by Dr. Mary Coffey AMMM Ireland 14.04.2022
Editor’s Note: This blog was chosen for this day, the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper, to remind us that sharing a meal is one of the greatest gifts God has given us.
Mission is a story about which I cannot keep silent. I was on the Meath Diocesan Mission team for the Extraordinary Year of Mission in 2019. There was some debate as to whether we were speaking of Mission abroad or Mission at home. The Mission of the Church is one and, if we must make the distinction, it is my contention that Mission abroad has come to our shores in the person of the refugee. This has been my great passion since 2017, welcoming and caring for refugees, Syrians initially, but more recently Afghans and more recently still meeting Ukranians in the course of my work.
Community Sponsorship is a relatively new model of refugee resettlement in Ireland. In 2019, I called on friends and the wider community to join me in setting up a Community Sponsorship Group in Kells, Co Meath where I live. That year we welcomed a Syrian family, Fedaa and Ahmed and their three beautiful children Maysa, Kays, and Tasnim. We prepared a home for them and pledged support and friendship, and to be their Irish family. The children have grown in confidence and contentment and Ahmed likewise, especially since he found work. Fedaa, however, has been sorely grieved by the separation from her family and she worries about the grim conditions in which they live as refugees in Lebanon.
We are the first group in Ireland to seek to welcome a second family, all because we dearly wished to welcome Fedaa’s parents and her three teenaged siblings. There have been obstacles along the way but after over a year of advocacy a visa waiver was granted in Dec 2021 by the Department of Integration. We expected that finding a house would be a daunting task and we couldn’t believe our luck when one came our way in mid-January of this year. On the morning of this breakfast, Brendan, who is the vice chair of our group, and I were going to meet the landlord and to view the house but I wished to go to Mass first. However, Mass was not to be, because there was another very sacred gathering about to happen around my kitchen table.
In September my path had crossed that of a lady called Andrea Martin from Dublin who was the energy and the vision behind bringing twenty young Afghan women to Ireland. They had taken part in a programme called Ascend Afghanistan, which seeks to empower young women through mountaineering. I discovered later that Andrea Martin was a relative of our Mother Mary Martin. The missionary spirit continues! A young man called Shafaq, a human rights lawyer from Afghanistan, also crossed paths with Andrea and she asked me if I would consider giving him a home. I said ” yes” and nine days later Andrea brought Shafaq from Dublin Airport to his new home in Kells.
Shafaq is a great cook and we have shared many lovely meals. On the morning of this breakfast he was at the helm and his decision to make Afghan omelettes put all thought of Mass out of my head. I knew where I needed to be, and I later asked Sr Rade: “where would Mother Mary have wished me to be, at Mass or sharing breakfast with Shafaq?”. Breakfast of course!!
Some days before that sacred breakfast I had a phone call from my friend Cecilia Massawe who had been my next- door neighbour in Makiungu, Tanzania, when I worked there as a lay missionary. Cecilia has worked in a Dublin hospital for the last 20 years. She said that she and Sr Radegunda Shayo MMM were going to go for a bit of a spin on Saturday and they might drop by my house. But I was not expecting them for breakfast! I was just tucking into my omelette when there was a bang on the door and there were the two ladies. Thankfully, we had lots of eggs, and two more delicious Afghan omelettes were produced. I knew by the look of Sr Rade that she had far too much on her plate!
Another knock on the door. It was Ahmed, father of the Syrian family, returning my car which he uses quite a lot. He was more than happy to sit in for breakfast. He and Shafaq are good friends and he also knew Cecilia, but not Rade. I, unceremoniously, removed half of Rade’s omelette and gave it to Ahmed!
Finally, Brendan arrived, as planned, to bring me to see the house for the new family. He sat in, the camaraderie continued and there was more than enough omelette left on Cecilia’s plate to share with him!
I think the magic of that breakfast was that it was completely unplanned and Covid has so stifled all such spontaneity for the last two years. Also, the diversity of nations – Afghan, Irish, Tanzanian and Syrian, and of faiths – Christianity, Islam and a rich vein of Buddhism. It reminded me of the dining table in the MMM convent in Makiungu, Tanzania, where there was such a diverse community and such a warm welcome for so many visitors.
I have travelled a lot, and, of course, Covid has clipped my wings recently, but with Shafaq sitting across the kitchen table from me, and often my Syrian friends also, I can’t see the need to leave my own kitchen. It’s where I get to meet the beauty of strangers becoming friends, with their gentle, gracious ways, their pride in their rich cultural identity and, above all, their stories, stories that are often of great pain and loss.
Hospitality is a Core Value for MMM. It is a gift that has been given to me and I do not expect any special recognition, or only in so far as I love getting out there and networking in order to learn more and to give encouragement to others. And I can so confidently re-echo for people the little, still, small voice that I heard say, way back in 2017, when I embarked on this journey: “If you but knew the Gift that God is offering …………………” I wish that now also for those who are preparing to welcome Ukranian refugees into their communities and into their homes. And for the refugees that table fellowship will be a place of healing.