A former migrant and Muslim has won the Columban Young Journalists Competition (print) in Britain with her article ‘I was a stranger and you made me welcome’.
Sixteen-year-old Ahlaam Moledina of Bishop Challoner Catholic College in Birmingham paid tribute to the welcome and values provided in her Catholic education. When she and her siblings came to Britain in 2010 from the United Arab Emirates, ‘we took consolation in the kindness of our Catholic Primary School’. She reflected that ‘in the confusion of being young and uneducated and foreign, we were comforted by the repeated mantra of ‘migrants are our neighbours’ that seeped out of every RE lesson’.
Now in a Catholic secondary school, she quoted the words of Pope Francis that, “for us Christians, hospitality offered to the weary traveller is offered to Jesus Christ himself”. She described St Chad’s Sanctuary in Birmingham, which she experienced on a school visit, as ‘one of the most important places for migrants and asylum seekers in Birmingham and a place of community and comfort’.
Judge John Vidal of The Guardian described her piece as “a gripping personal story which successfully wove together religious and political awareness”. Judge Josephine Siedlecka of Independent Catholic News felt the writer’s description of her family and St Chad’s Sanctuary, “show an understanding of the issues that comes from life experience”. Judge Nick Benson of The Universe liked the conclusion to this article where the author described the current migrant crisis as a “crisis of connectivity” but pointed out that “we celebrate our differences and rejoice in our similarities”.
The second place print winner was Esther Watson (17) from Sandbach High School and Sixth Form College, Sandbach, Cheshire. Nick Benson of The Universe said, “all of us should take heed of Esther’s words and next time we fail to stand up and support the world’s most vulnerable, we should remember that we are all neighbours and children of migrants”. Third place had joint winners: Hilda Kagaba (16) from St Paul’s Catholic Secondary School, Milton Keynes and Eleanor Pape (16) of Holy Cross Catholic High School, Chorley, Lancashire. All were commended by the judges.
The winners of the video competition for Britain are also pupils of Bishop Challoner Catholic College in Birmingham. Francesca Bruno (18) and Mary Gurdin (17) filmed at St Chad’s Sanctuary. “The interviewees did well in reminding us of the terrible plight of refugees and asking us to compare our privileged lives in the UK with their lives of extreme and enforced hardship,” said judge Columban Fr Tom O’Reilly. He added that, “most of the visuals in the video reinforced the main message, especially the picture of the Holy Family with the caption, ‘We too were asylum seekers’.”
The competition ‘Migrants are our Neighbours’ has been part of the Centenary celebrations of the Columban Missionary Society and open to young people 15-18 years old. The subject matter recognised the Columbans’ long established solidarity with and ministry to migrants in Britain, Ireland and worldwide. Entries were received from around Britain and Ireland to two parallel competitions. The print winner in Ireland, Albina Haliti, is also a migrant and wrote about how her family had to flee Kosovo during the war and settled in Ireland.
The British entries were assembled and sifted for presentation to judges by a Columban team of James Trewby (Education), Ellen Teague (Media), Stephen Awre (Mission Office), Julia Corcoran (Advocacy) and Jack Edwards (Faith in Action Volunteer).
James Trewby said: “Young people are amazing. In the face of the many challenges of the world, the seemingly endless negativity, those that entered this competition present us with signs of hope, a belief that things can and should be better – that we can be better. Many thanks to all the students and schools for their hard work.”
Picture: Ahlaam Moledina.