Category Archives: Speaking Personally

Alison Gelder – Speaking Personally

My commitment to justice and peace began in the nineties when we were living in Cambridge. We hosted a prayer group in our house that was part of something called the Movement for Faith and Justice Today. We spent time in prayer and reflection together trying to develop and live a justice spirituality. This left me with a life-long commitment to justice and peace as a key part of living out my faith – and started me off in homelessness work.

Working where I do the most important areas for me are to do with homelessness and housing need. The vision of Housing Justice is that everyone has a home that truly meets their needs and I am committed to helping to make that happen. However we are in the midst of a crisis where homes are increasingly unaffordable and changes to the welfare system are daily forcing people into homelessness. And the situation is even worse for destitute migrants and asylum seekers who have no recourse to public funds. We need to use our resources as individuals, parishes and as the institutional Church to bring about change.

The contact I have with people who are homeless and with people who are volunteering to help them is vital in sustaining my commitment. But I also need the joy and love I experience through prayer and in the Eucharist – and the support, encouragement and sometimes challenges I receive from my friends and colleagues in the Justice and Peace movement.

My hope is for a Church where all are welcome and all can experience the love of God, for a Church where justice and peace is integral to the life and worship of every parish. The big question remains how to bring this about…

Alison Gelder has been chief executive of Housing Justice since 2003 but has been involved in homelessness and justice and peace work since the nineties. She is also a member of the Archbishop of Southwark’s advisory committee on justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

‘Speaking Personally’ is a regular feature of the NJPN Newsletter.
The above article is published in the forthcoming Summer edition

Speaking Personally: Anne O’Connor

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from?
One of my first year modules at university was modern American history. I was deeply moved by the gross injustices highlighted by the Civil Rights Movement. Segregation in South Africa was high on the agenda too and I joined the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Thereafter, with a growing family, my sole involvement was buying Fair Trade coffee from a stand at church. But the seed was sown – years later I became a Traidcraft Key Contact. 
We moved to Greater Manchester in 1984. The first week in our new parish something extraordinary happened: a stranger turned round after Mass and asked me to help form a J&P group! We were all novices but quickly learnt. I offered to put together a regular news sheet for parishioners.  I later took this to a diocesan J&P meeting and was invited to edit the fledgling Shrewsbury Diocese newsletter, The Daily Pressure, eventually joining with Liverpool under the new name MouthPeace. In 2006 fellow commission member Marian Thompson became editor, freeing up my time for writing/presenting resources for schools, Confirmation and parish J&P groups. 
In June 2012 our new Bishop announced the enforced redundancy of all diocesan commission paid workers. Commission members sub-divided the workload of our former Co-ordinator to keep J&P afloat. I took over the monthly e-bulletin to ensure a point of contact for parish groups. In August 2013 most of us, myself included, received letters terminating our involvement. I was approached by NJPN to join their media team and now produce a monthly e-bulletin for five dioceses in the North West.
What for you are the most important areas of concern today?
The disbanding of J&P Commissions and compulsory redundancies of workers is a worry. Wherever cuts are made for financial reasons J&P seems to be the first casualty, despite its broad range of issues being crucial, not just for ourselves but for generations to come.
It sickens me that the UK government proudly promotes the sale of arms to oppressive regimes yet ignores the link with situations that force desperate people to risk everything by fleeing their homelands. No refugee chooses this path lightly. As the Somali poet Warsan Shire says: ‘no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.’ 
Today the richest 1% of people own more than the rest of world combined. This cannot be right. UK Government policies penalise the very poorest, for example the draconian bedroom tax and proposed changes to the tax credit system. For many food banks are essential for day-to-day living, but this merely papers over the cracks and fails to get to the heart of the problem. Rather than targeting the poor, why not introduce legislation to recoup money from companies who dodge UK tax by using off-shore accounts?
What sustains you in your commitment?
I believe there is good in everyone. For us to live in harmony with our fellow men and women, and with the world God has created for our stewardship, we must strive towards the common good. Margaret Thatcher once declared: ‘there is no such thing as society.’ On the contrary – through caring social interaction we harness what is best in humankind. When we put the needs of others before our own we are living the gospel message. I see many small acts of kindness by ordinary people that give hope for the future.
In recent years there’s been an encouraging rise in ‘people power’ through marches, letter writing and online petitions. Governments and corporations are taking notice of public opinion and modifying their policies accordingly.
The power of forgiveness inspires me. The Forgiveness Project and the initiative set up for victims of crime in England and Wales, Why Me? bring together victims and perpetrators to aid understanding. Forgiveness is central to Jesus’ teachings. If we sincerely forgive seventy times seven times (Matthew 18: 22) we can experience peace in our hearts. 
I’m encouraged by the success of Hope not Hate challenging the rise of extremism in the UK. Building bridges between different faith communities, celebrating what we have in common, is essential to achieving peace. In my home town, Altrincham, we have a thriving Inter Faith group that enables different congregations to socialise and discover more about each other. 
What are your hopes for a Church like ours for the 21st Century?
The Church is in a time of flux: an ageing and diminishing priestly population; dwindling congregations; challenges to long-held views. Whilst some see this as a cause for concern I think it provides an opportunity for the Spirit to revitalise the Church in a new and exciting way. To facilitate change priests and people alike must heed the signs of the times and respond wisely. We need a fuller collaboration between clergy and laity, appreciating the many gifts lay people offer; the acceptance of married men to the priesthood; a greater respect for women so we will no longer be second class. Women make up more than half the congregation yet, although the glass ceiling has been broken in many areas, we still live in the shadows within the Church. True equality will only be achieved when women are admitted to the diaconate and ultimately to the priesthood.
We also need a heartfelt and lasting commitment to young people. At present little is done to encourage and inspire them and they see no relevance in church-going. This must change if the Church is to survive. Whilst many teenagers feel a strong sense of social justice, their enthusiasm and gifts are under-used in parish life. J&P can play a key role in Confirmation preparation leading to involvement in the local community and the wider world.
Above all, I pray for a Church where everyone feels welcome: an open, accepting, non-judgemental Church with a place at the table for all.
Anne O’Connor has been involved in Justice and Peace as a lay volunteer since 1984. In addition to producing newsletters and e-bulletins she has written drama, poetry, action sheets, Stations of the Cross and a J&P based Confirmation Programme for young people, plus seasonal material and prayer reflections for adult groups. She is a regular contributor to the NJPN column in the The Universe.

