COI Gazette – 26th May 2017

ICC officer visits refugees in Lampedusa and Sicily

Migrants on Lampedusa

Migrants on Lampedusa

Damian Jackson Programme Officer for the Irish Council of Churches, recently co-led a delegation from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to Italy, visiting the islands of Lampedusa and Sicily to meet meet with refugees on those islands.


On the island of Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, the delegation visited a project set up by the organisation, Mediterranean HOPE, an initiative of the Italian Federation of Evangelical Churches which seeks to respond to the situation of migrants who have made the dangerous crossing from Libya.

Mediterranean HOPE is seeking to reach out in a context in which traumatised migrants are in close proximity to a local population that is worried about the potential effects of their presence on tourism, the traditional mainstay of the Economy.




Damian Jackson has told the Gazette of his experiences while visiting refugees on the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily (report, page 1). The delegation to the islands from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, which he co-led, was not only a learning opportunity for those who participated but also an opportunity for them to bring home what they had learned and to share that with a wider audience, thereby creating greater awareness of what is a truly tragic situation.

The recent Christian Aid Week will have seen a particular focus in many parishes on the situation in Sicily and Lampedusa as well as in Greece. Sending delegations to such situations is beneficial for those who are visited, because they see that others do care; for those who visit, because of the experience itself; and also for those who hear of what is happening from those who have encountered situations first hand.

The European Commission says it is faced with many vulnerable people coming to the EU to seek asylum, which it describes as “a form of international protection that is given to people fleeing their home countries and who can’t return due to a well-founded fear of persecution”. The Commission adds that the EU has “a legal and moral obligation to protect those in need” and says that member-States are responsible for examining asylum applications and for deciding who will receive protection.

However, the Commission adds: “But not everyone coming to Europe needs protection. Many people leave their home country in an attempt to improve their lives. These people are often referred to as economic migrants, and if they are not successful in their asylum application then national governments have an obligation to remove them to their home country, or another safe country which they have passed through. Thousands of people have died at sea attempting to reach the EU. Almost 90% of the refugees and migrants have paid organised criminals and people smugglers to get them across borders. As a result, they are known as ‘irregular’ migrants – that is, they have not entered the EU through legal means.” However, while one recognises the legal intricacies of the situation, it remains a real humanitarian issue.

Parallel to the refugee tragedy in Europe, there is huge need in other parts of the world. The World Council of Churches has drawn attention to the fact that the worst famine since World War II is currently in progress in Africa. A statement indicated: “The harvests have failed. Famine has been declared by the United Nations in South Sudan, while Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen are on the brink of famine. The situation has been precipitated by a deadly combination of drought, conflicts, marginalization and weak governance. Across these regions, about 20 million people are experiencing alarming hunger and are at risk of starvation, while millions more suffer from drought and food shortages. Malnutrition is having a disastrous impact and, as ever, children are among the worst affected, becoming increasingly vulnerable and affected negatively for life. In fact, 1.4 million children could die of starvation in the coming months. Additionally, 27 million people lack access to safe water, increasing the threat of cholera and spreading other water-borne diseases.”

The WCC points out that, in the shadow of the war in the Middle East, almost 20 million people have been afflicted by famine and starvation in Africa, and reports that from 28th-29th June, along with the All Africa Conference of Churches, it will be holding talks in Nairobi, Kenya, about the acute phase of the famine.

The world is in immense need on so many fronts.

The work of aid agencies and Churches highlights the humanitarian aspect of situations which have complex legal and political ramifications. In these distressing circumstances, it is vital that compassion is not overcome by the extent of the problems.


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Letters to the Editor

Archbishop Clarke’s General Synod address

I CONGRATULATE Archbishop Clarke for speaking on domestic violence at the General Synod (Gazette, 12th May). It is an often ignored or foolishly thought a ‘solved’ issue, by changes in legislation or more proactive police and welfare activity. Additionally, Dr Clarke welcomed refugees from crisis-torn parts of the world. I welcome that too.

But … I wonder when, independently of questions from journalists, a Church of Ireland Primate will reflect on survivors of abuse closer to home. I refer to those in Protestant ethos institutions who were victims of a misapplication of that ethos. 2017 is a particularly appropriate year for commentary and leadership. In the Republic, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission reported that Bethany Home survivors “have a strong case for inclusion” in the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme. It said that an orphanage “associated with Bethany Home – Mayil/Westbank in Wicklow … should [also] have been included”.

The government is ignoring the call. Dr Clarke’s address ignored it too. Comment would not have occasioned much effort. Reference to the serial paedophile Patrick O’Brien, sentenced in November 2016, would have been equally apt. O’Brien volunteered in St Patrick’s Cathedral up to 2005, though Cathedral authorities knew of his first, 1989, conviction for abusing a St Patrick’s Grammar School boy (one of many O’Brien abused).

