Blog

Image: The challenge of an Urgent Ecological Conversion

31/05/2019

Sr MaryIsabel Kilpatrick, a former National Secretary of Justice & Peace Scotland, reflects on the challenge of Laudato si: Care for our common home.


I recently participated in a sabbatical programme run by the Dominican Sisters in their Ecology Centre in Wicklow.  The programme focused on the implications for our faith and spirituality of the new universe story. There is so much more that science can tell us about our origins and development as humans and about our common home - but have our faith and spirituality kept up?

For me, it was an eye opening and inspiring experience.

I realised that my knowledge and understanding of such developments had not really moved beyond my early educational options. I had heard of Darwin and the origin of species but never really worked out the implications and perhaps just suspended judgement on how it might conflict with the seven days of creation story.

So what a wonderful revelation to begin to contemplate our 13.8-billion-year history, from the great ¨flaring forth¨ to the moment when the astronauts looked at the earth rise and saw how beautiful it is.

How amazing to realise that we are all stardust and made of the same stuff - carbon, nitrogen and all that was present at that moment of creation.

How amazing that our planet situated itself at exactly the life-permitting orbit that’s neither too near the sun to burn up, nor too far to be too cold.

And how amazing, too, the process of development of tiny organisms and the journey that takes them to the incredible variety and complexity of creatures and species with whom we share this planet.

How amazing that we share something like 45% of the genes of a fruit fly, are one third primrose, and of course, 98 % chimpanzee.

 And so it is a great challenge to take on board the urgency of the ecological conversion called for in Pope Francis´s document on Care for our Common Home, Laudato si.

Such phrases as these need time for contemplation:

¨The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore from the very heart of things something new can always emerge.¨ LS80

¨Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness¨. LS69

The most challenging revelation for me is to try to understand the meaning of Incarnation as part of this whole process: the meaning of God’s presence since the beginning, and of Jesus as a part of our evolving world; of beginning to see that our salvation is inextricably linked to the saving of our planet.

The question now of course is: do we care enough about the future?

Does the way our faith has developed or the way we have been taught have anything to do with attitudes that may have led us to separate earth and spirit?
 
What if there is no separation, and the end of the planet is the end of us all?

The challenge for Justice and Peace and for all of us is to join with those working to prevent the destruction of the planet.  Can we recover a sense of the sacredness of all things and get in touch with the Spirit that renews and enables something new to emerge, finding the energy to make the changes that are necessary?
 
        


Image: “They would point their guns in the doorway of our house”

24/05/2019

Philippa Bonella has spent three months living and working as an Ecumenical Accompanier in the Occupied West Bank and this week Philippa writes about her experiences in our blog.


A few months ago, I got back home to Edinburgh after a three month stint as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches’ EAPPI programme in the occupied West Bank.  Over autumn 2018 I was living with three other ‘internationals’ in a tiny village just south of Nablus.  We spent our days visiting Palestinian communities, reporting on human rights abuses and acting as protective presence to help Palestinian families go about their lives under occupation.

I met so many wonderful people who asked me to tell their stories back home.  One I’ll never forget is Yara (not her real name).  Yara is 54, with 6 children, and has lived in the same village all her life except for two years from 2002.  Then all the villagers were forced to flee after threats from the Israeli settlers who live in an illegal settlement outpost a few yards further up the hill.

“The evacuation was very difficult and sad for everyone,” she told me.  “We went to the next town to live with my husband’s family.  We were very cramped and the children were unhappy.  But we couldn’t stay here.  My children were very small then.  Every Saturday the settlers came down on horses with dogs.  They would point their guns in the doorway of our house where my children were watching.  They would stone the windows.  Their dogs ate our chickens and they would set our sheep loose on the hill.”

The family came back home once an international presence had been established to protect the villagers.  “My children still remember those days.  If the [Israeli] army or settlers came, everyone was afraid.  But now that has changed because they see international people coming to help.  They are not afraid anymore.

“Life here now is good – for me anyway. We have had no problems with the settlers since March last year. I have my goats and sheep, chickens and bees.  We still have 30 olive trees in our field – the rest are up the mountain behind the settlement.  We can’t reach those ones most days because the settlers will come.  But we can be free here and the village families work together to run small businesses.” 

Yara worries about the future, though. 

“In the future only old women and old men will stay here.  There are no jobs here and we cannot sell our produce.  We cannot build in the village so our children have to move to the town when they get married.”

This situation exists because this area is under military rule and building permits are rarely granted to Palestinians by the Israeli administration. 

As I travel around Scotland now, telling Yara’s story as she asked, it is hard not to worry about her future, too.  But we can all contribute to creating the conditions for peace.  Please help me repay the debt of hospitality I owe Yara and so many others, by reading the blogs of Ecumenical Accompaniers working in the West Bank today and taking whatever action you can.
 



Image: My name is Mahdi

17/05/2019

Community engagement coordinator for the Refugee Survival Trust (RST), Mahdii, tells us about his journey from asylum seeker to talk ambassador with RST in this week's blog.


I am Mahdi, community engagement coordinator for the Refugee Survival Trust (RST) since December 2018, but a volunteer since 2011 as a talk ambassador.
 
I converted to Christianity from Islam in my home country, Iran. I left Iran for exile in the UK in December 2008, when I claimed asylum.
 
In November 2012 I was granted refugee status, went to university and gained a BA Business degree. I know very well the problems which asylum seekers are facing every day. I am honoured to work with asylum seekers and refugees, and do everything I can to support them and help them to establish a new life in UK.
 
Refugee Survival Trust was set up in 1996 by a number of concerned individuals as a reaction to the problem of refugees and people claiming asylum being made destitute in Scotland. RST is a small organisation and can only exist with the continued support and expertise of its board of directors, its small team of dedicated staff, and the help of a committed team of volunteers.
 
The vision of RST is that all refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland receive just and respectful treatment and support appropriate to their needs. RST’s mission is to do everything within our available resources and powers to achieve that vision by enabling and supporting asylum seekers and refugees in need.
 
Our destitution grants programme provides small one-off payments to asylum seekers and refugees who do not receive support from the government or other sources and are at real risk of destitution. These ‘last resort’ grants are available to people seeking asylum and refugees for up to six months after they are granted refugee status. Our grants can make the difference between having somewhere to stay and sleeping rough; eating properly and begging for help. They offer brief respite from shocking hardship and emotional distress.
 
The Destitute Asylum Seeker Service (DASS) is a partnership project led by RST with the Scottish Refugee Council, British Red Cross, University of Strathclyde Law Clinic, Glasgow Night Shelter, Fasgadh and Rehoboth Nissi Ministries. Using a model of holistic support, DASS assists refused asylum seekers who are Appeal Rights Exhausted (ARE) and NRPF (with no recourse to public funds) to find a route out of destitution and resolve their situation.
 
We have three programmes that support refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland to integrate:

• Our Access to Education and Employment Grants help to overcome barriers that might otherwise prevent asylum seekers and refugees from study and work opportunities.

• Glasgow Welcome, our befriending programme, links up people who are new to Glasgow with those who are well-established, in order to explore the city, share cultural understanding, and build social networks.

• Our Office Internship programme gives refugees their first experience of working in a UK office environment.
 
RST has participated in the national policy debate on asylum in Scotland. Our ‘From Pillar to Post’ report reveals the barriers people face when they try to exercise their rights, including accessing education, health and social care services. The research also highlights the need for a national action plan to tackle asylum and migrant destitution in Scotland.
 
It is fulfilling to bring about changes in procedures affecting refugees and asylum seekers.
 



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