Archive for Migration

98,400 : 1




The cold at night was as intense as the heat during the day. They travelled when they could, hoping they were headed in the right direction. Eventually another group of traffickers arrived and began to negotiate with them. Abraham was taken to one side and a gun was put to his head. The traffickers planned to use him as an example and were ready to kill him. If the other people in the group did not pay money to the traffickers, he would die. His friend volunteered to pay so they took his money and then shot him,

This article was published in January’s Messenger            98,400:1 Part 1

and this one is a follow up article in February’s edition   98,400:1 Part 2


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RTE’s A Living Word, Friday, the 20th January, 2017. ‘The Ultimate Migration’

 ‘The Ultimate Migration’

To listen to Alan’s reflection click here.


St Catherine of Sienna was known for her bluntness. Once she said,

We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that this world is rotten because of silence.

The power-brokers of our world want us to be silent about migration and migrants. They don’t want any more photographs of children dying on beaches; they don’t want newsreel of people dead in trucks or containers. The slick operations now sinks migrant boats and takes people to camps where the local community remains unaware of the conditions of those who live there. And from those camps the complexity of the situation grows as the odour of illegality surrounds the surreptitious placing of people in country towns and villages.

In this year’s letter for World Day for Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis refuses to be silent and he consistently refers to the plight of all migrants and in particular this year to the plight of those who are young and unaccompanied;

 The condition of child migrants is worsened when their status is not regularized or when they are recruited by criminal organizations. In such cases they are usually sent to detention centres. It is not unusual for them to be arrested, and because they have no money to pay the fine or for the return journey, they can be incarcerated for long periods, exposed to various kinds of abuse and violence.

Pope Francis has chosen to keep the plight of migrants to the fore despite the inertia of many of his followers. Why? Well one reason I suppose is that his life is a celebration of the greatest migrations of all time which is that of the Son of God who entered directly into our human condition so that he can bring us all to the Father of love…about this wonderful mystery which is the ultimate and most cherished migration… there is little room for silence.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 20th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s A Living Word, Thursday, the 19th January, 2017. ‘Kindness’


To listen, click here  -Thursday Alan Hilliard

red-facesWe were standing at the edge of St. Peter’s Square in Rome just beside one of the homeless shelters run by the Missionaries of Charity. It was that time of the evening when those who were to spend the night in the shelter were gathering prior to its opening. Many of the accents were not Italian. They were mostly migrants. Their accents betraying origins in places such as Eastern Europe, Africa even parts of former Russia.

Unbeknownst to her one of the straps of a friends hand bag had slipped off her shoulder revealing her purse, passport and a few other items of value. One of those queuing to get into the shelter noticed what I also had noticed and he moved towards my friend. And yes you guessed right – he tapped her on the shoulder and said in his broken eastern European accent, ‘miss your bag is open and some-one could take something please close it’. He refused any reward and re-joined the queue.

On the 19th of April last year Pope Francis tweeted that ‘Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such’.

Where some have suggested that we find only evil and terror I fortunately, have mostly found goodness, humanity and forgiveness. The Christian vision for our world today rests not in labels or categories or even in theories or great homilies but in our mutual respect for one another as brothers and sisters who share a common home, a mutual respect that I saw so beautifully expressed  in the kindness of a homeless migrant in St. Peters Square in Rome. His simple actions opened my eyes to the true heart of the Church in the midst of its great columns and piazzas.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 19th Jan 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s A Living Word, Wednesday, 18th January, 2017. ‘Tying the Knot’

‘Tying the Knot’

To listen click here – Wednesday, Alan Hilliard


‘Ah sure they’ve tied the knot’.  This is a phrase often associated with marriage in Ireland. However it has other origins. In parts of rural Ireland in the midst of a conversation someone might say…’I haven’t seen Micheál or Nora for a while’. The reply might be, ‘ah sure, they’ve tied the knot’. The expression referred to the silent emigration of the poorer members of the community from their home. To ‘tie the knot’ referred to the last act a person carried out before they left their dwelling. A person in the better off part of town might have had a suitcase into which they packed their belongings. In a poorer home a few pieces of clothing and a few small items of memorabilia were wound round one another and tied together with a piece of string. The knot was then tied on the all that the migrants owned and possessed.

