A group of asylum seekers from the JRS centre in London were delighted to be offered a stay, free of charge, with the Canonesses of St Augustine in Boarbank Hall, Grange- over- Sands. It was decided that the most regular participants of the women's prayer group which I lead every Tuesday, and the men's group led by Fr Harry SJ, should be given the opportunity. Four women and three men took up the offer, as well as 4 staff/volunteers including myself, who accompanied them.
Our friends were really moved by the whole experience. I will let them speak for themselves (helped by interviews with Fr Harry before leaving, and a translator where necessary). I have changed the names.
John (W Africa): I didn't know what to expect but felt the need of a break. The welcome I received and the quiet surroundings immediately made me feel relaxed. I could meditate easily and reflect on my life. I could sleep better, I enjoyed one another's company here. I was touched by the personal attention to my welfare. Seeing hills was a novel experience for me as I had always been accustomed to flat surfaces. It was the first time I visited an English village and I was really impressed.
I was inspired by my visit to the nursing home - I was chatting to a blind lady, a nurse, who was forced into a prisoner of war camp. On my return, I want to do whatever I can to help others. Before leaving I put in a fresh claim for asylum but I have heard nothing. Now I feel prepared to accept whatever comes. When I return, I plan to put aside time each day for prayer.
Destiny (Ivory Coast): While praying before the Blessed Sacrament during Exposition, I was shocked to feel as if a baby was on my lap, and from him a voice which I took to be my grandson calling out, 'Grandma, Grandma'. I felt acutely the pain of separation from my grandson. I resolved to make another attempt to see him but to be forgiving if I was not successful. I felt joy in my heart and the pain there being eased. I gained a lot from sharing with others in the group.
Peter (Georgia): I usually have broken sleep, no more than three to four hours. Here I had an unbroken full night's sleep. I felt more relaxed mentally and physically. While on walks, I greatly appreciated the conversation and the fresh air. On my return, I resolve to increase my efforts to learn English, to take more exercise and to spend more time in meditation.
Ken (China): I am so grateful to God for the beauty I have seen over the past few days. It is like a glimpse of heaven and it has focused my mind on the things that are important in life. In our excursions, I was thrilled to be so near the lakes and the sea. I am grateful for the generosity of this community of sisters. For me their willingness to invite a stranger like myself is a sign of the resurrection. I loved sharing their joy of being in religious life and their strong faith in God.
Sherine (Congo): I enjoyed enormously the change from London. Having a bad leg, I am stuck at home without any certainty of staying in this country and am unable to fix a date for the operation the doctor sees as necessary. In the course of my prayer here, I found hope and a willingness to wait with patience. I really appreciated my own room here. I normally am expected to clean the house in which I am given a room. Here I had the peace and quiet that I love. I can return with courage and confidence.
Kathleen Diamond: For my part, I felt the privilege of accompanying these women and men from JRS and having time to relax with them and share on a more personal level. Their delight in what I often take for granted - the hills, sheep grazing in the fields, having a room and space of one's own, peace and quiet - was for them a precious gift. They were amazed and moved that some of the sisters who had met them only briefly, called each of them by name. What an important tribute to them, when in so much of their lives as asylum seekers each one feels they are a number.