Columban JPIC at Hexham and Newcastle J&P AGM
26th October 2012 - by Ellen Teague
This is the report of a Justice and Peace day held at St. Joseph’s Parish in Sunderland on Saturday 20 October 2012. Ellen Teague and Fr Frank Nally attended. Writer Helen Coyne is from St. Charles Parish in Gosforth and around 40 other parish representatives were present.
While having coffee and registering, the day started with completing a Carbon Footprint Questionnaire – and scoring ourselves. Questions ranged from how many home made meals we ate a week to how we travelled to work. I think most of us probably scored in the middle and could easily see ways to improve our score from the questions asked.
The opening and closing Liturgies were excellent and, as usual, prepared by Audrey Marshall. One phrase from the prayer by Annabel Shilson-Thomas stuck with me: “When we are out of tune with our neighbour, we lose the song in our heart”. We also sang the “Living Simply” hymn with the chorus: “Living simply day by day. Learning how to share and give. To create a fairer world that others may simply live”; which set an excellent tone for the day.
Pat MacDonald, Chair of the J&P Co-ordinating Council, welcomed us all to the AGM part of the meeting and reports were given on the work of the Co-ordinating Council, the Failed Asylum Seekers Project and the local parishes.
From St Joseph’s Millfield Parish Diane English reported on their Social Justice Activity. The SVP in the parish has been active since 1891! To mention a few of their many activities: they work locally with the disabled, elderly and those in need; they collect tuna for destitute asylum seekers visiting the Benwell Centre; they raise enough money to support 20 babies in Sudan every year at £40 per child and support other international projects.
The Vakighol project started after several people from the diocese witnessed the needs of a missionary in a remote valley in India. Monica Horn reported that for six years they have raised money which goes directly to a school and are now supporting 110 children in education until they are 16. So much has been done by just a few people wanting to make a difference and engaging others.
Bernard Duncan spoke about the J&P group at St. Joseph’s in Sunderland, which started in 1975 mainly to support CAFOD and raising £500 twice a year for specific projects or campaigns. They seek to educate themselves and the parish and produce information leaflets; hold development games nights and “Live Simply” Masses. They are proud to be the first parish to sign up to CAFOD’s “Connect 2” programme and are “connecting” with El Salvador. They have liaised with other local organisations, schools and parishes for exhibitions and a Traidcraft shop.
The keynote speaker for the day was Ellen Teague, of the Columban Justice, Peace and Environmental Justice Team. Her talk was entitled: ‘People and Planet – “How green are you?”
Mrs Teague started with a resume of her career, realising early on when working in Northern Nigeria, how degradation of the environment, particularly disappearing forests, was contributing to poverty. She worked for CAFOD during its ‘Renewing the Earth’ campaign and her current work with the Columbans has meant deeper involvement with environmental justice. She broached the question: “Why are we hooked on an unsustainable path?” Some answers are obvious, but not all, and they include: greed; tolerance of conflict; short termism; increased urbanisation detaching us from the natural world; failure of the main faiths to engage. She went on to look at: What holds back the Catholic Church? She listed several issues including: fear of tackling the establishment; fear of liberation or feminist or creation theology; fear of “prophets” and of course just the fact that people are busy with the daily maintenance of parishes and, for some, J&P work is seen as being a fringe Catholic activity.
But more important for us as individuals, she raised the question: What holds us back? She suggested: because we are comfortable and lack reflection on long term consequences of environmental degradation; that we fear regressing to a pastoral society but also (a useful excuse for us) there is little leadership from the hierarchy. However, we can recognise the “signs of the time” around us and reflect upon Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching, Liberation and Creation Theology. She reminded us that in Genesis “the covenant after the flood was made with the whole of creation” and that even in 1990 the Pope’s Peace Day Message spoke of “a new ecological awareness beginning”. We need a new way of looking at these issues – a “functional cosmology”. Polluting a river may be seen as wrong but not sinful; Do we now need to recognise sins of biocide or ecocide, as suggested by the eco-theologian Thomas Berry?
She went on to look at what action we can take, starting with awareness-raising – such as the recent CAFOD water campaign where many parishes sent off their “water droplets” to be handed in to Downing Street. There are many similar education campaigns we can join in. Lobbying politicians and companies to change their behaviour to more environmentally friendly activities is another action. She showed a photograph of the 2,500 solar panels on the roof of the Vatican’s Pope Paul VI Auditorium! Celebrating living simply and doing it at home and in our parish life is important. Having lights in church hall toilets, for example, that are only on when in use, and using side chapels on weekdays to save heating a whole church everyday during the Winter all save energy. She showed images from the first parish to win the Live Simply Award over the summer – St. John Bosco in Reading. There were photos of their annual creation-themed walk, the annual Creation Mass, a community litter picking day, the solar panels on the church roof and a picture of CAFOD Director Chris Bain presenting the award. The parish is now considering developing vegetable plots in the church grounds.
