NJPN Mini Conference 18 July 2020
Post Pandemic Church:
Paralysed or Energised? Recovered or Re-imagined?
The restrictions of the past months are slowly being eased and we are hearing a great deal about ’getting our lives back on track’, ‘getting back to normal’, or finding ‘the new normal’ but as people with a concern for justice and peace, we cannot and must not return to life as it was before the onset of the virus, because for so many of our sisters and brothers here and around the world normal was not great, in fact normal was very bad. Many felt and indeed – were excluded, neglected and ignored – socially and politically, as well as in some of our places of worship.
As the 2020 NJPN Swanwick conference has now been re-scheduled for July 2021, it is important that we take time to reflect on the past few months and begin to re-imagine how, as a network, we contribute to building a better world for all people. The NJPN mini conference could be seen as the beginning of a process of discernment as we move into a time of great uncertainty and instability for our world.
The morning session opened with a reflection on Psalm 139 ‘O God you search me and you know me’ beautifully sung by Anna and Eleanor Marshall. Paul Bodenham J&P worker in Nottingham hosted this session and asked that “we listen with the ears of the heart” reminding us of the opening words of Gaudium et Spes:
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.
POPE PAUL VI, DECEMBER 7, 1965
On the 5th anniversary of Laudato Si’ we can also recall Pope Francis’ words:
“Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without once again falling into reductionism”
POPE FRANCIS (PARA: 70)
During this first session we heard from those who have been alongside some of the most vulnerable in our society as their pre-existing and newly emerging difficulties have now become ever more exposed. We heard from Colette Joyce from Westminster J&P about the homeless people she encountered whilst working at the feeding station set up in Trafalgar Square, a fantastic witness by people of different faiths working together for the common good. Whilst we were all being urged to stay at home and many homeless people were placed in hotels the plight of our sisters and brothers with no recourse to public funding became even more critical, evidence of the hostile environment where many seeking a place of safety barely exist, as one person commented ‘living in the shadows’
Nick Hanrahan from the Jesuit Refugee Service, speaking from his experience of working alongside his refugee friends during the pandemic also emphasised the plight of those with no recourse to public funding, who are forbidden to work and the hostile environment in which many who have come to us seeking safety find themselves. Walking alongside refugee friends during the pandemic has been challenging, with the closing of the centre where many found pastoral support, friendship and opportunity to develop skills. Visits to those in detention centres cannot take place and Nick highlighted the difficulties in being alongside refugee friends when the only contact is by telephone, when feelings of isolation and anxiety are increased.
JRS has become ‘a mobile service, during the pandemic, providing food parcels and top up vouchers to those who are destitute. Many of the refugees belong to BAME community and are susceptible to the virus, have little access to ongoing healthcare and rely on agencies such as JRS for survival.
Nick urged those concerned with justice and peace to speak up for those with no recourse to public funding.
We next heard from Kevin Flanagan from St. Anthony’s Centre for Church and Industry Trafford. Work has continued throughout the past months and Kevin spoke about the current and long term effects of the pandemic on working people and families. Kevin reminded us of the requirements of Catholic Social Thinking in referring to Pope John Paul II, (Centesimus Annus 1991)
“Human work is probably the fundamental key to the whole social question”
Kevin went on to say that “marginalisation is linked to work or lack of work” and that job losses will increase as a result of COVID 19 and many more families will be living in poverty by the end of 2020. Kevin is convinced that the future for working people relies on training for work. Apprenticeships are key to enabling people to work but over the past years funding has been reduced and employers are reluctant to invest in training. Many young workers are employed in less secure areas of work, the arts, entertainment and hospitality and in the post pandemic workplace competition for available jobs will increase.
As members of the Church, Kevin believes that we should be calling for greater engagement with Catholic social teaching for both clergy and laity, we should be campaigning for fair and secure employment for all and working for a “radical and transformational Church that witnesses that which it preaches in a very radical way” Kevin concluded that it is not time to sit on the fence but is time for action.
The final speaker in our morning session was Clare Dixon Head of CAFOD – Latin America, who gave an overview of the international impact of CIVID 19. All that has been experienced locally and nationally has been seen globally. Currently the greatest impact of the virus has been in the countries of Latin America where the impact of the infection has been under reported. The Church response has provided signs of hope for those living in impoverished communities where there is huge resilience and generosity. CAFOD and its partners invest in people and have been urged to re-purpose money in order to better respond to immediate need.
Countries in Africa will be increasingly affected, where there will be crises of hunger, lack of human rights and equality, poor governance and gender based violence, hence the launch of the DES emergency appeal.
Middle Eastern countries are facing the same issues, with under reporting of cases and lack of testing. In many situations lack of access to healthcare, political, social and economic injustice has devastating effect on already struggling communities. In the occupied territories of Palestine, demolition of homes have continued, without permits and people have no recourse to law as the court system is closed down cue to the virus.
Everything that is being experienced here is being experienced globally; there must be a strengthening of global solidarity.
In the breakout session which followed we were invited to reflect on how we felt about what we had learned about those living on the margins of our society.
The morning session ended with a hymn of repentance for all that shames our common humanity.
The lunch break provided an opportunity for informal discussion, to catch up with friends and to share information relating to issues and campaigns.
In the afternoon session we were asked to consider our response to what we had heard throughout the morning and how we move to an alternative model of being Church. Our speaker Rev. Dr. Joseph O’Hanlon began by reflecting on the “kingdom of God” as the key Gospel message and stated that as we move to a new place and time we must discover in “fresh fields and pastures new” the kingdom of justice, peace and love. Psalm 136 declares that
‘his steadfast love endures forever’
We find God’s love in a world where justice and peace flourish. God’s justice is to be understood as righteousness and we were reminded that we are called to live righteously and act justly as
“we are built from the rock of God”
Joseph went on to say that God’s peace is a gift of ‘wholeness, truth and steadfast love’ to and for all people.
So how do we move into what must be a very uncertain future? Joseph reminded us of the many blessings found in the many small virtual communities of Church that have developed over the past months and how all who gathered “received the breath of the Holy Spirit in these troubled days” He emphasised that these Churches must not be seen as a ‘stop gap’ but we must consider what have we learned from these small ‘house Churches’ gathering as did communities in the early Church, and how the Holy Spirit is calling us to bring healing to our Church.
We must gather in a spirit of reconciliation and repent as communities of our structural and social sins. Joseph believes that in this way we can move forward as communities of justice and peace and “we can stop being tiny, individual candles, and become a huge Easter candle, lighting our world along the path of peace.”
At the end of the Gospel according to Matthew we are told:
“ and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
The afternoon session opened and closed with prayer led by Marty Haugen, who has dedicated his new hymn ‘For our Common Home’ to the work and witness of the National Justice and Peace Network. We thank Marty for this wonderful gift.
After the meeting ended participants were invited to stay for an informal networking session to share information relating to events and campaigns and issues of interest as well as to catch up with many friends and colleagues whose company we value and have missed.