Archbishop of Canterbury calls for compassion for Channel migrants

Archbishop of Canterbury calls for compassion for Channel migrants thumbnail

By Harry Farley

BBC News

Image source, Canterbury Cathedral

The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for compassion for migrants crossing the Channel in his Christmas sermon.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby praised the “extraordinary” RNLI and Border Force crews who rescue refugees attempting to reach the UK’s shores.

In his sermon, he said: “They do one thing, save life at sea. It’s not politics, it’s simply humanity.”

The archbishop added: “The Christmas story shows us how we must treat those who are unlike us.”

His comments come a month after 27 people drowned trying to reach the UK from France.

It comes as UK Border Force said it had brought 67 people into Kent who were attempting to cross the English Channel on Christmas Day, following an incident involving two small boats.

The archbishop also paid tribute to those volunteering at food banks and “other places of comfort and help” over the festive period which “show this country at its best” and embody the saying, “it’s not about me”.

And Mr Welby said the pandemic experience had forced people to confront their “fragility” as never before

He added that everyone from cabinet ministers to ordinary members of the public “all face uncertainty, uncontrollability and unpredictability”.

Meanwhile, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales has urged the government not to bring back restrictions on churches to combat Covid.

In a BBC interview, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols said people can “make good judgements themselves” and understand the risk.

“We don’t need stronger impositions to teach us what to do,” he said.

The archbishop was speaking before Midnight Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

In his homily at a packed service in the cathedral he said the pandemic was a time of “great vulnerability”.

He urged the congregation not to respond by “putting up barriers” or by trying to make sure that they, or those close to them, or other citizens of wealthy countries “come first, whatever the cost”.

“The vulnerability of the Christ-child challenges such thinking,” he said.

Asked about his message to the government about the possibility of further Covid restrictions, Cardinal Nichols told the BBC: “I would sincerely appeal that they do not again consider closing churches and places of worship.”

He said he believed it had been demonstrated that large, airy spaces such as churches were “not places where we spread the virus”.

“I think this country has shown that people can make good judgements themselves. We’re at that point of saying we understand the risk. We know what we should do. Most people are sensible and cautious. We don’t need stronger impositions to teach us what to do,” the archbishop said.

‘Selfless love’

His plea comes as the UK reported a new record of 122,186 infections on Christmas Eve, although the head of the UK Health Security Agency said data suggesting the Omicron variant may be less likely to cause serious illness offered “a glimmer of Christmas hope”.

Masks are compulsory inside churches this Christmas and many churches are live-streaming services for those isolating or unable to attend in person.

Pope Francis has also delivered his Christmas message and blessing from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, calling for more solidarity with those living in poverty and urging people to value the “little things in life”.

Meanwhile in his Christmas message, the Archbishop of Wales has thanked NHS and other front-line workers for showing “selfless love” in working through the pandemic.

Additional reporting by Adam Durbin.

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