[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A cross made from wood taken from a boat used by refugees crossing the Mediterranean as they sought sanctuary in Europe is to grace the altar of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The cross was made by artist Franco Tuccio on the Italian island of Lampedusa and resembles a pastoral staff given by the artist to Pope Francis when he visited the island two years ago.
The cross was presented to Archbishop David Moxon, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, when he made a visit to the island on Monday with Father Marcus Walker, the centre’s Associate Director.
“Because of the Anglican Centre’s interest in modern slavery and human trafficking over the last three years, two friends of the Centre arranged for us to receive a specially made wooden Lampedusa Cross, to be placed in our chapel as a sign of the plight of refugees,” Archbishop Moxon said at the start of his visit.
In addition to meeting the artist, the two Anglican leaders met a number of people who work with refugees on the island, including the Roman Catholic parish priest of Lampedusa, Don Mimmo, who hosted the visit, as well as Luca Maria Negri, the president of the Federazione Chiese Evangeliche Italiane; and Germano Garatto, co-ordinator of Foundation Migrantes for the Italian Bishop Conference.
“From the moment we got off the plane until leaving the island again Fr Marcus and I were constantly moved, challenged, and surprised by what we heard and saw,” Archbishop Moxon said.
Commenting on his meeting with the artist, he said: “Franco was clearly deeply motivated to use his art to draw the world’s attention to the plight of thousands of refugees who enter Europe through this island.
“People are picked up at sea and are rescued from drowning and snatched from the jaws of death to be given a new start. This cross he made will lie on the altar of the Anglican Centre in Rome as witness to their suffering and the Easter hope which is now being offered to them.”
Archbishop Moxon and Father Walker paid a visit to Lampedusa cemetery which houses graves of many of the refugees who died making the crossing. The cemetery “includes the grave and story of Welela, a young African woman who had been burned alive while being trafficked,” Archbishop Moxon said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of people like her whose names we will never know, who have disappeared without trace in the Mediterranean Sea.
“The people of the island of Lampedusa try to honour their memory in a portion of the cemetery dedicated to the unknown. The people of the island have shown enormous compassion to both the living and the dead – as stories of their welcome to every new batch of migrants rescued from the sea tell.”
The Archbishop described Don Mimmo as a “remarkable” parish priest. “He is clearly at the moral and pastoral heart of the island’s community and is clearly the hub of the local response to what is an extra-ordinary situation. He was known and greeted and chatted with and welcomed by almost everyone we met. . . He would welcome Anglican prayer and support.”
The Archbishop said that conversations “naturally explored what Anglican networks might be doing in this area, and the potential for further collaboration,” and he would discuss the issue further with the Anglican Alliance.
“Lampedusa is the site of so much desperation – but also so much redemption,” he said. “Only an Easter faith makes any sense on Lampedusa.”
In his blog, Archbishop David outlined some of the ministry to refugees carried out by Anglicans.
- In Greece the Anglican Church has been the catalyst and bridge builder which enabled six Christian agencies and Churches to come together to learn what each is doing and able to commit to in the face of the crisis. It was through this Anglican initiative to convoke an ecumenical response that the Orthodox Archdiocese of Athens, the Jesuit Refugee Service, Caritas, the Salvation Army, the Greek Evangelical Church, formed a coordination, with each individual church or agency taking lead responsibility for a particular programme or programmes which the other Churches could then tap into to avoid duplication
- In Greece, due to the rapidly changing situation, our own Anglican response has had to evolve with the changes. At one time, we worked with what was called the “lighthouse” team on Lesbos, receiving refugees arriving at that time by boat from Turkey, providing a clothes-changing area, a kitchen, and tents to shelter the arrivals, and providing food, clothing and medicines. Then it needed to shift to deliver meals (400 per week) to two detention centres (for those deemed to be illegal) on the outskirts of Athens.
- Elsewhere in Europe, during the large flow of refugees up through Central Europe earlier this year, Anglicans in Budapest and Vienna prepared aid packs to distribute among refugees at the train stations. Much of this has been made possible through our partnership with [the United Society] who have been our major Anglican mission agency partnering with us to respond through the establishment of a rapid response fund, raising monies from churches in the UK and Ireland. Since the closure of the Greek northern border with Macedonia a different response to the refugee/migrant crisis in Greece has had to be made. No longer are the needs of transient refugees/migrants the priority. Instead it is the 54,000 refugees / migrants now stranded in hurriedly erected “closed camps.”
- In cities such as Vienna, many Anglican families are hosting refugees in their own homes, so their experience is very close to home.
- Elsewhere in the diocese response continues to the specific contextual needs, for instance in Ankara, our Anglican parish has an extensive programme of welcome and accompaniment for refugees, mostly from Iran and Iraq. In Morocco, we are working with Roman Catholic partners in assisting refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa.