Columbans support 40th annual conference of the National Justice & Peace Network

23rd July 2018 - by Ellen Teague

Columbans had a large team from Britain and Ireland at the 40th annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales (NJPN) last weekend. They included the Columban Director in Britain, Fr Peter Hughes. They were present when a 40th anniversary oak tree was planted in the grounds of the Hayes Conference Centre in Derbyshire, the regular venue for the conference.

Around 200 participants at the NJPN’s 40th conference focused on the theme, ‘In the shelter of each other the people live’ and explored building a Church and a society with the most vulnerable at its heart.

Columban priests, lay missionaries and coworkers joined J&P representatives from around the dioceses of England and Wales, other missionary groups and Church caring organisations. Anne Peacey, NJPN Chair, congratulated the Columbans on their centenary and thanked them for their faithful support of the conference over many years.

Speakers David McLoughlin, Sarah Teather and John Grogan MP underlined the Church’s outreach to marginalised people, with the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Jesuit Refugee Service being singled out for services to homeless people and asylum seekers.

Theologian David McLoughlin of Newman College in Birmingham called for the Church to take seriously its own social teaching. “Justice is not high enough up the political agenda” said Catholic Labour MP John Grogan of the Keighley Constituency in Yorkshire. He singled out benefit sanctions as a key area for advocacy work, underlining suffering caused by the cutting or withholding of benefits. He urged participants to stay engaged with poverty issues and “don’t give up on democracy”.

Fr Colum Kelly of Apostleship of the Sea, who ministers to seafarers at the port of Immingham, officiated at the conference Mass and called for the Church to be a “field hospital”, outgoing and responsive to the needy. Beautiful liturgies, incorporating Justice, Peace and Ecology, included the opening hymn on the Friday “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live”, encompassing the vision of the conference.

On a hot Saturday afternoon Columban lay missionaries were among 45 people setting off on a ‘Share the Journey’ walk, led by CAFOD. Saturday evening saw a showing of a film about Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, called ‘The Claim’. The Archbishop, who showed extraordinary compassion for the poor and was martyred in 1980, will be canonised later this year and is a patron of NJPN. Julian Filochowski, Chair of the Archbishop Romero Trust, led a question and answer session afterwards.

The Columbans were among around 30 organisations running stalls. Columban Centenary bags were distributed, which included a special centenary booklet and fairtrade mangoes from Fr Shay Cullen’s fairtrade project in the Philippines. Drinks at the conference were taken from reusable cups and food provided followed the LOAF principles – food that is Locally sourced, Organically produced, Animal friendly and Fairly traded. Vegetarian sausages for breakfast were particularly popular!

Actions identified at the end were generated in 15 workshops. A popular workshop on interfaith outreach, led by Columban Jim Fleming who worked for several decades in Pakistan, called for a valuing of differences and building community collaboratively. He underlined the imperative since Vatican ll in Nostra Aetate to cross boundaries to engage with people of other religions. In Birmingham he often accompanies asylum seeks to appointments at courts and elsewhere.

The Pax Christi workshop on violence, led by Pat Gaffney, prompted a challenge to the culture of militarism and to the British government selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Fr Dan Mason, the National Chaplain for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, led a discussion on ways the Church could be more supportive and welcoming of travelling people. The Medaille Trust suggested ways of tackling slavery in our society. Catholic environmentalist Mary Colwell highlighted how ‘home’ is changing for wildlife due to climate change and distributed copies of her latest book on curlews.

Young people handed out pebbles to participants at the concluding liturgy, urging them to make ripples and build God’s kingdom back in their dioceses. Adults joined them in singing ‘We build God’s kingdom action by action’.

All four keynote talks are available to view on YouTube, courtesy of Liverpool Archdiocese J&P Network.

NJPN Conference Keynote Talks on YouTube