At this point Professor T Manley, of the Holy Name parish in Jesmond, spoke of his concerns about Catholic organisations supporting Greenpeace. He spoke out against Greenpeace’s stance against DDT which he blames for allowing many African children to die. Fr Frank Nally SSC spoke about the problems of DDT use in the Philippines, particularly a rise in breast cancer in the years after DDT was sprayed on rice paddies, and there was some lively discussion on issues of DDT and also the pros and cons of nuclear power. Generally, the problem of waste disposal from nuclear power stations was a key concern about this form of energy, and there was a call for more dialogue in the Church about the issue of energy in relation to Climate Change.
Mrs Teague then went on to look further at lifestyle changes. The Local – Organic – Animal-friendly – Fairly Traded (LOAF) principles are a useful guide when shopping for food. But we also need to reduce purchases, reuse and recycle more, conserve water and energy. We should look at investing ethically and supporting local activities along these lines. Awareness-raising and formation are so important and we need to encourage the Church not to cut jobs in catechetics, youth ministry, and justice and peace.
Fr Nally spoke about being inspired by Thomas Berry and creation spirituality. He complained that despite there being 33 major mines already in the environmentally-damaged Philippines, our own government’s ambassador in the country has been promoting yet another one to be licensed.
Further discussion ensued about the arms trade, use of drones and that the Bradford University Peace Studies department has some good suggestions on alternative employment for workers in the arms trade. Should we mark the next Peace Sunday in January in some way – “Blessed are the peacemakers”?
A shared lunch followed with time to chat and look at the stalls which included Traidcraft, Sharing Fair crafts, Live Simply, CAFOD, and Columban JPIC. Theological reflection in groups followed and discussion was far ranging but focussing on two areas which were reported back to the whole room of people. Firstly, our understanding of sin. The two groups which discussed this highlighted some of our ambivalence. If we do one action such as installing solar panels, are we, by accepting a government subsidy, taking money away from helping poorer people. It was felt that with increased use of solar panels the prices will fall and become more accessible to all. In the same way, is recycling so good if refuse is sent abroad and “slave labour” used in the recycling process?
Secondly, three groups looked at “restoring right relationship with creation.” How can creation-centred spirituality with its themes of co-responsibility, covenant and stewardship be reclaimed by our churches? It was suggested that education must be improved – emphasising the importance of ecology and interdependence. A suggestion was made that all the sacraments should incorporate the promotion of right relationships and intergenerational justice. Starting with Baptism, is it acceptable to use polluted water?
This was followed by Campaign &Action Planning for 2012/13 and a lot of ideas were suggested for short medium and long term.
1. Contacting our local councils to find out exactly what they do with recycling collections.
2. Using the internet to find out about ideas on linking environmental justice with Sacraments (www.columbans.co.uk) and sharing ideas using social media.
3. Tax avoidance issues.
4. Ethical investment.
5. Living wage – there is now a three-monthly diocesan forum where this may be brought up.
6. CAFOD campaign ‘Hungry for Change’- www.cafod.org.uk/Campaign
7. Schools’ education. Note that ‘Eco schools’ get additional Ofsted points. The Soil Association has good materials and initiatives for teachers and children.
8. Fair trade cities, towns and schools.
9. Live Simply campaign to continue and involve more parishes. (www.livesimplyaward.org.uk)
10. Walk to church
11. Make Ecocide the 6th crime against peace. (http://eradicatingecocide.com/)
12. Ecumenical accompaniers in the Holy Land are aware of water issues – consider activity in the May week of peace.
13. Involve the youth
We need to take these ideas back to our parishes and work on at least one!
After the closing liturgy when we sang the live simply hymn again but more determinedly, we filled in our evaluation forms and left buzzing and motivated to work harder to protect our wonderful world for many generations to come.
Resources mentioned: Sean McDonagh’s book ‘The Death of Life’; Christian Ecology Link; Operation Noah – useful work books such as ‘Between the Flood and the Rainbow’ on Climate Change and the Church’s Social Teaching; ‘Vocation for Justice’ magazine from the Columbans; Vatican Pontifical Council for Science 2011 report on the loss of mountain glaciers. ‘Stations of the Forests’ – a Columban DVD available on website www.columbans.co.uk. ‘Opening Pandora’s box’ – a Gaia Foundation report on mining; the Catholic Social Teaching website - www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk ‘Paint The Church Green’ and ‘Becoming a Green Christian’ – two books by Ellen Teague, published by Kevin Mayhew. Also her book of assemblies for primary children – ‘Our Earth – Our Home’. There is an ‘Environment’ section on the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales – https://www.cbcew.org.uk/environment.