Joan Sharples, former fieldworker colleague in the diocese of Shrewsbury writes as follows:
Mike Simpson, who contributed to Justice and Peace in Shrewsbury Diocese over nearly 30 years, died at the weekend.
To appreciate Mike’s great contribution to justice and peace, it is necessary to think back to the world of the mid-eighties, where the Cold War was the focus of international tensions, there was still apartheid in South Africa, Ireland had its troubles and Central America was the locus of violent civil wars. In a world before email, Skype, and the Internet, it was difficult to know what was really going on. Mike Simpson, who has died after a prolonged period of ill health at the age of eighty-five, did much to raise awareness on human rights in Latin America and was involved with many other justice-and-peace issues.
When he took early retirement from teaching English at Malbank High School in Nantwich, his parish priest, Fr Jack Warnock, asked him to start a justice-and-peace group in the parish. Mike agreed, as long as it could focus on Latin America. He never did things by halves and before long his work had spread far beyond the parish. He circulated monthly letters written by Fr John Medcalf, a priest working in war torn Nicaragua giving graphic account of the effect of the country’s civil was on ordinary campesinos. These went out to aid agencies, solidarity groups, clergy, trade unions justice-and-peace activists all over the country. Before long he was organising speaking tours for catechists, trade union leaders, women’s, religious, and priests under the name of the Las Casas Network, named after Bartolome de las Casas the sixteen century Dominican, who, appalled by the oppression of the indigenous in Latin America, ‘spoke truth to power’ to the church in Rome and to Spanish rulers.
In 1989, Mike was appointed Justice and Peace worker for the Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury, the first to hold a post which he later shared with Ann Gill and Joan Sharples. He retired from the ‘money’ in 1995 but continued to work with Joan for another ten years until his health problems prevented this. He excelled at networking, with many of the contacts he made becoming long-standing friendships. Generous and committed himself, he expected the same generosity and commitment from others, attracting expert speakers from a variety of contexts to the nine biennial Justice and Peace Conferences held at Crewe between 1889 and 2005, each attended by several hundred people. People found them informing and inspiring.
Mike coordinated the final years of the December Group; the British Liberation Theology Consultation and Celebration; and Colombia Forum, which provided an analysis of human rights in that troubled country and organised speaker tours for human-rights workers, journalists, and priests. He also supported the work of national justice and peace. None of this would have been possible without the support and help of his wife, Margaret.
Mike described his own inspiration as attempting to be a ‘follower of Jesus of Nazareth’, attempting to ‘realise the gratuitous superabundance of the Kingdom’. He was particularly fond of a reflection on hope by Brazilian theologian, Rubem Alves, which contains the lines:
Let us plant dates, even though those who plant them ŵill never eat them…
we must live by the love of what we will never see
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act be dissolved away in immediate sense experience,
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren…
Such disciplined love is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for what they envisaged.
They made their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.
Mike planted dates, many, many dates.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalised. Please contact Joan Sharples firstname.lastname@example.org for funeral arrangements. Messages of condolence can be sent to Mike’s daughter, Niamh Vernon, 4 Rose Farm Barns, Dairy Lane, Aston-Juxta-Mondrum, Cheshire CW5 6DS.