The Bishop of Achonry, in whose diocese the parish of Ballaghaderreen, Co. Roscommon is preparing to receive at least 80 Syrian refugees, has insisted people of the town will be “welcoming” of the new arrivals.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic this week, and amid widespread media coverage of rows centred on the choosing of Ballaghaderreen’s Abbeyfield hotel to host the refugees without adequate consultation, Bishop Brendan Kelly said his own sense locally was that “the vast majority” are ready to greet the new arrivals, half of them children, and do what they can to assist them.
“People are extremely compassionate to the horrendous circumstances the refugees have gone through,” Bishop Kelly said, stressing that “we will serve them as best we can.”
Aware of people’s concerns at the lack of consultation from Government and similarly regarding pressures that might come to bear on schools and medical facilities, Bishop Kelly said, “I understand these anxieties. We rely on the support that must come to help with the refugees, and no doubt resources will come.” He added his belief that many of the concerns he had heard would become “secondary” once the refugees arrived because “people come first”.
“This is an opportunity for us as a Catholic community and Christian people to display what we believe about every human being, beloved of God,” he said, recalling that the announcement of the plan for Ballaghaderreen had come as he and his priests were delivering homilies for the celebration “of the visit of the Magi, the culmination of the journey of the visitors from the East. That contextualised everything for people from a Church perspective”.
In his own homily for January 8, Bishop Kelly told the congregation at the Cathedral of The Annunciation and St Nathy, Ballaghderreen: “Just as Jesus identified with the most impoverished and rejected people in being born in a shed, and with the condemned and criminals in dying on the cross, so he identifies with all refugees, and all endangered, innocent and helpless people. It is our faith that Jesus comes to us in them. And so must we reach out to help in whatever way we can…It’s a big challenge, but we are up for it, please God.”
Recalling this week that “we all have relatives who relied on the kindness of countries where they have gone, and even with that support, there was suffering and grief”, Bishop Kelly pointed out, “the refugees have suffered this and more”.
“We will do whatever we can in a parish context. We will do our best,” he reiterated.