Speaking Personally – Mike Hornsby-Smith

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from?
I can still recall Fr. McEwan at the Salesian College, Battersea, teaching us about Rerum Novarum in the Fourth Form. An early interest in politics came from my aunt who was a government minister. When canvassing in Attercliffe when I was a student at Sheffield I was enormously impressed by the extraordinary politeness of people who seemed to be deprived. In my first job at Battersea College of Technology I was ‘invited’ to become Branch Secretary of the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions and remained so long after we moved to Guildford as the University of Surrey. There a postgraduate student, Fr. Bob Bogan, invited me to become a member of the A&B diocesan Justice and Peace Commission. To my great surprise the then Bishop Cormac invited me to chair the commission and I did so for six years. I was invited to join the Committee of the Catholic Institute for International Relations (now Progressio) for six years and I went on a three-week CAFOD exposure trip to the Philippines in 1984. Fr. Michael McGlade returning from Chile brought a healthy breath of liberation theology to our parish for a few years. Over the years I went on major demonstrations such as the protest against war in Iraq, the ‘Make Poverty History’ demonstration in Edinburgh, and the climate change demonstration before Copenhagen. I was briefly a member of a Pax Christi working party. I was pleases to become a patron of Housetop which campaigns for women priests. In sum, my call was not a Damascus experience so much as a gradual learning experience. The Second Vatican Council was a major inspiration as were the many friends I made in the justice and peace movement.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today?
Three issues strike me as particularly relevant at this time. The world is changing and we need to recognise the reality of globalisation and its implications for the changing labour market. We also need to reinterpret the nature of security threats in the world today. So firstly, the steady increase in inequality since the 1980s must be tackled if social cohesion is to be retained. The recent books by the French economist, Thomas Piketty, and by Anthony Atkinson, point to the need for comprehensive responses. Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium has some pointed suggestions to follow. Secondly, the issue of global warming is one which will determine our response to intergenerational injustices and we need to respond as individuals, campaigning groups, nations and international organisations. Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ puts the issue into the context of respect for God’s creation. Thirdly, I believe we need to reappraise the place of the UK in the 21st century. Our foreign and defence policies must reflect the current and projected dangers and we need to recognise that we must work collaboratively with other nations, particularly those in the EU. We need to work collaboratively to reform major international institutions such as the UN, IMF and World Bank. Nuclear disarmament and a reduction of arms production must be actively promoted.

