On Wednesday 8th June 2022, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Nuncio Apostolico to UK, came to visit Napier Barracks in Kent to present a Papal Blessing from Pope Francis to the residents of Napier Barracks.
The Nuncio had previously visited the barracks in March 2022 with Bishop Paul McAleen, who is the Bishop responsible for Refugees at the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. At that time he went on to St Paul's church in Dover, to meet with the different local refugee organisations.
Following his visit, Archbishop Claudio wrote to the Holy Father to give a report, and two days later received a framed blessing from the Holy Father for the residents of Napier Barracks, which also displayed Pope Francis' photograph and his signature. On his subsequent trip to Napier Barracks, Archbishop Claudio dedicated the Papal Blessing in the room designated for worship in the camp.
Then he toured the social facilities that have been renovated to make it more pleasant for the refugees to meet with the various voluntary organisations, who come regularly to help with teaching them English, drawing, painting, and other social activities, including games and sport. After the unveiling and presentation of the Papal Blessing, the Nuncio was joined by the refugees as they all sat down to a generous lunch in the canteen.
The refugees come from various countries and their number includes people from Afghanistan, Iran, Kurdistan, Iraq, Syria, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, North Africa, all from different religions and cultural backgrounds. They find themselves isolated and far away from their families and their loved ones, so they take comfort in the camaraderie of their colleagues in the camp, who all suffer from the same sense of remoteness and home-sickness.
It takes a lot of courage and a degree of desperation to leave one's home country and travel a long way, full of danger and insecurity, across different countries to seek asylum in a place of refuge and safety. Those running Napier Barracks in Folkestone try to offer the best they can to provide the refugee with a secure and safe environment.
The Jesuit Refugee Service provides the refugees with the help they need to find a solicitor who will take up their case with the Home Office, to regularise their papers seeking asylum and residence in the country. The refugees all aspire to a secure place to find work and lodging.
In the barracks, they are free to come and go as they please; so they can leave to go into town or to the seaside, or walk down the hill to St Paul's church hall, where they always find a warm reception from the volunteers, with tea and coffee and food and cake, as well as games like chess and dominoes.
We thank the Holy Father for this special blessing and the Nuncio for conveying this unique gift to those who are far from their physical home, yet always at home and welcome in the Church.
Deacon Dr Gehad Homsey, Folkestone Parish