Members of the National Justice and Peace Network gathered in York on Saturday, along with local justice and peace activists, for the first Open Networking Day of 2014. Several people had travelled from around the country, despite the difficult weather conditions.
The keynote speaker for the day was Tricia Griffin who shared her experience of working as volunteer on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine/Israel. She described the reality of life under occupation for the people of Palestine, such as the daily indignity and stress of those having to cross the checkpoints, often to access their own land which has been cut off by the separation wall. One delegation from South Africa described this process as worse than under apartheid. Tricia also explained that there are now 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, sometimes in settlements as big as 25,000. These settlements are illegal under international law. Among the many actions that people here can take to challenge the injustices of the occupation, Tricia highlighted: pressing for accurate labelling of goods from Israel and the West Bank, to make it clear if they are from illegal settlements; lobbying MEPs to place constraints on trading with Israel; informing ourselves and sharing the stories.
In other items raised during the day, the meeting welcomed the intervention of Archbishop Vincent Nichols at the weekend on the effect of welfare reforms on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Jesuit Refugee Service spoke of the difficulties being experienced by their international staff in Syria, and the call for civil society organisations in Syria to be included in peace talks. There was news of a new campaign, End Hunger Fast, which will be calling for people to undertake a fast against the rise of hunger in the UK. These were just some of the events and campaigns highlighted by representatives from diocesan Justice & Peace groups and agencies such as CAFOD, Housing Justice, CARJ and Pax Christi.
Middlesbrough Diocese Justice & Peace Commission, who hosted the meeting, also gave a presentation of the justice and peace activities going on around their diocese, demonstrating the vitality of engagement in action for justice and peace at the grassroots
National Justice & Peace Network holds four Open Networking Days a year. The next one will be on 10 May 2014 at the CAFOD offices in London, where theologian David McLoughlin will speak about the Church of Pope Francis and the implications for justice and peace work.
Booking are also now being taken for the Annual Justice & Peace Conference: ‘Called to Life in All Its Fullness: accepting the implications of our baptism’, 18 – 20 July at The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanick, Derbyshire. Keynote speakers will be Sarah Teather MP; Mary Colwell, environmentalist and producer of nature programmes for the BBC; Gemma Simmonds CJ, theologian; and Clare Dixon, head of CAFOD’s Latin America desk. The conference will be chaired by Rev Ruth Gee, current President of the Methodist Conference.