Transient communities: The case of a refugee choir in the Catholic church of Lesvos — Eirini Papanikolaou, Jennifer Sherrill & Antonis Ververis
Keywords:refugee crisis, community music, choral singing, spirituality
For many refugees fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa, the Greek island of Lesvos is the first point of entry into the European Union. However, due to an agreement between the European Union and Turkey declared in March of 2016, people crossing the Aegean Sea without formal travel documents would be detained on the Greek islands until their asylum applications were examined. This bureaucratic slowdown trapped refugees on Lesvos for months and years of unknown waiting. At the same time, the arrival of refugees from various African countries led to a flourishing of the small Catholic church in the capital city, Mytilene. In 2017, a parish choir was established by Congolese refugees with the purpose of providing a refuge to members who sought a sense of community, spirituality, and normality. Through interviews, participatory observation, and polyvocal ethnography, we address the following research areas: the importance of spirituality in the lives of refugees, how participation in the choir helped them to feel a sense of community, and the use of choral singing as a form of integration. More specifically, we discuss how the refugee-initiated autonomous aspect of the choir created an environment in which each member had a personal stake in developing and caring for the choir community as a whole. As a majority of the interviewees felt that singing for God was the highest purpose, participation in this choir helped members connect to their faith while also giving a much-needed sense of purpose in uncertain times.
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