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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Ministry in Tangier includes dealing with body-bags of parishioners

Fr Simon with one of his African migrant parishioners
Since the late 1990s a growing phenomenon in Morocco has been the arrival of vast numbers of sub-Saharan migrants and refugees. Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in Casablanca and Tangier have been faced with this challenge, and now a new partnership is emerging between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tangier and our historic Anglican Church of St Andrew in the city.

A meeting with some migrants in St Andrew's
Because of its proximity to Spain - just twelve miles across treacherous straits - and with a land borders close by to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, Tangier has become very much a magnet to thousands of young Sub-Saharan Africans seeking a better life.  With memories of civil wars, drought, poverty, persecution and the devastation caused by the Ebola Crisis fresh in their minds, these young people - many of them illiterate - make an extremely dangerous journey up the West Coast of Africa, or trekking across deserts into Morocco.  The majority have no papers, no form of documentation, very little money but they are all empowered by a great hope for a better life and the belief that they will be able to finance their families back home.  Many of them seem to have misread a world map and believe that the Straits of Gibraltar and the Tarifa crossing present no obstacle to reaching their goal - Europe!

Spain (left) and Morocco (right) - the 12 mile straits
As well as trying to swimming highly dangerous waters or climbing heavily guarded fences to Spanish territory, some are now leaving Morocco for points east to try to buy passage on the overcrowded, often deadly boats trying to cross the Mediterranean from countries like Libya. Many of of our African parishioners, on their perilous journey north to Morocco have been mistreated by authorities, exploited by smugglers, robbed and some raped - but their dream of the Promised Land of Europe proves to be irresistible. So the movement of peoples continues.

The Anglican Chaplain in St Andrew's Tangier, the Revd Canon Simon Stephens OBE, who has been in post for a year has quickly built links with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Tangiers and the diocesan offices of Caritas. Together they have been coordinating efforts and indeed even taking the funerals of those who have died in trying to make dangerous crossings. The collaboration is growing as are the needs. Fr Simon says, "As we consider the needs of these young people on the move, thought must also be given to the pastoral care of those working alongside them.  Both physically and emotionally many of them are living on the edge. And we would do well to remember that dealing with body-bags also takes its toll on the living, seeking to serve them!”

A supper meeting with (RC) Archbishop Santiago (3rd from rt) and some of his clergy
I have opened an exploration with Anglican mission agency USPG about this ecumenical collaboration, to see how we can work more closely together with our ecumenical partners.

African parishioners at St Andrew's

Berber market outside the Church on Sunday

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