St Swithun’s Primary School in Southsea invited Patrick and Isobel, our CAFOD school volunteers to lead Year 5 and 6 on a Year of Mercy Pilgrimage to St Swithun’s church. Pope Francis has asked us all to undertake a pilgrimage in this Year of Mercy to show that we are walking alongside all the refuges who are forced to leave their homes.
Patrick told us “”Blessed with a beautiful sunny day and blue skies, St Swithun’s RC Primary School, Southsea, Year 5 and Year 6 children embarked upon three Pilgrimages from their school to their Parish Church of St Swithun’s, Southsea. We were so impressed by the prayerfulness and attentiveness of all the children throughout these emotional Pilgrimages. We began each pilgrimage in the classroom where we reviewed the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclamation by Pope Francis and then looked at the Corporal Works of Mercy. Having ‘fed the hungry’ at Harvest and ‘given drink to the thirsty’ at Lent the Work of Mercy upon which we would be focussing upon was ‘welcome the outsider’. The children gave good reasons for why people might have to leave their homes to seek refuge in another country. The children were mesmerised by the video clip which showed a boat tossing about in the sea and then some children shared their hopes and dreams for the future. Before we left the classroom to begin our pilgrimage we looked at a world map and found the countries where most refugees flee from these included Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Our first stop was in the park, just after we left the safety and security of our school. We talked about how few possessions we had with us and we looked down at the clothes we were wearing. If we were refugees, these might be the only possessions that we would have for the coming weeks or months.
Our pilgrimage led us through the park and across a road into another park where we talked about the importance of identity and belonging, for example our school uniform identifies us as children from St Swithun’s school. Next we looked at an old passport. Refugees often lose their national identity as they try to flee across borders, with or without a passport. Yet in God’s eyes we all share one true identity- as his children.
When we arrived at St Swithun’s Church we acknowledged Jesus’ presence in the tabernacle as we genuflected in front of the altar. Here we talked about nourishing quality of bread in our daily lives. We talked, too, about the nourishing power of the Blessed Sacrament for our spiritual wellbeing. As Jesus had said, “I am the Bread of Life.” Our final stop was in front of Our Blessed Lady’s Altar where we looked at a photo of a refugee family. No ‘Smile for the camera!’ here. This is a picture of sadness. Sadness because the family has been forced to leave their home. Sadness too, because there is an empty chair; a missing member of the family. One of the Year Five boys said that, “The empty chair might be for Jesus”!
Father Marcin then led us in prayer and we had a description of the origin and relevance of The Lampedusa Cross. Afterwards, the children wrote their personal messages of hope to a refugee on the dedicated message cards.
The children processed behind the Lampedusa Cross to the Altar where all the messages were placed, together with the other items used on the Pilgrimage, and offered in prayer to God and to the refugees.The children returned to school after a final blessing and singing of The Year of Mercy Chant; “Be Merciful, Be Merciful, as your Heavenly Father is Merciful. Misericordes sicut Pater, Misericordes sicut Pater”.
Many thanks to Patrick and Isobel for leading the pilgrimage and to Year 5 and 6 for participating in it so thoughtfully.