The photographs and film clips of those arriving on the shores of the Southern Mediterranean show that even if they had a piece of string there’d be little to wrap up. I know one man who was returned from the UK to Rome under the Dublin Convention (Ironically enough) with nothing only the pyjamas that he wore.

I’ve been fortunate to meet many migrants whose wealth cannot be tied into tidy parcels because their wealth lies within them. Having lost everything, they see their world differently and they live with a profound sense of God’s providence. Like Abraham, Moses and many, many, others in scripture, their uncluttered lives reveal a passion for life that possesses every limb and sinew of their being.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 18th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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RTE’s, A Living Word, Tuesday, 17th January, 2017 ‘Ships of Hope’

‘Ships of Hope’

To listen, click here – Tuesday Alan Hilliard


In his book Self-Portrait, John B. Keane talks about emigration. He tells of his journey across the Irish Sea and he puts into words what he observed happening all about him on the boat:

Underneath it all was the heart-breaking frightful anguish of separation. It would be a waste of time for me to launch into a description of what went on. A person had to be part of it to feel it.

A person had to be part of it to feel it. It is so easy to separate ourselves from the plight of those who are people before they are refugees, asylum seekers or migrants. Today many travel in boats that are laden with their fellow human beings, clinging to one another in sometimes silent and more times chaotic desperation.

Is there much difference, other than time, between the words of our own John B. Keane that we have just heard and those of the Somali poet Warsan Shire:


you have to understand

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

I think that those who make a migratory journey, whether that journey is from West Kerry to Camden or from Aleppo to Ballaghadreen, that they hope for one thing. They live with the hope that what they gain in moving to a new place will outweigh what they lose in leaving the place formerly known as home. This may be difficult for us to grasp, especially if we’ve never wanted for anything but as John B. says, ‘a person had to be part of it to feel it’.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 21st January, 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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A Living Word, Monday,16th January, 2017 ‘The Cittle’

‘The Cittle’

To listen, click here – Monday Alan Hilliard


She spoke with the best Queen’s English when she described her work with elderly Irish Emigrants in the Heuston Station area of London. Years spent in religious life and service to the community had given this sister an instinct that saw in these elderly Irish gents the need of for understanding, care and practical aid. She gave out bed-clothing, warm clothes, radios and whatever else brought a modicum of ease to their lives. She also knew their need to tell stories about home and their journey.

‘You came from the west of Ireland’ she recalled asking one elderly gentleman, ‘I did sister and I came with the cittle’. ‘Oh…so you like making your own tea!’ ‘Ah sister…no…you took me up wrong…the cittle was in the bottom of the boat and we were on the top!’

In the midst of their misunderstanding he was absolutely right. It wasn’t an emigrant ship that travelled from Dublin to Holyhead…it was a cattle ship. Emigrants were a secondary consideration. The ‘live’ cattle were loaded and the people followed.

This week we mark the week for Migrants and Refugees. It is an initiative of the Catholic Church and it is a worldwide program of awareness of behalf of those who journey in hope. This year Pope Francis asks us to pay attention to the plight of all migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers and in particular to the plight of ‘unaccompanied minors’.

I don’t know who you bring to mind when you think of young people who travel alone to new locations. My mind and heart think of my uncle, who despaired at the lack of opportunity in Ireland in the mid 1950’s. Five           years previously he witnessed the death of his mother in a hospital bed. Like many others he followed the cattle to Dublin Port and walked up the gangway towards a new future. He had just turned fifteen years of age.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, 16th January 2017.

Artwork by Francesco Piobbicho of the organisation ‘Mediterranean Hope’.

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A Reflection: The Silences, Refusals and Flights. Christmas 2016.

Christmas Carol Service


St. Laurence’s Grangegorman


The DIT Chamber Choir

Wednesday the 7th of December, 2016



Reflection: The Silences, Refusals and Flights by Fr Alan Hilliard.

