BY Ryan McDougall | January 18 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

6-MUNGO

St Mungo Festival celebrates saint ‘exiled for helping the poor’

Christians should fight damaging myths about refugees and migrants, an ecumenical service heard this weekend at an event to mark the feast of St Mungo.

The comments came in an address from Duncan MacLaren, a Catholic Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory, who spoke at the Church of Scotland’s Glasgow Cathedral during the St Mungo Festival on January 13.

Christians of all denominations took part in the festival and learned much about the saint’s own struggle of persecution in parallel with the oppression faced by refugees and migrants today.

Mr MacLaren was joined by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia and Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti of Glasgow among other religious leaders in the city.

Mr MacLaren was SCIAF’s first executive director, later the general secretariat of Caritas Internationalis as head of international relations in the Vatican, then secretary general of the Caritas Confederation and a visiting professor of the Australian Catholic University in Sydney. He is published in development and refugee studies.

Exiled

At Glasgow Cathedral, he was speaking on behalf of Glasgow Churches Together, an ecumenical organisation comprised of several Christian denominations in the city.

He told attendees of how St Mungo was exiled for the good he did for the poor, before settling in Glasgow, noting similarities to many refugees today.

“In our own day,” he said, “there are many myths surrounding the exiles we call refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.

“People who have to leave their homelands not because they have been the butt of youthful bullying but because they have been persecuted, often to the point of death threats, over their ethnicity, race religion or some other difference.

“When they cross an international border for these reasons, they are covered by the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, signed by the UK and most countries in the world, and their safety should be guaranteed.

“There will also be some people who leave because they want a better life for themselves and their families, trying to escape a poverty which dehumanises them and eats away at their self esteem, grinding down their God-given dignity.”

Racism

He spoke of how ‘we should be aware of these myths surrounding refugees, migrants and asylum seekers’ that are spread by ‘xenophobic and racist social media,’ and that the best way to counteract this is through fact and ‘the ethics of our Christian faith.’

After stating that nobody is an ‘illegal person,’ he added: “What is illegal is to dismiss those seeking asylum without hearing their cases.”

Mr Maclaren works with many refugees from Myanmar (Burma) who live in camps, and teaches at the Australian Catholic University about giving young refugees who have fled oppression in Myanmar a chance to have an education.

He said: “They are some of the most extraordinary people I have ever met.”

Marathon pilgrimage

Also present at the ecumenical event was Mark Calder, Scotland and North England manager for charity Embrace the Middle East, who is running 1,725 miles for Christians in the Iraq who face persecution for their beliefs.

As Mr Calder arrived at the cathedral, he had just ran 45 miles from Dunfermline to Glasgow via St Mungo’s pilgrimage. He is set to run a total of 14 pilgrimage routes on or as close to the respective saint’s feast day.

Following the service at the cathedral, he commented on how St Mungo was often ridiculed by King Morken for his poverty and how St Mungo responded, saying the poor are ‘like the trunk of an elm tree, the rich merely vines that cling to it.’

Reflecting on this, he added: “To me, as I think about Iraq, this is an important thought. Middle Eastern Christians are right at the centre of the story of the Church today, not some distant periphery.

“They are struggling against incredible odds and spreading incredible light as a result. We get to play a part in their story, to be led by them and inspired by them to spread the same true light.”

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