Advent at Fatima House

Columban lay missionary, Nathalie Marytsch reflects on Advent and suggests that the constant waiting in hope which the asylum seekers at Fatima House in Birmingham go through means every day is Advent for them.

When we Christians think of Advent we immediately associate the word to the coming of Jesus Christ. And more so at this time of the year when all around us suggests that Christmas is near; lights on the streets and shops, the smell of mulled wine, lots of cakes and chocolates for sale, Christmas markets in the cities, the frenzy Christmas shopping and special offers of Christmas meals displayed at pubs and restaurants.

Indeed, these signs tell us once again that we are preparing for a big day. As believers we wait in hope.

I have worked at Fatima House alongside my husband since the beginning of the project; in fact we have been working for Fatima House for even longer than that because we were part of the planning, designing and implementation of the project with other partner organisations.

The Fatima House project opened in July 2016 and it has, so far, supported 27 women.

When I think of Advent the image of the women at Fatima House comes to mind. They are waiting.

Columban lay missionary, Nathalie Marytsch and her husband Mauricio.

They patiently and desperately wait for the Home Office to recognise them as asylum seekers. Some women have been waiting for as long as 18 years.

They wait for a favourable outcome to their asylum claim. They wait for their time to go to the Home Office reporting centre hoping they will not be detained then. They wait for someone from back home to send them some ‘official evidence’ which will support their asylum claim. They wait for the NHS certificate which enables them to access free medical treatment and medicines and so many more things they wait for.

They are constantly living an Advent. But what do they wait for more specifically when at Fatima House? They anxiously wait for the post, for any letter from the Home Office, hoping it brings good news of progress in their case.

They also wait for the ‘white van’.

The white van comes to Fatima House when a woman is granted section 4 support. This means that the Home Office recognises someone as an asylum seeker and thereafter the State provides some form of accommodation and £37.75 per week.

This is only a step on their case. It doesn’t mean that they have the right to remain, find a job or study in the UK yet.

The white van has come several times to Fatima House and each time it arrives there is a sense of celebration for the person who is leaving. There are literally shouts of joy and tears of happiness but also a sense of sadness. Sadness for the friends they leave behind who must continue the wait.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to share my life with these women. Each one has taught me in different ways and through diverse experiences about resilience and survival but above all about Faith.

Many will say that faith is what sustains them. The Home Office can strip them of everything but Faith.

They are thankful to God for the hospitality and care they receive at Fatima House and many pray each day that God grants them what they need.

Advent happens every day at Fatima House. We all wait in hope for good news to break in the lives of these faithful women.