The family we ponder today in our songs and stories, be they of deeply religious significance to us, or just characters in a story, they can most certainly be characterised as migrants, refugees and displaced people. I was reading a book recently entitled Crisis and Migration[1]. The book was a collection of papers given at a conference in Malmo in Sweden on the Implications of the Eurozone Crisis for Perceptions, Politics and Policies of Migration. One line stood out in the book for me. This line suggested that researchers of forced migrations ought ‘to seize the silences, the refusals and the flight as something active’. If this is to be the case then the stores of this Middle Eastern family of two thousand years ago is indeed a very active story. We often resign it to nostalgia and tinsel but it is a seed-bed of activity not just for the past but for the present. Let us examine this story in terms of silence, refusal and flight.


The Silences; this family were on their way to their home place to register in a census that was undertaken by the Roman Empire. This was not an unusual act by Rome as the authorities needed to enumerate the resources in their new found territories. Naming was part of the owning and controlling. The graveyard in Lampedusa contains many graves that bear only numbers. Those laid in them have a name but they are unknown. Their name is silence as is the name of many others who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean these last few years. This silence is active unless we choose it not to be. Not knowing a name, not seeing a face makes our lives more comfortable. Our policies of securitisation are silencing the reality of those who drown. The less faces we see, the less names we know the more we are likely to be awakened to this tragedy.



The Refusals. Yes there was no room at the inn we are told. They knocked, she was heavily pregnant but no one offered space. Let me read you a report that was read into the record of the Council of Europe by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced People in 2012;

‘Within a few hours of the first distress signal, a military helicopter hovered over the boat and provided water and biscuits and indicated to the passengers that it would return. It never did. The boat also encountered at least two fishing vessels, neither of which came to its assistance. The boat drifted for several days. With no water and food, people started to die. On about the tenth day of its voyage, when half the passengers were dead, a large aircraft carrier or helicopter-carrying vessel sailed near to the boat, close enough for the survivors to see the sailors on board looking at them with binoculars and taking photos. The boat eventually washed up on the Libya’s shores after 15 days at sea. The ten survivors were imprisoned, where one of them died from lack of medical care. Eventually nine survivors were released after which they fled the country’[2].

And there was no room for them at the inn.


The Flight. We are told that our main characters had to flee to Egypt. I met one young man in Lampedusa who took flight from his home country. He saw his best friend shot by traffickers in the Sahara. He lived in an immigration centre in Libya. He was used as a human shield in a boat with a couple of hundred others when Libya was attacked. When they came alongside an Egyptian boat the passengers lunged to one side as they cried for assistance. This caused the boat to sit up in the water casting a large portion of the passengers into the sea and to certain death. I asked him where he wanted to live, he replied ‘Where ever there is peace!’

If we seize the silences, the refusals and the flights and in turn silence them we damage our humanity and our world. Let the silences, the refusals and the flights of this story which we mark in word and song activate us on behalf of our brothers and sisters in need today.

[1]  Kullving, Linus (2014) A Crisis Nexus; The European Union, Security, and Articulations of Irregular Migration Post Arab Spring in Bevelander, P. and Peterson, B. eds. Crisis and Migration: The Implications of the Eurozone Crisis for Perceptions, Politics and Policies of Migration. Pg. 71.

[2] Ibid. pg. 49.

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Launch of ‘Open Heart, Open Arms’

St. Laurence’s DIT Grangegorman


27th of September 2016

Input of Author Fr. Alan Hilliard


I like to express my deepest appreciation to you all for your presence here this evening. I’d especially like to express my gratitude to Archbishop Martin for agreeing to launch this booklet and for his wise words. I’d also like to thank the President of DIT, Professor Brian Norton for his hearty welcome to this exciting new campus this evening. I’d like to thank my family, friends and colleagues in DIT and beyond and my Chaplaincy colleagues for your presence and support. I also like to thank the team at the Messenger Publications for their confidence in me when they asked me to put this together, their patience as I tried to draw it to a close and their editing skills. I’d like to acknowledge the vast array of people who are not in this room who have become part of this story. The University of Notre Dame, members of the World Council of Churches, Mediterranean Hope, Calderwood School of Silversmiths based in Scoil Mhuire Marino, and the people of Lampedusa and Rwanda who have allowed me to see our world differently.