What sustains you in your commitment?
The commitment of activists is enormously inspiring and supportive. I recall meeting Bruce Kent, Pat Gaffney and members of Pax Christi on the anti Iraq War demonstration, Kevin Burr in Edinburgh for the ‘Make Poverty History’ demonstration, and Fr. Owen Hardwicke before the Copenhagen meeting on climate change. In the past colleagues on the diocesan justice and peace commission and CIIR (Progressio) committee, such as Mildred Nevile and Ian Linden, were inspirational and encouraging. For nearly forty years I have been a member of my parish Justice and Peace group. It has usually been a ‘hard slog’ but, in spite of much indifference and occasional hostility in the parish, the perseverance of our handful of members has been inspirational. We have a routine of welcoming the parish diversity on Racial Justice Sunday, organising a 10% collection of Christmas spending for chosen charities and a ‘write for rights’ campaign around Christmas, then in the New Year Peace Sunday and Poverty and Homelessness Sundays. This year we are focussing on environmental issues and Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. Of course, absolutely fundamental has been the teaching of Vatican II, especially Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium and Catholic Social Teaching since.

What are your hopes for a Church like ours for the 21st century?
Primarily that it will be a ‘People of God’ Church and won’t regress to a pre-Vatican Church and that clericalism will be replaced by collaborative ministries. I also hope that there will be a growing concern to teach parishioners some of the key characteristics of Catholic social teaching in the weekly homilies. Issues such as the intrinsic dignity of each human being, the importance of the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, and the preferential options for the poor and for non-violence are rarely taught. Yet recent teaching of the popes since Vatican II are rich with the implications of bringing closer God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. Pope Francis has been inspirational but how many know he said ‘no to an economy of exclusion; no to the new idolatry of money; no to a financial system which rules rather than serves; and no to the inequality which spawns violence’? Somehow we need to enthuse young Catholics with a new social vision of being a follower of Jesus. Finally, I hope there will be a growing awareness that we need to address gender and generational injustices.

Personal Note: Michael P. Hornsby-Smith is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey and the author of An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and a simplified version in Following Jesus as Pilgrims, Servants and Prophets: Letters to my Grandchildren (Fastprint Publishing, 2014).

7 August 2015.

Speaking Personally: Pat Gaffney, General Secretary of Pax Christi


Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from?

I think this was very much a home-grown thing, not given a name such as justice and peace. My father was a shop-steward and being a Scot I also heard something of the influence of Keir Hardie on the lives of working people. After raising her two children my mother trained to be a nurse and she too was involved in her union and when a local hospital was threatened with closure took part in a campaign to it. There was no song and dance about this; it was just what people did. Then when I went to train to teach in the early 1970s I was very inspired by what I heard of the life and changes in church in Latin America, this thing called Liberation Theology; reading the work of Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Ivan Illich, Celebration of Awareness, these titles alone imply a radical reading of the times; joining the Young Christian Students taking part in projects such as the Simon Community and Third World First (now People and Planet) and for this I have to thank the Religious of the Assumption. Again, I don’t recall this being called justice and peace. We were provided with many opportunities to become involved in the world beyond ourselves, to think out of the box.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today?

First, that we have not yet managed to shift thinking about security and peace out of the military box and second, that as a Church we have not yet learned the deep value of the practice and possibility of nonviolence. Failing in these two things has, I feel, stopped us making genuine progress is ridding the world of war and violence.

How mad is it that the UK Government has the 6th largest military budget in the world? We go on applying military solutions to problems that cannot be solved by weapons and armies: extremism in its many forms, poverty, climate change. How great it would be if our churches, schools, communities could engage people in discussions about what security means to them, tease out key issues and concerns, and then ask what investment and resources are needed to address them? This would begin to reshape thinking and prompt creative economic and political decisions making

As for nonviolence, for many the word still conjures up passivity, doing nothing, allowing oneself to be walked over. Yet we have only to look at key practitioners, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mairead Corrigan, and the work of Pax Christi, to see that active nonviolence faces injustice, violence, the mis-use of power and aims to stop and transform them. Again, we need to invest in nonviolence – be educated about it, trained in it, develop a spirituality to underpin it so that we can confidently begin to apply creative nonviolent solutions to the challenges we face. The Jesuit Daniel Berrigan writes about the enormous energy, ingenuity, and money and so on that goes into war and war preparations and laments the half-heartedness, lack of energy and investment that goes into peacemaking.

What sustains you in your commitment?

Most of all people. The memory and energy of all those who have formed me to this point in my life – from family and friends, colleagues from my teaching days and my work with CAFOD and for the past twenty-five years the Pax Christi community. Their witness, sticking power and their friendships are a reminder that we need relationships that offer discernment about the important matters of life to stop us going mad, to stop us from trying to do things on our own. Being able to share a common world view with others, building communities with others around our concerns is vital. Then there are all those I meet here and overseas who work for peace and justice in desperately hostile environments. Whether it is the person in a parish who struggles to get a dialogue going about militarism in schools or a family in Palestine challenging laws that force them to live apart or those working with refugees in Syria worn down by the never-ending violence. If they will not give up the very least I can do is try to accompany them by small acts of peacemaking here.

