Thank you to everyone at St Paul’s primary school in Paulsgrove for giving our Education Volunteers, Patrick and Isobel Flynn such a warm welcome earlier this week. Patrick and Isobel gave a special Year of Mercy assembly and held workshops with the children. Patrick told us,
“We started our assembly by lighting candles and saying a short prayer. Our introduction was made all the more special by the fact that there are some beautiful Year of Mercy banners that adorn the walls of the hall that we could refer to.
“The children were really attentive and responded to questions with some really thoughtful comments on the Corporal Works of Mercy. It was gratifying to be able to affirm the school’s works in ‘feeding the hungry’ and ‘giving drink to the thirsty’ which they had carried out during Lent.
“The children remembered the Works of Mercy, as was evident when we embarked upon the workshops that focused on ‘welcoming the outsider’. Some of the workshops included a short ‘pilgrimage’ that started in the classroom and then went around the playground.”
Firstly, the children thought about why people in the world might have to flee or leave their own country and take often very dangerous journeys. Pupils then thought about what they would like to be when they grew up and what sort of life they would like. The classes then watched the very similar hopes and dreams of some Syrian refugee children in the short film below.
Patrick and Isobel then explained that Pope Francis has asked us to go on a special journey or pilgrimage during this Year of Mercy. By making a little pilgrimage during the workshop, the pupils would be showing that they are ‘walking alongside’ all the refugees who are forced to make very dangerous journeys to find safety and a better life.
The first stop on the children’s pilgrimage was right there in the classroom at the whiteboard where everyone gathered around a big map of the world. Pupils read out a name of a country where there is conflict at the moment and then placed a label on the map. They then said a prayer for all these places where people have to leave their homes because of violence.
At the next stop, the children looked at a picture of a loaf of bread and then prayed for everyone who is hungry around the world and for people who have had to leave their homes because of climate change.
Moving on, the pupils looked at a passport and reflected on all places where people are attacked for their beliefs or their colour or their nationality. They prayed that everyone will live in harmony with each other and realise that they are all God’s children.
The children were then asked to look at what they were wearing and to think about what’s in their school bag. They were asked to imagine they were being forced to leave their home by the sounds of fighting. They can’t pack, they just leave as they are. These clothes and the few things in their bag are all they will have for many weeks. After a short reflection the children then prayed for refugees on long journeys, for safe passage and at their journey’s end, a true welcome.
And finally, at the last stop, the children looked a picture of a family with an empty chair. The picture is of a refugee family and the chair symbolises someone who the family has lost on the journey. The children then thought about all the families and friends who have been separated by conflict and migration and prayed that they would soon be reunited.
At the end of the pilgrimage, the children gathered around the Lampedusa Cross. On the 3rd October 2013, a boat carrying 500 refugees from Eritrea and Somalia, sank off the little island of Lampedusa between Tunisia and Sicily. Only 151 people survived. The local carpenter on Lampedusa met some of the survivors and then went and collected some of the wreckage of the boat. He made crosses for the survivors as a symbol of hope for the future.
Patrick and Isobel invited the children to write or draw a message of hope for refugees on paper crosses in the shape of the one that Francesco Tuccio the carpenter on Lampedusa island made. CAFOD will dedicate these messages at a special Mass at the end of the Year of Mercy, and make sure they are shared with refugees through CAFOD’s and other networks.
“The pilgrimages worked really well and we were very impressed at the level of respect, prayer and empathy that the children had for the plight of the refugees. This empathy was reflected in some thoughtful messages of hope which were placed on the prayer tables in each classroom.”
Thank you so much to everyone at St Paul’s primary for their lovely welcome and for all their fantastic support for CAFOD.