The key word for this publication is accessibility. The size of the publication, its price, and its comfort (it can fit in your pocket) aim to make a very complex situation more accessible to a wide audience.  There are many people who are rightfully concerned about the plight of those who knock on the doors of Europe and are actively searching for a vison to assist them as they seek to make a difference in their communities.

There are three points I’d like to make this evening in these few short words. Firstly: the crisis; secondly, the Chalice and thirdly ourselves. This era sees the largest migrant crisis since World War ll but his crisis is a two-fold one. It is a crisis for those who have to leave their home for fear of their lives carrying a hope for a better and more secure future. But it is also a crisis because it shows our inability to respond; the crisis is as much Europe’s as it is the migrants. After the Second World War there was a desire to address the needs of those who are displaced; this is less the case now. Never before in the story of the world have we had so many global institutions whose mandate it is to build order and to work for peace and never before have we had so much inaction in the face of a crisis.

Migration is a mirror for our world today; we look into that mirror not just to see the face of the other but to look at ourselves and observe our actions and our inactions. Our present world order has created a greater divide between politics and power[1]. This current crisis is revealing that the fall-out from globalisation is increasingly irrelevant for the less well off. Furthermore the creation of agencies and bodies by political institutions is building an edifice whereby those elected to power are distancing themselves from their responsibilities.


Peter tells us about his journey from Eritrea

The ongoing raft of short term and interim fixes to every problem reveals a world order that is becoming devoid of solutions to the problems that face us. In a third level setting one cannot make such statements without evidence based research. The evidence for this is beginning to put their heads on concrete pavements this evening on the streets all about us. Further evidence of this growing gap between politics and power is that the world’s six richest countries which makes up half of the global economy host less than nine percent of the worlds refugees and Asylum Seekers[2]. Ireland’s problem is that she wants to be part of this game-playing and to do this she has to lose touch with the values and beliefs that create an alternative, more inclusive society and world. We have seen many migrant children separated from their families and bereaved on various media outlets as these years pass by. Last year we, Ireland, took one child (unaccompanied minor) into our country.

Secondly I like to bring your attention to this chalice. Some of you have seen it and know its story. A carpenter on the island of Lampedusa spent many days and nights in the past rescuing and assisting those who arrived to this obscure Italian outpost as refugees in dangerous overcrowded boats. Frustrated with the suffering and death that he witnessed he took a piece of a broken up migrant boat and he made a chalice that Pope Francis used at Mass when he visited the island on the 8th of July, 2013. It was Pope Francis’ first official visit out of the Vatican and was planned with only eight days’ notice! When I visited the island that same carpenter presented me with this chalice. I brought it back as a simple piece of timber but through a circuitous route I was led to the Calderwood School of Silversmiths where the team set about beating a piece of silver until they formed the cup which was later gilded. Last week I used this chalice at a facilitation for people of faith involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I told the story and not of the visitors objected to its presence but said, and I quote ‘it was by far a symbol of human tragedy, resilience, perilous journey and life’. The chalice for me is a cup born from human suffering but for the Christian the Chalice also offers the ultimate hope of salvation. The carpenter’s hand crafted the chalice but his hand also offered salvation to many when he reached out to take them ashore. There are many here who may not share Christian faith, they may have another belief system or may not subscribe to any one particular system of belief but I am one hundred percent sure that we can all put out our hands for other; we can all be agents of salvation. As the title of this publication suggests – if our hearts are open, it is easy to open our arms and our hands to others.


Chalice made from a migrant boat

Thirdly, and finally, maybe this is an occasion for little reflection on our own lives. A sub heading for this paragraph could also read – how those whom I have encountered have impacted on me. I’ll start with the words of E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web who said that ‘luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men’. There are many today who see their success as the direct result of their own efforts, gifts and talents. This is evident in many political events that are taking place at present particularly in the US Presidential campaign.

