Image: Safe Passage to Europe

Grace Buckley reflects on a recent meeting of the European J&P network

It seemed a far cry from the trauma of the refugees (mostly Syrian) trapped in Greece that we had witnessed in Athens in April this year to the meeting room on the 8th floor of the modern building which houses the European Parliament, but there was a link.

A number of European Justice & Peace Commissions had felt the need to look critically at the responses of our governments to the "refugee crisis" in the light of the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and to try to formulate an alternative response that would have at its centre the human dignity of each person.

Athens had seemed a good place for us to meet, because the realities of the refugee experience and the impacts of European policy were unavoidable there, as was the evidence of the many kindnesses of ordinary Greeks towards their fellow human beings. Our group comprised representatives both of countries that were the starting point in Europe of the refugees' long journeys to safety (Greece, Malta, Spain) and countries that were their desired ending (Sweden, Netherlands, even Scotland).

We talked and brainstormed, as well as going out and seeing and hearing for ourselves what was happening.  Then we left our brilliant Dutch colleagues to make sense of it all and turn it into a first report. That was how we came to be sitting in a meeting room in Brussels, waiting to meet Kati Piri MEP of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats block, and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Civil Liberties Committee of the Parliament, to present the report in the context of an expert meeting.

Kati herself is the daughter of a Hungarian refugee and therefore feels a personal interest in the current refugee situation that she described as a shame on Europe.  She listened as Hamada, a Syrian refugee, told of her difficult journey to safety in Holland, our Greek colleague Nikos spoke of the realities of the situation in Greece, and journalist Tina Danckaers described the problems being    experienced in Turkey by refugees.

We also heard from academic Dr Samuel Cogolati, Sophie Scholten of the Dutch police and Samuel Simon of the IOM, who touched on aspects of European refugee and migration policy and in particular on the recent deal with Turkey, and possible alternatives.
Dutch colleague Sebastian completed the presentations by summarising the issues from our point of view: 

• Europe needs to arrange safer passage for refugees seeking to exercise their rights to claim asylum. 
• The agreement with Turkey is unacceptable as a solution to be used elsewhere, because of the human rights issues which it has raised. 
• We need the countries of Europe to face up to their responsibilities and to share the burdens.

Kati listened courteously and intently.  She did try to defend the arrangements with Turkey, pointing out that things were improving there but we felt that she was taking on board the concerns about human rights violations and the suggestions of alternative actions.  Time will tell and we will be keeping a watching brief.

Image: Seeking Peace & Unity

A reflection by Marian Pallister

The voices of insularity and intolerance may be in the ascendancy, as Nicola Sturgeon reminded us at the Third Annual Peace and Unity Conference held in Glasgow’s City Chambers recently. The First Minister was far from despondent, however. She praised the major role that faith groups have played in welcoming Syrian refugees to Scotland, and the inclusive and open attitude that is promoting a celebration of diversity.

No-one can pretend that Scotland has cracked the prejudice ceiling, but two recent events suggest that the will to do so is strong.

As well as the Peace and Unity Conference, there were the lectures, delivered in the Trades House of Glasgow, under the auspices of the Scottish Ahul Bayt Society (SABS) in collaboration with the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Glasgow Ecumenical Relations and Interfaith Matters Committee, the Scottish Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Committee for Relations with People of Other Faiths.

This was SABS theological forum’s inaugural lecture, entitled ‘Christians and the Muhammadan Covenants’.  The keynote speakers were Dr Anthony Allison of the Bishops’ Committee for Inter-Religious Dialogue, and Shaykh Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, Director General of SABS. Dr Allison reminded his audience of the Abrahamic tradition shared by Jews, Christians and Moslems and that the Qu’ran calls for dialogue between Moslems and ‘People of the Book’ – Jews and Christians.

The problem today can be what Dr Allison called the Google Bubble, a distorting echo chamber in which people’s own views are reinforced (we’ve all had those ads on the Internet that say ‘If you liked x, why don’t you try y’). This, said Dr Allison, clearly affects our religious literacy, and both Muslims and Christians suffer from it. We become misinformed, too often believing the insidious memes spread about each other’s faiths. Don’t worry – Dr Allison believes the bubble can be burst.

How? Both Dr Allison and Sheykh Sayed Razawi encouraged dialogue and discussion. Sheykh Razawi, however, wanted us to focus on the distinct difference between a covenant and a contract. A covenant is morally binding, offering freedom with responsibilities. A contract contains the element of gain and can be cancelled. A covenant, said Sheykh Razawi, is a moral obligation on people to change, to look after each other. It was this that Mohammed offered to Christians and generously, Sheykh Razawi said it is what he sees ‘being built in Scotland’ – a situation he does not see elsewhere in the world.

That same complimentary tone was adopted towards Scotland at the Third Annual Peace and Unity Conference, organised by Ahl Al-Bait Society Scotland in collaboration with other faith and community groups. Azzam Mohamad, director of Ahi Al-Bait Society, told us not ‘walk away without making new connections’. We didn’t.

Dr Anthony Allison had quoted Hans Küng, the Swiss Catholic priest, theologian, and President of the Foundation for a Global Ethic. Küng said, ‘No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions.’ Now Professor Saied Reza Ameli, Dean of Faculty of World Studies at Tehran University reminded us that minority discrimination can cause majority discrimination. ‘If a minority is insecure, larger society will feel insecure’.

The professor added ‘Justice is the main source of peace’  - an echo of Pope Paul VI, who said ‘If you want peace, work for justice.’ We really do work towards a common goal.

Image: Ten million reasons for Credit Union to celebrate!

A reflection by Fr Kevin Dow

The memory of a priest who helped thousands of families by forming a credit union was celebrated recently - as it marked an incredible ten million pounds worth of transactions.

The late Fr Gerry Prior, Parish Priest at St Peter's in Livingston, started the popular West Lothian Credit Union (WLCU) through his parish's Justice & Peace Group.

His legacy will continue as Angela Constance MSP announced Scottish Government funding of £200,000 for credit unions to be established in schools to encourage learning about saving and investment.

She was one of the many guests at an event in Almond House, Livingston, to mark the success of WLCU, including Neil Finley MSP and Mrs Agnes Prior, mother of the late Fr Gerry.

Ms Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, spoke about her own relationship with the credit union, going back the 18 years she had spent as a local councillor and now as an MSP.

One women, a member of WCLU told the gathering about how important it has been to her family - allowing them to save money and borrow when necessary. It was her transaction that took them over the £10,000,000 mark.

Local Priests Fr Kenneth Owens, Fr Jeremy Bath and Fr Kevin Dow reflected the original foundations of the credit union, which has let ordinary people receive fair and just financial benefits compared to banks and national lending companies who often charge extortionate rates on their loans.

A letter of congratulations from Archbishop Leo Cushley was read, commending in prayer Fr Gerry and founding members who have sadly passed away to God’s merciful keeping, before Agnes, surrounded by her family, cut a celebratory cake.

Fr Dow, the new diocesan Justice & Peace spiritual director, said: "This is a wonderful example of a Justice & Peace group making a real difference to the lives of so many people since founding a credit union 18 years ago. Everyone was delighted Agnes could attend to cut the celebration cake and hear more about the positive impact her late son and others played in helping bring a credit union to West Lothian."

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