I do also need some ‘time out’, quiet time when I can stand back a bit, take stock, reflect and pray, to remind myself of the bigger picture and of our real source of hope and courage.

What are your hopes for a Church like ours for the 21st Century?

Pope Francis and the way he is choosing to live out his role. His words reach beyond our ears and our brain; they touch something deep within us. How many times has he used phrases such as ‘we have forgotten how to weep’ and challenge us to ask the question, ‘who is my brother/sister?’ He makes it clear that we are get into the mess and muddle of the world – and not obsess about status or place. He wants us to be passionate, not lukewarm people. I find this very attractive, and of course very challenging!

All of this, I believe, is speaking in a fresh and vivid way to a largely secular society. It will therefore support and strength networks and organisations that have been doing the work of peace and social justice for decades. Maybe we will feel emboldened to see our work in new ways and if we have become stale or disillusioned, we will find the courage to change and work differently.  Fear of change can paralyse us and rob us of hope.

Soon we have an election and after that a new (?) landscape within which to work. So we have to be ready to pick ourselves up from disappointments and see a host of new opportunities, new faces with whom to share our visions and passions.


Speaking Personally: Maria Elena Arana

Maria Elena Arana

 Maria Elena has worked at CAFOD as Campaign Coordinator for 22 years. She is the CAFOD representative on NJPN, the National Board of Catholic Women, and the Environmental Issues Network of CTBI. Born in Mexico and brought up in NY she has been based in London for 30 years.

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace come from?  I was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and my grandmother who I was named for was a rock of her family and her community. She was either at home or at church- and people knew that they could knock on her door for help, support or food. Growing up in two countries- one, in the main, rich and one much poorer meant that I started asking questions about justice and equality fairly early on. My American mother Grace was a great stalwart of her parish in New York and of several Catholic Women’s organisations. She was loud, outgoing and a great organiser of events while my Mexican father Manuel was quiet, thoughtful and intellectually astute. And he was great for long debates into the night about politics and faith. They and my Catholic schooling supported my interested in social justice- and I began in a small way by attending an anti-Viet Nam protest when I was in High School. But it wasn’t until university when I learned about what was happening in Latin America- especially Chile and Central America that I began to get more involved with solidarity campaigning. And meeting my future English husband Robert on a demonstration in front of the White House while we were working on our Masters ensured that Justice, Peace and Politics have always been part of our life.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today?
I have to say that the two issues that I think we all must be concerned about are access to food and climate change. CAFOD’s Hungry for change campaign comes at a really important moment when the world currently grows enough food for all and yet 1 in 8 people still do not have enough food to eat. And this can impact not just poor people in the developing world but poor people everywhere. And the second issue that most concerns me is climate change and environmental justice. That is a key issue for our world and we need to push our politicians to really begin to tackle this important issue. We now have a good Climate Change Act but we need to make sure that the Act is strongly enforced. But we also need to do what we can locally and that is why I am so proud of the work that CAFOD has done to create the livesimply award for Catholic parishes and communities. In my 22 years working at CAFOD, I believe the livesimply award is one of the most important initiatives that I have worked on. It is a great opportunity for many Catholic parishes to build community and support each other in their campaigning action, and celebrate all the great environmental justice and solidarity work that they can accomplish together.

What sustains you in your commitment?
I am sustained and inspired by so many around me within CAFOD, and so many others active in the J&P movement both lay people and religious. As part of my role at CAFOD not only have I had the chance to meet with and work with many of our overseas partners but also I spend a lot of time with CAFOD volunteers around the country. I draw so much inspiration from that partnership and accompaniment both from the developing world and in England and Wales. And I have the opportunity to learn from others who work with CAFOD such as theologian David McLoughlin who reminded us at the Hungry for change launch that, “Jesus’ shared meals embodied his teachings. Jesus is contaminated because he eats with the sinners and the unclean, prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus seems to act out his own teaching by eating with men and women of every station ignoring distinctions. He teaches us that there is an alternative!” Another key value that sustains me is solidarity. As Pope John Paul II wrote in On Social Concern, 1987, “It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all….because we are all really responsible for all.” Learning of the close connection between Oscar Romero and CAFOD was a great inspiration to me as well as hearing about him and the work of the church in El Salvador from colleagues who knew him well.

What are your hopes for a Church like ours in the 21st Century?
This year’s Year of Faith is a great opportunity! There is so much excellent material in the Vatican II documents. It can be extremely challenging to think about how we all, as God’s people, should evangelise. I always think that St Francis told it best- “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”. We can see that the best way to evangelise is by the way we live our lives. As my CAFOD colleague Susy Brouard puts it, “we need a moral imagination to picture alternative models of having and being. And we need more than ever to live out our vocation as Christians.” I am so fortunate each year to visit a number of parishes that support CAFOD. So often I find them real centres of love and community, supporting their members as well as doing so much for the communities that CAFOD works with in the developing world, and with groups in poverty and need in this country. There are always stresses and tensions – but I believe there is much that we as the Catholic Church in England and Wales can be very proud of. We are facing many challenges, with increasing inequality, poverty and the ever greater impacts of climate change. But there is so much good news that we as Catholics can share with our social tradition to encourage others to be challenged and empowered by its emphasis on solidarity and partnership.

