Speaking as he prepares to leave office at the start of the all-Ireland denomination’s General Assembly, which opens tomorrow evening, Dr Kirkpatrick said “Last autumn I was privileged to see the work of sister churches in Hungary, and Transcarpathia in Western Ukraine who looked after, helped, and supported nearly 200,000 people as they passed through the region into Hungary having fled the war in the east of the Ukraine.
“While we may not be on the frontline, people have fled to Ireland north and south to make their home, leaving friends and family behind for all kinds of reasons. We have to dig deep into our souls to welcome the stranger, showing grace and love to those who have escaped circumstances we’d truly have difficulty imagining. Yet we still need to put ourselves in their shoes and that involves sacrifice, and many across this island, individuals, churches and other organisations are doing just that, and I pay tribute to them.”
Dr Kirkpatrick concluded by saying, “But what should our response be? However we can, we need to show the grace of God that is open and non-judgemental, treating people with dignity, just as Jesus did, as we fulfil His gospel mandate to love our neighbour.”
The Moderator pointed out how PCI’s congregation in Tullamore in County Offaly were the first in the denomination to receive a ‘Church of Sanctuary Award’ for providing welcome and hospitality to refuges and asylum seekers. How congregations have started parent and toddler groups for Ukrainian families being accommodated locally, and the support given over many years to refugees and asylum seekers through the Church’s International Meeting Point in South Belfast and more recently in the north of the city. He also said that later on this year the Church will hold ‘Welcoming the Stranger’, an event in Drogheda that seeks to share learning and the experience gained from different congregations with regards to supporting refugees.
Photo: Dr Kirkpatrick on one of the ‘exodus’ roads in Transcarpathia in western Ukraine last October. The road was one of the main routes that brought hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced People from eastern, central and southern Ukraine to the province.