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London, The Assumption at St Mary’s University, Twickenham


“Our passion for education becomes the more urgent and acute today because too many individuals and peoples are suffering and that is intolerable for us. The world situation presents profound contrasts compared to this project of love of God for his people. And we want to act to transform this situation which is so painful. God has the right for his project to be respected.” (Doc. Pre-capitulaire Transformative Education in the Assumption 2006)

We were invited to come and be `a praying presence’ and toenhance the Catholic ethos of the University. The invitation came from Francis Campbell, a layman, previously UK ambassador to the Vatican and recently vice chancellor at St Mary’s. He had accepted the challenge of re envigorating an inclusive and open Catholic ethos at St Mary’s. This idea was supported by the Cardinal who was keen to have a truly Catholic university. The province had decided to go there even if it meant closing an existing community. The new community would be alongside young people with possibilities for study, building up the ethos and exploring any other openings that might present themselves.
We arrived over a year ago and received a wonderful welcome. We became` chaplaincy volunteers’ and officially part of the staff. But the chaplaincy consisted of a new priest, a laywoman on a short term contract and a part time administrator. The new chaplain was also running a parish. It would take time for things to emerge. The first term was a lot about getting ourselves settled in our new home, getting to know people, making links and finding our way around and creating the garden from scratch. Our focus is the university but inevitably we are also making links with neighbours and neighbouring parishes. Carolyn already had work with the London universities chaplaincy as social outreach organiser which puts her in contact with students in all the London universities, it is based at Newman House. We began to find our feet in the Lent term offering sessions on prayer, doing different Ways of the Cross, Cafod soup lunch as well as the regular evening prayer in the university chapel twice a week, and student suppers after Sunday mass. In the meantime Cathy has started on her doctorate studies and Carolyn is working towards doing something similar. Jessica has recently made useful contact with the new environmental director in St Mary’s.
Soon after we arrived, St Mary’s inaugurated a Centre for the Study of Modern Slavery. We went to the conference which lasted several days.

Shedding Light on Modern Slavery - Our contribution

It is estimated there are at least 13,000 people in the UK in modern slavery, out of these one in four are children. The exploitation takes many forms, sexual, criminal, labour and domestic servitude, these are the most common.
They may be working in factories, construction, agriculture, car washes and nail bars etc. ; they may not be wearing chains but with passports taken from them and fear of the immigration authorities, with threats to life and family, they will be securely tied within. Human trafficking is a market driven criminal industry, it is huge, second largest after the arms trade, and it is growing. Migrations of people fleeing war, famine and dire poverty make recruiting very easy.
These are `wounds in the body of humanity’ (Pope Francis). Many people are unaware that this modern slavery exists, perhaps next door. St Mary’s Twickenham has just instituted a Centre for the study of Modern Slavery. Cardinal Vincent Nichols came to the inauguration, he said Mass on the feast of Josephine Bakhita here at St Mary’s.
This was followed by a very full two-day conference with speakers from all perspectives. We heard about the gaps in the data, the impunity for slavers, the need for companies to know employment practices in their supply chains, the problem of identifying victims, the lack of investment and training at the local level, pressures and lack of personel in the Border Force and the Gangmasters Licencing Authority (GLA) which will be playing a larger part in the future, the need for advocacy and legal assistance. A large part of the problem is that issues of slavery and trafficking come under the auspices of` immigration’ whereas really it should be an issue of `human rights’.
We heard of the need for more support and safe houses for the victims of slavery and trafficking. Bakhita House is doing this but so much more is needed. A young person will arrive at the UK border, he says he is going to stay with his cousin in Birmingham, but he does not have a mobile, nor a contact number. These are signs that he may have been trafficked : he may be warned of the dangers of slavery and exploitation : he may not see himself as a victim as he will have been promised the earth by the traffickers who have `befriended’ him : he may be referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) which is supposed to identify indictors of trafficking, but even if trafficked he will not necessarily get `leave to remain’ ; he may prefer the risk.
We were told that the NRM was in need of reform and was not fit for purpose... there is work to be done. There needs to be more work on supply chains, better resourcing for social workers, the Border force and the GLA, more public awareness and policy based on evidence. This is where St Mary’s comes in the Centre aims to` advance human dignity with evidence based study of modern slavery’ as well as research and facilitating collaboration. The Conference was a wonderful start. The final speaker was Gary Craig from the Wilberforce Institute who has been working on modern slavery for the last 12 years. He finished by telling us of the specially created Modern Slavery Garden that took prizes at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
In the garden was a newly bred rose, the Modern Slavery Rose, he encouraged us to get it. We did. We decided to get one for St Mary’s too. We had a little liturgy as we planted our rose. `The Lord hears the cry of the poor…. Every spirit crushed He will save. `I have heard the groaning of the House of Israel, enslaved by the Egyptians’…` I will deliver you…’ O Lord hear my prayer… The rose was liberally sprinkled with holy water and everyone helped to surround the plant with soil and firm it in. Sr Josephine Bakhita, pray for us.

Sisters Christine, Carolyn, Cathy and Jessica
Twickenham Community
English Province


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