Calais wall art 2019
Calais Wall Art 2019

9.25am, La Pass, the medical drop in centre, is still closed. Nebiyou’s ripped hand, heavily bandaged, rests limply in a sling. He spent two weeks in a specialist surgical unit in Lille after his hand was badly cut on razor wire whilst trying to run from the CRS, the French riot Police. One finger was sliced in two lengthwise.

We wait patiently at the locked door.

Awate arrives. He presses his scarf to his lips. There’s blood on his white hoodie and on the sleeves of his denim coat. Livid raw skin to the side of his left eye. “It was the CRS” he said, “they hit me with an electric baton on my face and on my head and on my back.”

Osman, another Eritrean, joins us outside the door, pink fresh skin on his dark face. “I’m ok now”, he reassures me.

Two Eritreans. I ask them if they’ve seen Nahom, and describe the boy with the broken teeth. They haven’t.

9.30, the sullen security guard, proffering a single wink, unlocks the door. Nebiyou checks in at the desk. Awate comes into the waiting room and slumps into a chair, leaning forward, head held in his hands. Osman has disappeared. We wait in the plastic and chrome silence.

 Beside the football stadium, a group of young Eritreans. Amongst them, Mebrahtu, his hand no longer bandaged. The scar on the ball of his thumb, a distant bird in flight, is punctuated by twelve neat stitch marks. A CRS officer stamped on his hand which was split open by a buried spike.

“It’s the same here as in Eritrea”, he says. “I’d as well be back home”. His smile belies a deep suffering.

There’s music, the surprising sound of Nashville in Calais: “One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking from You, just give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do”.

“My friend in Holland told me about this song,” Yoel explains. “One day, one day I will get to UK”

The ever smiling Yoel, it’s two years since I first met him in Calais. He’s had a haircut and looks much younger.

They’ve not seen Nahom. Time to move on.

A solitary hooded figure slowly paces the back road in the shadow of the industrial zone. At last, Nahom. He’s lost in the music he’s listening to on his phone, mezmurs, Orthodox Christian chants. Seeing me, he pulls out his earphones and grins broadly, baring his broken teeth. Discharged from hospital after falling from a lorry and losing his front teeth, he came to stay in Maria Skobtsova House for a few days, before suddenly vanishing. During one quiet moment, he spoke of Eritrea, of how his family house had been destroyed in the war with Ethiopia, of the years of harsh military conscription. After three years in the army, he ran away to see his family, then escaped to Ethiopia. He showed me the burn marks on his feet from when he was held to ransom and tortured in Libya. Finally he reached the UK only to have his asylum application refused. Under the Dublin Regulation, because he had been fingerprinted in Italy, he was deported there. Tired and hungry on the streets of Naples he had accepted the offer of bread and water only to pass out and awaken to find his jacket and boots stolen.

After a big embrace and checking he is ok, we talk football, and about friends in common, now in the UK. I tell him he is welcome in the house anytime.

“I will come, yes.” He is silent for a moment, perhaps registering my concern. “I am ok”, he reassures me, “I am ok because I have God.” We part with another embrace.

Earphoned once more, he continues his lone path.

Alex Holmes May 2019.
(Nahom is now an asylum seeker in UK)






Let us be God bearers

2018, Passion Friday. Maria Skobtsova House in Calais, France.
Drop, drop slow tears…
Orlando Gibbons tender hymn, so fitting for today. The tears of Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet. It also echoes in our walking with Jesus to his death on a cross today.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice saying, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ With these words he breathed his last.

His still warm, but lifeless body is taken down from the cross. A body too big to hold in one’s lap, broken, bruised, bloody and dirty.
As in Michelangelo’s Pieta, any mother would do the same, she would take her beloved child’s body. Her body, blood and broken heart, into her arms. She would tenderly hold it, caress the wounds, kiss it, sing a lullaby and whisper words of love.

Somewhere in Eritrea there is a mother whose name we will not know, whose grief we will not see. She has her own Passion Friday. Her beloved son has died. She doesn’t know about it yet, but one day soon, a zinc casket will arrive carrying the remains of a son who walked for miles, crossed deserts and seas. Away, far, far from home, in search of a better life. He is lifeless and cold, and her Pieta is emptyhanded.

Today his friends have arrived to travel to the mortuary. Can we see his whole body, they ask. They can see only his face, and are told, that it is best not to see more. Perhaps, when they were left alone to mourn, to pray, they opened the white bag and lovingly touched their friend, who is, and is no more among the living. And with this they entrusted him into the loving arms of God.