Speaking Personally: Maire Hayes

Sister Maire Hayes

Sister Maire is a member of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Holy Spirit, currently living in Luton working with Grassroots interfaith project. She is a member of theNJPN Executive.

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from? It comes to a large extent from my familyupbringing. Both my parents had a social conscience and lived their lives accordingly. They brought me up to be aware of the situation so many people were living in the Ireland of the 1950’s. This was developed and nurtured by the education I received in the schools of the Congregation I was to enter. My study as a student in Liverpool in the lives of such icons as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, their lives of commitment to their beliefs and sacrifice inspired me greatly. Again as a student I took part in protest marches against Apartheid, Ban the Bomb Save the Whale … but all somewhat spasmodic and “gentle “. However it was my privilege to be missioned by my Congregation in1980 to Chile that changed me radically. Those 22 years were God’s gift to me. I lived and worked there during the cruel dictatorship of Augustus Pinochet, in the “poblaciones” – marginalized areas, in Santiago, Chile’s capital city. Not only did I share the neighbourhood of the pobladores, but also the fear and injustice that marked their daily lives. Liberation Theology, the study of the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff, Segundo Galilea to mention but a few of these inspiring theologians deepened my option to work for justice. My way of praying the Scriptures changed. I took part in activities and protest that denounced injustices, like the Movement Sebastion Acevedo against Torture. I worked alongside the courageous group of women who constantly asked of the Government of Pinochet “DONDE ESTAN!” “WHERE ARE THEY!” of the thousands of missing people who” disappeared” under this regime. I visited political prisoners of some faith and none who inspired me by their dedication to work for justice for the Chilean people. All these experiences and many more, plus the companionship of many pobladores, sisters, priests -some even giving their lives for the cause of justice- were an incentive and support during my years in Chile. “Bread Work Justice Freedom”, the cry of protesters, still remains with me.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today? I returned to the UK and was missioned to multicultural and multi faith Luton. New doors opened in the form of Inter faith dialogue. Hans Kung expressed it thus, “No peace in the world without peace among religions. No peace among religions without dialogue between religions”. I work in an ecumenical organization Grassroots in a programme “A Spirituality thatDoes Justice. With my Grassroots colleagues we engage in inter faith dialogue through reflection and action. Over the challenging years we have with a multi faith steering group achieved Fairtrade Town status for Luton. We organize events like the Peace Walk each year visiting places of worship of the different Faiths, with conversations and exchanges of hospitality hopefully leading to a better understanding of “near neighbours” – a few examples of working for a Luton inHarmony despite the tensions constantly brewing in the town.My years in Luton have urged me to contemplate the teaching of peace and justice in other faiths.

What sustains you in your commitment?
My prayer life – the spirituality of my congregation expresses it thus: “The same Spirit who gathers us in Congregation is also the one that sends us in the simplicity and boldness of the Gospel with those who seek to build the world through justice and love.” RL 10;and “For us there is no mission without adoration without calling upon the Spirit to renew the face of the earth”. RL12.There are organizations that sustain me like the vision ofNJPN, GRASSROOTS, LUTON COUNCIL OF FAITHS, CAFOD,LINKS- RELIGIOUS OF ENGLAND AND WALES, JP IC COMMISSION NORTHAMPTON….Again the examples of so many people who hit the headlines challenging injustices and working for the Common Good and also the unsung people who work quietly in their localities building a society of friendship and kindness. Then there are my memories for to remember is to stress the obligation we have as Christians to humanize an inhuman world. Memories are a form of meeting people who have touched my life and are witnesses of a God of justice and tender love. Indeed I do not think I could live my vow of poverty authentically without working on justice issues.

