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Many of us feel that the plight of millions of refugees coping with war, criminals and indifferent states seems so far removed from our shores. Sadly, a growing number of potent and tragic symbols in Greece, Italy and Turkey on our television screens can make us feel inadequate and helpless.

A Sicilian carpenter, Francesco Tuccio, made some remarkable symbols, rough crosses from the wreckage of a boat carrying refugees that sank off the island of Lampedusa. The crosses were offered to survivors as symbols of their rescue and a sign of hope.

On September 1 a Lampedusa Cross was welcomed into our cathedral. We came to pray in solidarity with the 60m people in our world who have been forced from their homes by war and persecution. We were able to go home after the Mass – they may never see their homes again.

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I had the privilege of carrying the Lampedusa Cross from the Door of Mercy to the altar, where it was placed for all to see. Carrying this simple cross, bearing the carpenter’s signature of on the back, led to an instinctive reaction to hold it high when, with the rest of the Caritas Core Group, we walked to the altar. This indeed was rare treasure, knowing the reasons that led to its construction. We know, also, that it has become a worldwide symbol of both faith and hope.

The North East, Yorkshire and Humberside have made refugees particularly welcome. We only have to count the wide range of services and sources of support concentrated within the geography of the diocese. We need more than this. We need to actively demonstrate our common beliefs and support everyone through prayer and service.

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Pope Francis has said: “We ourselves need to see, and then enable others to see, that migrants and refugees…are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.”

We often act as a community of care, and this can, to some extent, compensate for mistrust, indifference and inadequate support by those with more authority and means than our faith communities. But then, on whose authority do we act, safe in the knowledge that God has already claimed our actions?

The cross and suffering lies at the centre of our story, and never more so than at the cathedral for this celebration. It will be a special experience, charting the progress of the Lampedusa Cross across our diocese. Lampedusa will, for many of us, become close in our prayers and thoughts.

The story of another carpenter has indeed echoed across the world. We can learn to act for the Common Good, as well as show our solidarity through the Lampedusa Cross. Distance and obstacles are removed and no longer does anything seem or remain “hard to reach.”

John Hinman on behalf of the Caritas Core Member Group, Diocese of Middlesbrough

  • Any schools or parishes who want to borrow the cross during September should contact Monsignor Gerard Robinson at the cathedral on 01642 597750. During October contact Father Richard Duffield at St Wilfrid’s, York, on 01904 671767. During November contact Canon Eddie Gubbins at St Peter’s, Scarborough, on 01723 360358. In December contact Father Paul Dowling at St Charles, Hull, on 01482 329100.