The Archbishop might also have reflected on abuse inflicted on residents of Mrs Smyly’s ‘Church of Ireland Children’s Home’. There is no particular reason why Dr Clarke should not have mentioned Smyly’s this year. Perhaps, as he remarked of the Bethany Home in 2012, it has never “crossed” his “radar”. On this issue the Church of Ireland keeps its head down. When pressed, Church of Ireland institutions become pedantic.

For example, the Irish Church Missions disassociated itself in these columns from those of its clergy who sat on Bethany’s Management Committee. Clergy sent unmarried mothers and their abandoned offspring to various institutions as a recognised part of their ministry.

Is that so difficult to accept? If Dr Clarke is be criticised, so too are those who fail to discuss the subject. Leaders must sometimes be led. If the flock stopped behaving like sheep I might not feel that I throw, as once observed of parliamentary questions to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, handballs against a haystack.

Derek Leinster Bethany Survivors Southey Road Rugby England

RCB investment and climate change policy

I WAS delighted with the way General Synod received the motion on climate change and fossil fuel investment.

This is a change of direction for the Representative Church Body. They now accept that climate change is a serious problem, that it’s impacting the poor hardest, and that urgent action is required by the Church and society at all levels to shift to a low carbon economy. Has there been an epiphany in Dublin? Yes, there has, for the climate change policy now focuses on reducing fossil fuel exposure and investing in an expanding green sector that offers good returns.

These are positive signs. The motion means that the RCB no longer invests in coal and tar-sands, and investments in oil and gas producers have reduced by 70% in recent years. I hope that the review in 2020 will result in 0% exposure to fossil fuels. There is a parallel to tobacco. The RCB excludes all tobacco products due to public health concerns.

The British Medical Association recommends divestment from all fossil fuel producers because of the harm to human health. Regarding the policy of engagement, more than 10% of RCB investments are now in ‘bonds’ issued from banks like the AIB, Bank of Ireland, Barclays and JP Morgan. The RCB needs to engage with each bank and ask about its environmental, social and governance investment policy. We don’t want unethical investments hidden under the ‘bonds’ carpet.

I know the RCB is keen to encourage initiatives at parish and diocesan levels. Perhaps the ‘Parish Resources’ website can develop a guide for parishes to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon footprints, and save on bills.

Stephen Trew Lurgan Co. Armagh

General Synod same-sex relationships debate

I REGARD the editorial of the 12th May Gazette as inadequate in its description of the debate on same-sex relationships at Limerick’s General Synod.

As a clerical member of the House of Representatives seated in the Synod hall on the Friday evening when Motion 12 was debated, I believe the editorial falls far short when it says the tone of the debate was respectful.

The immediate rush to the podiums to speak and the passion of the debaters indicate that this is the most explosive issue the Church of Ireland has had to face – ever.

The many determined speakers for and against the motion represent two deeply divided sides of an issue which has already torn the fabric of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Unless we draw back from the brink it will surely, sooner or later, tear the fabric of the Church of Ireland. Judging by the lack of common ground in the debate it may already have done so.

As is well known, the issue at stake is not human sexuality per se, but rather the authority of the Bible and in particular the authority of the apostolic testimony. When St Paul excludes those who act on homosexual desires from the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6: 9), those church leaders who disagree with him open up the door to apostasy. It is no less serious than that.

If the Church accepts the editorial’s assertion that “couples who enter into such same-sex relationships do need to be reassured … that the Church respects their love and care for each other”, it will bring division, acrimony, pain and separation.

We need only look back over the last ten years at sister Churches within the Anglican Communion to see clergy resignations, dioceses seceding and the formation of new provinces.

If the Church of Ireland cannot draw a line under this issue and side with other orthodox Churches, similar pain inevitably awaits us.

William Press (The Revd) Knockbreda Rectory Belfast


Proposed retreat centre

THE COMMISSION on Ministry in its report to the General Synod gave a feasibility study regarding a development of a centre for retreat, prayer and study to be built somewhere in Ireland at a total cost of £1,968,865.

I sincerely hope this is the last we will hear of this project.

The Church of Ireland has a very poor record of the management of such centres.

We had a lovely centre at Murlough House in Co. Down which we had to return to the donors, and another place in Donegal which we sold.

I had the privilege of staying at both places and they were both delightful and desirable properties.

When we need a retreat centre there are dozens of hotels and institutions available at reasonable charges. So let’s forget this two million pound project and keep our money.

J.R.F. Hilliard Killarney Co. Kerry

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