I don’t know how you view your life and achievements. Are they all self-made or is there the recognisable presence of luck, good fortune or grace? My engagement with those who have made the journey across Africa and the Mediterranean leaves me more aware of the role of luck, good fortune and grace in my life. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte ‘ability is of little account without opportunity’. Furthermore having worked with those who extended the hand of safety to people in the Mediterranean I note that same change of heart and from this comes an overwhelming sense of gratitude for life. I see this gratitude and trust daily in students of DIT who have come to the college via a human trafficker; their gratitude for the opportunity of education and the deep trust that translates into an attitude whereby no matter what obstacle is in their way they preserve a sense of hope where they can say ‘and all shall be well’. They most likely learnt this at some significant point on their journey.


The Archbishop , The President of DIT and Alan

The question may not trouble us but it is an interesting one… ‘am I responsible for my successes or is there an element of luck, good fortune or grace?’ To appease those who again look for evidence they can contemplate research by Robert H. Frank who found via control groups ‘that gratitude makes people not only happier and healthier by also more generous towards others’[3]. The findings suggest that a greater appreciation of the role of luck, good fortune or grace makes everyone better off.

In 2012 just after the economic crash a person who described themselves as Confused in Columbus as distinct from Sleepless in Seattle wrote to the David Brooks in the New York Times asking this same question. I’ll take a few extracts from Brook’s reply:

Dear Confused,

This is an excellent question. It has no definitive answer. There were many different chefs of the stew that is you: parents, friends, teachers, ancestors, mentors and, of course, Oprah Winfrey. It’s very hard to know how much of your success is owed to those people and how much is owed to yourself. As a wise man once said, what God hath woven together, even multiple regression analysis cannot tear asunder…You should regard yourself as the sole author of all your future achievements and as the grateful beneficiary of all your past successes.As you go through life, you should pass through different phases in thinking about how much credit you deserve. You should start your life with the illusion that you are completely in control of what you do. You should finish life with the recognition that, all in all, you got better than you deserved….You’ll still have faith in your own skills, but it will be more the skills of navigation, not creation. You’ll adapt to the rules and peculiarities of your environment. You’ll keep up with what the essayist Joseph Epstein calls “the current snobberies.” You’ll understand that the crucial question isn’t what you want, but what the market wants. For a brief period, you won’t mind breakfast meetings….But you, Mr. Confused in Columbus, are right to preserve your pride in your accomplishments. Great companies, charities and nations were built by groups of individuals who each vastly overestimated their own autonomy. As an ambitious executive, it’s important that you believe that you will deserve credit for everything you achieve. As a human being, it’s important for you to know that this is nonsense.[4]

Thank you for being here this evening. Maybe these words will encourage you to read the book with this question before you – ‘wherein lies the crisis?’ Maybe you will be encouraged to be an agent of salvation for someone or maybe you might just begin to live with a greater sense of gratitude.

Available on line at

[1] For a deeper exploration of this issue read: Zygmunt Bauman and Carlo Bordini (2014) State of Crisis, Cambridge, UK Polity Press.

[2] An observation made by Winnie Byanyima, executive Director of Oxfam International at the recent UN Summit

[3] Robert H. Frank Just Deserts: Why We Tend to Exaggerate Merit –m And Pay for Doing So, The Hedgehog Review, Vol 18, No. 2, (2016): 50-62.

[4] David Brooks, ‘The Credit Illusion, New York Times, August 2, 2012,

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Missals and Migrants

Migrant’s graves in names just a number….

lampedusa graves

A piece I  had published in this months ‘FURROW’ contrasting  Irish Church action on the translation of the Roman Missal and it’s inaction with regard to the migrant crisis…

Click here for article: Missals and MigrantsV2

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St. Patrick’s Day 2016 – St. Patrick the Migrant – Sacred Heart Messenger March 2016

cross patrick


Here is an article I wrote on Saint Patrick which focuses on the fact that he was a migrant:

St Patrick the Migrant

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