What are your hopes for a Church like ours for the 21st Century?`
The words and gestures of Pope Francis are an expression ofHope for me, the “untying of the knots” that bind our Church.He speaks of the Church as “a mother with an open heart and with doors wide open”. I hope for an inclusive Church in every way compassionate and not so legalistic, where women are appreciated for their gifts of insight and have a role in decision making and taking at different levels in the structures of ourChurch. A Church that is poor and is for the poor, that lives out the directives of Vatican II especially regarding relations with other Faiths (Nostra Aetate). A Church in which we the baptized are helped and supported to live out the responsibilities of our baptism in our families, parishes and society and so build up the living stones spoken of by St Paul. How we would be changed and begin the ripple effect around us! Finally a Church that speaks out strongly on option for the poor, compassion for refugees, economic justice, care of the earth, indeed the injustices of our world -we know them, let us the Church help our leaders to articulate them. Religious women and men have been directed by Pope Francis to “Wake up the world!” (Rejoice) or as the prophet Micah proclaims; “This is what Yahweh asks of you, only this to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God”. Micah6:8

Speaking Personally: Louise Zanre

Louise Zanre

Louise has worked for Jesuit Refugee Service UK for over thirteen years, 11 of which as Director. Prior to that she worked with Pax Christi. In the past she has been the Chairperson of the National Catholic Refugee Forum and the treasurer of the Asylum Rights Campaign. She currently sitson the steering group of the Churches Refugee Network and is a member of the advisory body to the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe Regional Director.

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from?I suspect it’s a mixture of different things. Family background has a lot to do with it. My parents encouraged us to think in a socially minded way about things. As a child I was encouraged to give one of my gifts to the local orphanage in Edinburgh, and at Easter time I helped my father bring stocks of Easter eggs to the orphanage. But there was also encouragement to think about what it would mean to be in that person’s situation, what we would like people to do for us. The other part of it was growing up in the central belt of Scotland at the time of the Northern Ireland Troubles, which had a huge impact on behaviour in that part of Scotland in particular. I remember at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement there were an awful lot of fights between adults but also between students at the local non-denominational school and Catholic school, culminating at one point in a full blown riot on the main road to Edinburgh. I remember seeing teenagers trying to kill each other, fighting on top of buses, on top of lorries, taking bricks to each other. I thought to myself at that point that this isn’t religion, religion is being used as an excuse here and there must be a better way forward. That was the reason why I then went on to study Law, and that conviction that there has to be a better way was why I then went to work in the faith based charitable sector.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today
I suppose, generally speaking, it’s the growth of individualism, a sense that everything is alright as long as I’m alright. A lot less thought is given to the effects of policies or decisions or behaviour on other people around us. When it comes to my professional work, a lot of the things that exercise us most at JRS are the result of that individualism gone rampant with respect to immigration policy and particularly to the effect on people who are fleeing human rights abuses and seeking asylum here. I see that manifested in an overuse of austerity as a reason why it’s acceptable to limit services or assistance for people in marginalised groups, without an understanding that there should be a discussion about what’s most appropriate for our society to be funding. So for example no-one ever says ‘Where shall we find money for Trident?’ rather than ‘Where shall we find money for the Health Service?’

The current Immigration Bill going through Parliament has several things in it that are of concern. One of them is access to primary health care. The reason why it’s in the bill is because the Government feels there’s a lot of ‘health tourism’ into the UK. In fact the statistics show less than 0.01% are health tourists in the strict sense of the word, but the effects of the measures will be to deny anyone who does not have

Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK or is not an EU citizen from having access to GP surgeries. That has implications not only for the destitute asylum seekers we are working with at JRS but also people from religious orders who are here on ‘minister of religion’ visas. That shows another problem of society to do with misuse of financial reasons for justifying some of these policies. There is no consideration whatsoever of other values that people bring to society. Just because someone isn’t paying tax doesn’t mean that they aren’t being of benefit to society, that they’re not sharing their skills or talents or fulfilling a useful function, whether it’s the minister of religion carrying out pastoral duties or a destitute asylum seeker volunteering for charities or in the NHS. It’s a fundamental skew of basic values within our society.

What sustains you in your commitment?
People! People I come across – refugees, members of parishes where I go to speak, meeting people who wouldn’t otherwise have the help that we are able to offer, or who share concerns and are able to derive mutual support from each other. And my colleagues, the volunteers who help here, they are living manifestations of the goodwill in society.

What are your hopes for a Church like ours for the 21st Century?
It’s a mix of different things. A lot of hope has been given for the Church by Pope Francis giving personal witness in his concern for those who are marginalised, those who are isolated, those who are poor. That really speaks to my own personal convictions, about where I should be putting my energies. And it really speaks to a wider hope too, that in some way it is institutionalising a concern for the poor beyond the theological rhetoric. Having the theology, having Church social teaching is fantastic and it’s great to have that underpinning, but to have it enacted at the highest level in the Church, to have that basic concern manifested, is really encouraging, really gives hope and life to the Church going into the future.

Speaking Personally: Kay Finnegan

Kay Finnegan
Kay is a Sister of our Lady of Charity. For the past ten years she has been working with women in prostitution and other vulnerable women in the Kings Cross area and as a Chaplaincy Volunteer in Holloway Prison.  

