in doubt, do the right thing” is an old political adage. But how far can you go? An appallingly difficult dilemma for our leaders, those who actually have to make the decisions. The least we can do is pray for them. “The first thing I want you to do is pray” urges the apostle Paul. “Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. “ (1 Timothy 2:1)

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