Read our lips: the messages from Justin Welby and Prince Charles to Donald Trump about refugees

Catherine Pepinster

Donald Trump doesn’t like them. Neither do plenty of people who voted for Brexit. But there’s one group which is particularly keen on refugees – Christians focused on better relations working together. Intriguingly, the people fleeing the divisions of war are helping to play a key role uniting Christians who were once dreadfully divided.

I’m talking about Catholic and Anglicans who have been marking 50 years of improved ecumenical relations. It was in 1966 that Pope Paul VI and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, met together in Rome and paved the way for better understanding between the two Christian denominations after hundreds of years of strife in Britain that started with Henry VIII’s break with Rome. That encounter led to regular contact between Popes and Archbishops, as well as the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome, dedicated to ecumenism.

On Thursday the latest of the celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of the Centre took place at Lambeth Palace in London, during which the current archbishop, Justin Welby, spoke of his visit to Pope Francis in October and their shared commitment to what they are calling “the ecumenism of action”. This includes a shared Christian resolve to work for the poor and for refugees.

The Lambeth Palace celebration took place the evening after US President Donald Trump had made plain what he thinks of migrants and refugees: on Wednesday he signed an executive order for a wall to be built between the US and Mexico. During his election campaign his proposed wall always garnered huge cheers from his supporters. And also on Wednesday, it emerged that Trump will crackdown further on arrivals in the US by suspending the Syrian refugee programme. Theresa May might not go as far as building walls but her elevation as Prime Minister owes much to the deep suspicion that many British people feel about migrants and even refugees.

At Lambeth Palace, though, the support from Christians was wholehearted for the plight of people making their way to this country from wartorn Syria. And their cause enjoyed a fillip from the presence of the Prince of Wales, who joined the crowd to mark 50 years of the Anglican Centre and heard Welby speak of the plight of refugees. The Prince’s concern about the benighted peoples of the Middle East, especially persecuted Christians, has been evident for some time. At Lambeth Palace he was given a cross made from the wood of a boat that had brought refugees across the Mediterranean to Lampedusa. And as he chatted to guests, his concern for people fleeing the Middle East was evident.

It’s much harder in Europe, of course, to keep out refugees and migrants than it might be in a US with a wall. Even the English Channel has proved no barrier. When we leave the EU, the 350 mile strip of water is likely to still be impossible to police. The Church of England and the Catholic Church have come together, united in their commitment to help those willing to risk everything to escape the horrors of the Middle East. Prince Charles, who has said he would like the title Defender of Faith when he becomes king rather than the usual Defender of the Faith, seems ready to stand in solidarity with both the Churches on this issue and particularly with persecuted Christians.

If Donald Trump makes a state visit to the UK, I for one would love to overhear any conversation he might have with Christian leaders and with the Prince of Wales. He won’t find walls on their agendas. The US ambassador might like to brief Trump via a copy of Prince Charles’s Thought for the Day on populism and intolerance.

In the words of Pope Francis, speaking a year ago on a trip to Mexico, politicians who propose building walls rather than bridges are not Christian.

Catherine Pepinster’s The Key and the Kingdom – the Brtish and the Papacy, will be published this autumn by Bloomsbury/T&T Clark


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