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from?I was greatly influenced by my father. During my childhood I was aware that two nights a week he was out on St Vincent de Paul business. I knew that he visited less privileged families than ours and that these visits entailed bringing material help. I was also aware that he was co-founder of our town’s Trades Union Council and was very busy when all the local factories went on strike. He and the Parish Priest were involved in negotiations. I was impressed by his knowledge of the Church’s Social Teaching and the periodicals he subscribed to. So, joining a congregation that worked with marginalised women just seemed the natural thing to do. In my early days in Religious Life I attended Juniorate studies in Portobello Road for two years. Sisters there were from 47 different nations and there were many missionaries. I was particularly disturbed by the problems of Rhodesia when Unilateral Independence was declared and concerned about the struggle for independence from colonial rule in Africa. I was in Kenya during the 70s and experienced for myself how the other half lives. Later I studied Liberation Theology and this blew my mind. I think all these experiences, plus our charism and apostolate, and the life of our founder, St Jean Eudes, have all moulded me into who and what I am.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today?
The whole area of marginalisation and oppression of women at every level of society in every part of the world. And I think prostitution is one of the forms that the abuse and exploitation of women takes in a very overt yet hidden way. Also the violence that we do to each other and to the rest of creation. All the injustice in the world, all the people who are dehumanised and impoverished at every level. You just have to look at the monopolisation of knowledge which keeps so many millions of people in ignorance and powerless, so that power belongs to the few.

What sustains you in your commitment?
I’ve taken a fourth vow as a Sister of Our Lady of Charity to be actively involved in ministry to vulnerable women to the end of my days. The vow doesn’t feel like something I’m obliged to do. How can I describe it—it’s almost as if a seed has been planted inside me and ever since it’s just kept growing and become a vital part of who and what I am. I have a passionate desire for right relationship with and for everybody. I’m moved by people’s pain and suffering. Secondly and just as importantly, I am sustained by my prayer life and prayers and example of other Sisters. As I grow older I am more aware of the need to open myself in prayer in order to be fed and sustained and transformed. And of course the women themselves are a huge source of inspiration, and give me so much. 

What are your hopes for a Church like ours in the 21st Century?
I would like to see a real implementation of Vatican II. WE are The People of God. I’d like pastors to feed congregations with the Social Teaching of the Church. I’d like a Church that listens to and is more influenced by the People of God. A living, changing Church. A Church that is relevant. A Church that challenges injustices and that asks relevant questions.

Speaking Personally: John Battle

John Battle

John was National Co-ordinator for Church Action on Poverty from 1983 until being elected MP for Leeds West in 1987. He has been Minister of State at the Dept of Industry and the Foreign Office. Since retiring as MP in 2010 he is, among other things, involved in community organising, Chair of Leeds J&P Commission and a Patron of NJPN.

Where does your commitment to justice and peace comes from?
The roots of my commitment to justice and peace are probably deep in my own family and Church experience. I learnt my own faith and politics from my mother and father and a good strong extended family which I was fortunate to be born into in Batley Carr, Dewsbury. Then I had the great privilege of studying for the Church to train to be a priest at the time of the great Vatican 11 Council, to learn the scriptures and story of the Church at a time when it was reaching out to the modern world. At the same time the western world was rediscovering the experiences of the two thirds world, and the likes of Thomas Merton, Charles de Foucault and Dorothy Day with the Catholic workers in America were insisting on finding ways of living out “contemplation in a world of action”. Part of my seminary training involved working in local communities under intense pressure such as Kirkby near Liverpool and Worsley Mesnes in Wigan and in Leeds when I left the seminary. The hopeful resistance of people struggling to survive to be found in poor communities always provides a driving inspiration. Great modern Gospel witnesses like Dom Heldar Camara in Brazil and Archbishop Oscar Romero insisted not only on being alongside the poor but on publicly asking “why they are poor”, challenging us to address unjust economic, social and political structures.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today?
Today the main concern has to be the widening gap locally and globally between the rich and the poor, and spelling out that the rich get rich at the expense of the poor, overconsuming the planet’s resources. The theologian Enrique Dusserl reminds us that the rich “consume the lives of the poor”. Today the” individual” is sacrificed on the altar of the so called “free market” and the poor are personally blamed for their plight. The need to address and spell out causes of structural injustice is greater than ever before. Inequalities are increasing and there is little real sense of a “common good” for all people and creation. These increasing divisions themselves lead to violence, conflict and destruction at all levels. Challenging the pervasive pessimism which insists there is “no alternative” to “free markets” and “growth” regardless of sustainability remains imperative. The Gospel message of encouragement and hope is more needed than ever to transform ourselves and our world, but it needs to be preached in the context of developing a new and deep sense of relationship and “solidarity” between all peoples. Today the “local is global and the global is local ” particularly in our urban cities where most of humanity now live and in which paradoxically as Pope Benedict commented “poverty is also isolation”. Rebuilding “basic supportive communities” is a primary task for the Church and wider society.

