Yarl’s Wood: Surprised by Joy!


Guardians Barbara (left), Martin, Dick and Teresa

No, not the book by C.S. Lewis, but the reaction of Guardians Richard, Dick, Petrit, Teresa and myself (Barbara) when we visited Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre on the afternoon of 9th April with the Miraculous Relic Image.

We were met at the entrance by Pastor Lonnie Haye, who works full time at Yarl’s Wood, and who made us most welcome. We were taken to the chapel, outside which we were greeted by a large group of women joyfully singing and waving handkerchiefs in praise of Almighty God! This joy spilt over into the whole time we were there and was only matched by their devotion to Our Lady; one of the residents who daily gathers Catholics together for prayer said, “shush, our Mother has arrived” as the Relic Image entered the chapel.

We started with hymns to Mary as the Relic Image entered and this continued, with veneration, until the start of Mass. Fr Wayne Coughlin (a fellow Guardian) gave us a beautiful and inspiring homily for the Solemnity of the Annunciation (happily, for this visit, transferred to today this year) about being open to God. By saying “Yes” to the Incarnation, Our Lady enabled Jesus to say his “Yes” to dying on the Cross for our salvation. Fr Wayne made us smile by relating the true story of his aunt who always cleaned her house on Tuesday and would not do anything else – even attend a wedding or a funeral – on that day. “Don’t be like her”, said Fr Wayne “be open to what God wants to do in your life! Just suppose Our Lady had said “No” to the Archangel Gabriel because that was her cleaning day!

Towards the end of Mass, a woman came forward, very excited and shouting for joy, to touch the Relic Image (even though the curtains were drawn across it at this point). Perhaps beyond our comprehension she had prayed with fellow Catholic residents that she would not be transferred until she had seen for herself the Relic Image. The reason for the exultant joy was that she had just been told that she had been released from Yarl’s Wood and could go back to her own home in this country. The other women were clearly glad for her and were longing for the time of their own release. Typically, they are at Yarl’s Wood for 3 – 6 months, but some have been there for as long as two years. Some came to this country as children and on reaching 18, become liable for the normal adult immigration procedures, hence their presence at Yarl’s Wood.

After Mass, further veneration, the singing of Marian hymns and a Rosary continued until, at last, it was time for residents to say goodbye to the Relic Image. The Visit of Our Lady brought tremendous joy – and a great many tears – to those in Yarl’s Wood. We hope to return in the future. Unfortunately, due to security, photographic opportunities were limited on this visit, but we have a few shots of the outside.


Guardians Dick (left) and Martin