Taking “On The Way” from the Gospel story of the disciples on their way to Emmaus as their theme, a group of young people from Portugal, Italy, Poland and England took part in the first edition of the Summer Camp organised by the Comboni Missionaries of the London Province.
The young people were offered hospitality at the parish of Roehampton, in the southern part of London and recently entrusted to the Comboni Missionaries.
Welcoming the group, the Parish Priest Father Tesfamichael Negusse, pointed out that the parish is composed by a majority of first and second generation immigrants from Asia, including the Philippines and India, Africa, including Nigeria, Gambia, DR. Congo, Jamaica in the West Indies and South America, including Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The young people experienced ten days, from the 31st July to the 9th August, filled with work, meetings, reflections and prayer.
The large city of London was chosen as the venue for the Summer Camp for its cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic environment. It is a city that presents challenges to which it demands a concrete response, especially regarding the situation of poverty and marginalisation. The group examined three aspects of this reality.
Victoria railway station, in the centre of London, has the largest group of homeless people in Europe. In response to this challenge, the Catholic Church, urged on by the then Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume, in 1980 opened an area called The Passage where the homeless are provided with food, clothing and bathing facilities. They may also avail of the possibility of finding work and a fixed abode.
Some of the Summer Camp participants assisted in preparing and serving meals, listened to the homeless as they told their personal stories and spoke of their hopes and disappointments common to all the homeless who daily come in numbers to The Passage.
Again on the theme of homelessness, a second group visited the Missionaries of Charity Sisters of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, Kilburn e St. George. There, too, the young people were confronted with the many personal stories. The Summer Camp participants were struck by the great patience and devotion of the Sisters as they cared for the least and most abandoned of society.
Some girls attending the Summer Camp visited Bakhita House, an organisation of the Archdiocese of Westminster, where women rescued from human trafficking are housed. The initiative is part of a project called Bakhita, intended to be the response of the Church against human trafficking in England and Wales.
The first task is to listen, without asking questions, to those women who have risked their lives to escape and live in constant fear. The most important way to help them is simply “to be there for them”, just helping in the kitchen or playing cards with them.
The girls attending the Summer Camp found that the strong point of their experience was that those women, each one of whom carries the wounds of years of violence and suffering, now feel they are accepted and befriended without being judged.
During the Summer Camp, the young people were helped to understand a number of concrete situations. The Provincial Superior of the Comboni Missionaries, Father Martin Devenish, opened the Summer Camp by giving a broad panorama of the presence of the Comboni Missionaries in Britain and Ireland and spoke of the significant role of the minority (7%) Catholic Church in society in these islands.
Father Jim Mckinney, a local Anglican priest, introduced the young people to Anglican Church in England and in the area of Roehampton, considered one of the poorest of the city. The head of caritas in the Westminster Diocese, John Coley, helped the young participants to acquire a broader understanding of the work of the Church among the poorest.
Father Louis Koeuvi, a Comboni, has worked with refugees since 2013, working in the two detention centres of Colnbrook and Harmondsworth. Fr. Louis noted that 90% of those detained are between 19 and 40 years of age. They are mostly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Those detained have no guarantee that they will soon be released or receive a residence permit.
Comboni priest Fr. John Clark spoke of his work with Justice and Peace groups. Since Roehampton is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural parish, it was natural that a meeting with the local community be arranged. Simply by meeting the community and chatting with them, the young people experienced both fraternity and communion.
Those ten days were also days of sharing. In evaluating the Summer Camp, it was said how some came with certain expectations but found others. All agreed that the Summer Camp should continue.
During the concluding Eucharistic celebration, Father Ruben Rocha, co-ordinator of the Summer Camp, presented each participant with a lighted candle saying: “Take with you the Light of Christ”.
The Summer Camp is part of a “Come and See” project of the London Province in a parish community that is open to receiving young people who wish to take part in an experience of sharing with the Comboni Missionaries.