Despite dwindling resources and reduced support for Justice and Peace work at diocesan and national level, the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) has underlined its mission to foster social justice, based on the Church’s Social Teaching. That was the positive message coming out of Saturday’s quarterly meeting of the NJPN at CAFOD’s London office. The range of work shared by around 20 diocesan representatives and another 15 representatives of religious orders and Catholic agencies covered the areas of justice, peace and care for creation. “We are called to be a prophetic Church in the best way we can” said Sr Margaret Walsh SND, who facilitated the day.
Liverpool J&P announced that its next annual assembly will focus on poverty in Britain with the theme, ‘Coping with Cuts’. It will also undertake formation with an ‘Integrating Faith and Life’ course. Alison Gelder, Director of Housing Justice, reminded about Poverty and Homeless Action Week at the end of January. Westminster J&P talked about its continuing push for parishes to sign up to fairtrade, and everybody laughed when the fieldworker Barbara Kentish said, “We will be a fairtrade diocese if it kills me!” Maria Elena Arana of CAFOD Campaigns outlined plans for their ‘Hungry for Change’ work in 2014, and promoted CAFOD’s new report ‘What have we done?’, which shows how climate change is linked to severe weather and humanitarian disasters. She also reminded about the Live Simply Parish Award which encourages parishes to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor and reported that nine parishes have achieved the award over recent years. East Anglia Diocese has invited theologian David McLoughlin to run a day, ‘Jesus: Disturbing teaching on God and debt’. The Catholic Association for Racial Justice will be running a young people’s conference on citizenship next year.
Pat Gaffney, Director of Pax Christi announced a new petition to end recruitment of 16 year olds into Britain’s armed forces, the new ‘Teach Peace’ resource, and its annual Advent peace service in London on Monday 9 December. Christian CND shared its new resource ‘Nuclear Weapons: What can Christians do?’ which groups are encouraged to discuss as dialogue continues about the renewal of Trident, which is Britain’s nuclear weapons system. Advent vigils at Aldermaston nuclear establishment will be held every Thursday 1-2pm. Many local J&P groups will be organising football matches in December 2014 to commemorate the peace truce between British and German troops for a football match during the first Christmas of World War l.
The NJPN Environment Working Group, chaired by Ashley Ralston of Arundel and Brighton Diocese, announced Christian Ecology Link’s ‘Joy is enough’ project which looks at building a sustainable economy in the lead up to a conference in Birmingham on 29 March 2014. The NJPN Ethical Investment Working Group urged J&P activists to consult their dioceses regarding investment in fossil fuels and to look at Operation Noah’s ‘Fossil free churches’ work. Concerns were also raised about the seemingly close relationship between the British Parliament and the City of London Corporation. Columban JPIC urged everyone to view and use the new DVD resource and booklet ‘Conflict and Climate Change’ which is suitable for adult groups and older schools’ groups. One of the speakers on the DVD, Mary Colwell, is to be a speaker at next year’s NJPN conference 18-20 July, where the theme is ‘Called to life in all its fullness: accepting the implications of our baptism’. The work of the Apostleship of the Sea was highlighted in a short DVD and talk from staff member Nathaniel Xavier.
Yet, amidst the solidarity and enthusiastic information sharing there was heartfelt exasperation at the lack of significant funding for important social justice formation and resources, and the loss of at least six diocesan fieldworkers over the past two years. “We pray that our new archbishop has a heart for Justice” featured in a diocesan report. One person from Shrewsbury Diocese described “18 months of turmoil” after the fieldworker was suddenly sacked and other long-standing J&P volunteers told they were to be let go. “We have been discouraged by the continuing sidelining of J&P by the Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN)” said another diocese. It was clear that people are happy to see the bishops of England and Wales promote an agency for home poverty, and indeed CSAN was originally an initiative of the NJPN which recommended at its 1988 annual Conference that the hierarchy consider setting up a home version of CAFOD. However, NJPN’s current concerns were summed up by those who said “we’re seeing the rise of Caritas at the expense of J&P” and “NJPN is unique in that it is more than delivering a service, it is about justice”.
Results of an NJPN survey were distributed at the meeting. It showed that only one diocese has a full time paid worker, and in most dioceses it is dedicated J&P voluntary workers who keep this aspect of the Church’s mission alive regionally. Half the respondents felt that justice and peace is not recognised, supported or able to be active in their dioceses. The main reasons given were to do with lack of support from parish priests, the fact that justice and peace is not seen as core to faith at parish level; and the lack of integration into the mainstream of diocesan structures. While three dioceses were thankful for supportive bishops and a strong grassroots commitment to J&P, two-fifths expressed uncertainly about the future, due to the attitude of the incumbent bishops, four dioceses awaiting appointments of new bishops, and “fears of funding being diverted to Caritas in the diocese”. Anne Peacey, NJPN chair, undertook to continue friendly dialogue to improve the situation. “You can build relationships and challenge at the same time” she said. The NJPN will continue its successful annual conference programme and its regular newsletter, mailed out with the Columban JPIC magazine, ‘Vocation for Justice’.
The meeting was uplifted by the steady encouragement of Pope Francis to undertake work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. On 3 October he called for more than charity when he asked at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of Blessed John XXIII’s encyclical ‘Peace on Earth’, whether “‘justice’ and ‘solidarity’ are just words in our dictionary or do we all work to make them a reality?” After Saturday’s meeting many sought further inspiration by moving next door into Southwark Cathedral to view the new Romero Cross in a side altar.
Understanding church social action & justice networks – Thoughts from a lay woman