Columbans thanked at NJPN 40th celebration

17th May 2018 - by Ellen Teague

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Columban missionaries and their team for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) were warmly thanked last weekend at CAFOD’s London office where the 40th anniversary celebration of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales (NJPN) was celebrated.


Ellen Teague of Columban JPIC was there, along with Justice and Peace (J&P) activists from at least 14 dioceses, 10 Catholic caring agencies and several religious orders.

The network started in 1978 and has organised annual weekend conferences since that date and runs a regular newsletter, e-mail news and website. Columbans gave been involved in most conferences since around 1986 and the NJPN newsletter is mailed out with Vocation for Justice, the Columban JPIC newsletter. Columbans Ed O’Connell and Mike Kelly were thanked for their support to J&P Commissions and groups around the country in the 1980s, nurturing J&P people to meet and follow the pastoral cycle process to deepen their response to world poverty and peace. Ed, Fr Peter Hughes and Ellen Teague all spent significant time on the executive of NJPN into the 1990s.

NJPN is part of an international J&P movement that raises awareness of J&P as central to the life of the Church, inspired by the Gospels, Church’s Social Teaching and the signs of the times. At grassroots level, in the dioceses, over the last month Ellen has spent a day with the Middlesbrough J&P Commission in York as they launched their new Diocesan Environmental Policy, and attended a meeting with Southwark J&P as they planned a day on 2 June to explore their policy, also based on the encyclical Laudato Si’. In both cases the commitment of these lay leaders has been inspirational. As for parishes, this weekend Ellen is in New Barnet parish in Westminster Diocese which is receiving its Livesimply award for work on living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor.

Columbans have valued the solidarity of the annual conferences and have offered keynote speakers, particularly Sean McDonagh and Fr Peter Hughes from Peru who spoke last year. NJPN is lay-led but values the support of caring agencies, such as CAFOD and Pax Christi, and the religious orders. In a three-year programme leading up to the Millennium, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray came from Rome and spoke about the Vatican’s call, in the Jubilee tradition, for the cancellation of international debt for poor countries. Ed O’Connell, Ellen Teague and Brian Davies of CAFOD produced a popular version of ‘The Coming of the Third Millennium’. The Columbans supported the lobbies of the G8 in Birmingham (1998) and Cologne (1999), calling for debt cancellation.

Columban eco-theologian Sean McDonagh spoke at the 2005 conference focusing on Creation for the first time and following on from ‘Make Poverty History’ in Edinburgh. More than half the participants had been at both. Sean’s words, that “poverty will never be history if climate change is ignored” have stayed with me. Ellen Teague is still a member of the NJPN Environment Working Group. The Mill Hill Missionaries and Jesuit Refugee Service are amongst other religious orders who have been close friends to NJPN. The Africa Faith and Justice Network and JPIC-LINKS, representing 120 religious orders, are involved today. Many of us met up in Paris in December 2015, to lobby the Parish Climate talks to reach agreement on bringing down greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year’s NJPN conference focused on ‘A Sabbath for the Earth and the Poor’ picking up on Laudato Si’. We all love Pope Francis, who makes the connections between J&P issues and structural injustice, and support his call for justice for future generations and for “ecological conversion”.

This year’s conference 20-22 July takes as its theme, “In the shelter of eachother the people live”. J&P people are hopeful, but this does not mean being optimistically naïve, especially with the challenges we all face in the Anthropocene Era. Action on Justice, Peace and Ecology is an important role for a prophetic NJPN movement which offers a challenge to the cynicism and spiritual despair so prevalent in our times. Columbans will be there in force. Fr Jim Fleming is running a workshop of refugees and a Columban stall will be available. Fr Peter Hughes, James Trewby, Julia Corcoran and Jack Edwards will all be networking with our J&P friends and colleagues.