Drop, drop slow tears…
Let us wrap His body in fine linen, let us carry Him gently to a fresh grave.
Let us stay with Him in silence and nothingness.
Let us be God bearers, in living and dying, hoping in the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

by Arta Skuja

Journeying with Mother Maria Skobtsova

by Arta Skuja

On July 20th the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates Righteous Martyr Maria Skobtsova. In 1945 she died in Ravensbrück concentration camp.
Her earthly journey was only 53 years long, but she managed to life, as some suggest, three lives. Mother Maria’s heart from a very young age carried a deep wisdom of Love that is ready to live and die for others.

If living is preparing for dying, the emptying and abandonment of one’s self, then we see, that Maria Skobtsova’s life is filled with such events, that lead to contemplating death and repeatedly to respond and enter the fragility of life. She lost her beloved father in early teens, she knew what it meant to love someone deeply and to be rejected. She experienced the violence of two wars, the loss of her brother, the loss of her country. She became a refugee. She lost her young daughter. Her two marriages fell apart. Her oldest daughter Gayana died. She experienced the occupation of her adopted home country. And then, her third child, son Yurii, was to share in the death of a martyr in another concentration camp.

In 1926, Maria Skobtsova keeps a long vigil, at the bedside of her dying child. Staying in the hospital with her for days and nights, watching and praying. She takes paper and pencils to bear witness and to share her pain, drawing a moving series of portraits of her daughter.

When four-year-old Nastya dies, Maria Skobtsova, a mother in mourning, hears God’s call to be born again in all embracing motherhood. In time it leads her to make a monastic profession and to receive the religious name of Mother Maria, after the mother of Jesus, the mother of all.

In her writings, Mother Maria, says, that we must more fully imitate the Mother of God in her journey with Christ. Not only in the Annunciation or the God bearing in bringing forth the newness of life rooted in Jesus, but to walk all the way to Golgotha. There we must go and live the compassion fully, where we are called co suffer, to co – die with Jesus, who is in every sister and brother we meet.
And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart…



Archive footage shows her in Paris in 1930ties, wearing her black habit, a round, open face, wide hand gestures and a broad smile, so full of life. So very close and human.
A woman who, on several occasions, had been in Mother Maria’s cell (a space under the stairs without a proper door that served as her room, studio and a place where she had private conversations with the many house visitors), remembers her last visit. Mother Maria hangs vegetables and herbs on a string for drying and enthusiastically explains to her how to properly dry berries and carrots, etc., so that when there is nothing fresh to use, one can make a lovely soup with their dry reserves. She recalls that as they sat there talking about vegetable dehydration, she realized that in front of her is a saint, behind whose cheap metal glasses, are eyes that see profoundly, eyes that understand the human fragility, eyes that have faced death and the Love of God.
These very same glasses were taken away and broken, when Mother Maria was imprisoned in a concentration camp, but that did not stop her from seeing Jesus in every person she encountered. The more miserable and poor one was, the more loved by her.

The act of sharing water

On Thursday the 19th of April 2018 we had a school group joining us at Maria Skobtsova House from the south of England. Pupils from a Bruderhof school came to experience how refugees in Calais have to survive. A part of the group had joined the Warehouse and the Refugee Community Kitchen and the younger ones (16) joined us at the house. In the afternoon they went to distribute bottles of water to the young refugees at “Little Forrest.”   To us access to drinking water or water for hygiene is the most natural thing. In Calais refugees have limited access to water – during office hours – and their are only a few distribution points for water. Outside these hours refugees are dependent on volunteers handing out water. The bottles of water were gone within a few minutes and left a lasting impression on the pupils.


Washing of the Feet

On Maundy Thursday we had the liturgy of the Washing of the Feet in our house community and shared communion. We reflected on what the washing of the feet meant for the followers of Jesus and what it means for us today as we washed each other’s feet.
It was for each of us an act of respect, an act of love and an act of mutual recognition.
Calais is a place where refugees are often not treated humanely, where human rights and children’s rights are not respected and where few people show acts of welcoming or openness. In this darkness the act of servitude that Jesus taught us in the washing of his disciples feet is very important.
As we prepare for Easter, the liturgy we celebrate and the cross of Christ have become very tangible in our everyday lives and celebrating Easter with our brothers and sisters who are refugees has become almost a ‘political act’ – the act of recognizing each other as fully human and as children of the Father.

Washing of the Feet: drawing by Arta, community volunteer.