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'We've got something better. Kindness.' Church counter-protests far-right activists with Welsh cakes over Ukrainian refugee housing

by Sophie Drew
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St Illtud

A church in Wales has responded to far-right protests by holding an overnight prayer vigil for the Ukrainian community living in their town.

St Illtud's Church in Llantwit Major offered protesters a warm welcome, despite being firmly against their message, in a bid to prove that "being welcoming" is a far better way to live.

Instead of counter-protests, men in balaclavas and hoodies were met with Welsh cakes, handed out by a giant Welsh cake mascot.

Fr Edwin Counsell told Premier Christian News: "If we as a Christian community start modeling something that reaches out in that situation...something as silly as being offered the Welsh cake might actually be the thing that transforms somebody."

"If a knucklehead from the far right comes up to you, or you bump into them in town, you must ask them the critical question, which is 'would you like a Welsh cake?'

"We're not there to stand toe-to-toe with these people. We're actually here to say that in generosity and kindness, we've got something better. Kindness.

"Don't confuse kindness with weakness. It is kindness; it's strength. And we believe profoundly in the strength of this community."

Before the Patriotic Alternative members arrived, congregants gathered in the church overnight to pray for an end to the planned protest.

The night-long events included a "punk hour," inspired by the Rock Against Racism movement in the 1970s.

The service also included readings and reflections.

Fr Counsell shared his thoughts about the vigil: "It was a very lovely event. Even when we were down to ten at about 4:30 this morning, two of whom were fast asleep. But we had lots of people out and lots of people thinking about us and asking about us. And I hope it gave strength to a lot of other people."

In discussing how the community has come together to support Ukrainian families during this difficult time, Fr Counsell recalled Llantwit Major's history of offering hospitality to those in need: "We hosted a lot of people from Belgium [during World War I]. So we've got previous; we've got history with this. And I'm really proud that we're able to offer that hospitality to people from Ukraine at the moment."

The protests were scheduled after the Patriotic Alternative group took offense to the Vale of Glamorgan Council's decision to house Ukrainian refugees at an old school.

Two people were arrested in connection with the protests. A 20-year-old man from Swansea was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker, and a 23-year-old woman from the Gwynedd area was arrested on suspicion of assault.

South Wales Police's Insp Mark Henderson said: "Officers have been present in Llantwit Major today to facilitate peaceful protest and minimize disruption to the wider community.

"The protest was, in the main, peaceful; however, two protesters were arrested.

"There are no other reported injuries, and the protesters eventually dispersed without any further incident."

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