Report from annual J&P Network conference

Independent Catholic News

On the bright, sunny weekend of 18 – 20 July over 350 J&P activists from across England and Wales gathered at Swanwick for “Hear My People Cry”, the 30th annual National Justice and Peace Network conference, organised in this year of the Capital of Culture by Liverpool archdiocese J&P Commission. The conference aimed to shine the light of faith-filled living onto some of the undersides of modern life, without leaving people feeling that they were powerless to work for change. Before looking at some of the problems faced in communities, Fr Tom Cullinan reminded delegates about the Pastoral Cycle. There was a sigh of recognition when he pointed out that all charisms have their shadow side and that the shadow for J&P is self-righteousness. Thus forewarned, delegates were invited to See – Judge ­ Act.

SEE: Sr Margaret Scott aci called for “a more critical political awareness” in a culture obsessed with “shopping and shooting.” Her central theme was that everything we do should be rooted in the Eucharist: “The Eucharist is the world in a wafer.” She called for the transformation of the neo-liberal, profit-based economy into a Eucharistic economy of unconditional giving. “The Eucharist and justice go together. The Eucharist without justice is sterile. There needs to be a Eucharistic conversion that is church wide and parish deep.”

JUDGE: Dr Pat Riordan SJ developed three themes: 1) That people be liberated from all that deprives them of their humanity. 2) That people be enabled to flourish and thrive. 3) That we learn to negotiate the difficult path between doing evil (war) and accepting evil (tolerating injustice. He showed how radical the church is and pointed out that Catholic Social Teaching is challenging and far-reaching in its description of a just society. He called for CST to become CSL: Catholic Social Learning. Delegates were surprised when he called for more capitalism rather than less; but relieved when he explained that he wants the benefits of capitalism to be widely available not concentrated in the hands of the super-rich few. He highlighted the pioneering work of the Grameen Bank that has made micro-credit available to millions of people in the poor world and allowed them to work their way out of abject poverty.

ACT: John Battle MP pointed out that active, caring communities already exist and called for J&P activists to get involved in social justice, citizenship and social spirituality. He made a graphic connection between prayer and action when he recalled standing in the ruins of his local abbey, where prayer had been continuous for 400 years, and looking across to the site of the local prison.

The conference concentrated on local issues but one of our issues is our relationship with the majority, poor world. Ivanete de Araujo from Opio in Brazil was given a standing ovation after she had told her story of life on the streets and under the bridges of Sao Paulo.

Delegates chose from twenty workshops covering a huge range of interest, including “Can Catholics Fly?” (Travel issues not levitation!), “Loitering with Intent” (Crime, punishment and rehabilitation) and “Our holidays, their homes” (The impact of overseas holidays). These gave delegates a chance to look in detail at issues in small groups where conversation was possible.

The feeling of being part of a lively community was helped along by the Global Village Fete on Saturday afternoon and the Just Fair that filled the Sports hall with crafts, campaign materials and information from NGOs. There were special programmes for young people; crèche, Y-Kids for the primary age group and two groups of teenagers.

The conference opened and was held together with prayer, with vibrant music provided by the Liverpool music ministry group “Tongues of Fire”. In his closing reflections on the conference, Tom Cullinan reminded delegates that the church is not ‘building the kingdom’ on its own but taking part in the work of the Christ who goes before us. Archbishop Patrick Kelly presided as the Conference culminated with Mass on Sunday.

As people left they, many were planning to meet again next year. One first timer commented: “It’s a real Catholic event. It’s like Lourdes without the water.”

© Independent Catholic News 2008

Action on behalf of justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel.
Justice in the World – 1971 Synod of Bishops

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