What sustains you in your commitment?
We do not start out alone from scratch. The great “communion of saints” (not all named and publicly proclaimed”) are witnesses to the “good news” of the Gospel in the witness of their lives that we can look to for inspiration and encouragement. We can find the face of Jesus Christ every day in other people particularly among the poor, sick and vulnerable in our own families and neighbourhoods as well as much further afield in our world. Great saints have gone before us but great saints are also among us today, living witnesses to the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

What are your hopes for a Church like ours for the 21st Century?
The first messages of Pope Francis are a great fresh start for our Church. Firstly by directing us to the brilliant witness of Saint Francis himself and by suggesting that we become “a poor Church of the Poor” he has staked out a deep challenge. Significantly he did not just say we are a “church of the poor” but challenged us all to be a” poor Church”. Nor is this just an issue for the Vatican and the Bishops but rather it is as personal challenge to us all to be in solidarity with the poor among us.

Pope Francis insists that going towards the poor to “meet and greet” is not enough. We need to become “with ” the poor not doing things “to ” or “for” them. This will demand a solidarity of lifestyle we have not yet prepared for, and it implies that transforming the world cannot be done just by challenging words but by “living out the radical Gospel of Jesus Christ” and fusing together the tasks of transforming ourselves and our world simultaneously. We can no longer tell others what to do .We have to become living witnesses to the truth of the Gospel and that will lead us into a much deeper challenges to existing unjust structures, institutions, vested interests and policies that keep people poor and unable to develop their full human potential and right relationships.


Speaking Personally: Joe Ryan

Fr Joe Ryan

Fr. Joe  was ordained priest in 1971 in Tipperary and has served in 6 parishes in the Westminster Diocese. He has been Chair of the Justice and Peace Commission for seven years as well as being responsible for parish duties. He has always tried to get involved in local issues and in the wider field and especially supporting the organisations working for peace and the good of society.

Where do you think your commitment to justice and peace comes from?
When I look back over my forty years of priesthood in the Westminster diocese, I have been influenced by the many wonderful people I have met and worked with, lay and clerical. The basic Gospel values and the ministry of Jesus has always been an inspiration. The concept that “Jesus has no hands, mind, heart, but ours”, offers a challenge and opportunity which I feel needs to be responded to. A major turning point in my life was a trip to the Philippines over 30 years ago, that exposed me to the struggle for justice and equality; the scandal of the divide between rich and poor and the fact that one could be a voice for the voiceless. The example of peace workers, campaigners, has helped to open my eyes, mind and heart, to be part of the struggle for justice in our world. The invitation to come on board has been there, and I feel it a privilege to be able to support and respond. It is so vital to seek the support of like-minded people. When it comes to Justice and Peace issues it is very easy to feel isolated from the main body of the Catholic Church. So often one needs to be outspoken on issues, and this can be misinterpreted as being disloyal or misguided, or irrelevant or any other dismissive attitude. When you overcome these notions, you then just get on with the job.

What for you are the most important areas of concern today?
So often when I speak to people on Justice and Peace issues, the scales come over their eyes and the matter is not considered to be part of our Christian witness. Justice issues are at the heart of Jesus’ Gospel message – not some optional extra we will engage in when we have “saved our souls”. As had been said again and again, “The Church teaching on Social Justice is one of the best kept secrets ever”. This alleged concept is not acceptable and we must not rest until we totally unpack the treasures now ignored. There are so many concerns being addressed by different agencies – overcoming poverty, the arms trade; climate change; migrants/ refugees; homelessness; Human Rights, etc. all of these and more, need to be pursued. We need to support one another and share expertise even more. We need to be a voice for the voiceless!!

What sustains you in your commitment?
I like to be prepared! On the day of judgement, Jesus will say: “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, in prison … and you came to my help!” This truth is very clear and there should be no confusions in our minds as to the priorities recommended by Jesus. I would say it’s the support of like-minded people who are already long since committed to the task of peace. There are so many people who quietly get on with meetings, campaigning, expressing their views by word and deed – simply being witnesses to supporting human values. The goodness of parishioners who have supported me over my 40 years of priesthood and friend’s active in Justice and Peace movements. I have taken the responsibility of Chair of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission seriously and it has opened up challenges and opportunities I had never dreamt of. It is a privilege to be part of an important voice within the Catholic Church, to be able to reach out in so many different ways in an official capacity. It can also mean “ploughing a lonely furrow” – but there is also so much support all around.