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Image: Flame 2017

17/03/2017

In this week’s blog Social Justice Co-ordinator Danny Sweeney reflects on travelling with the URSpace group to Flame 2017, the largest gathering of young Catholics in England and Wales.


Flame?  The event is, of course, inspired by St. Paul’s writing to “let our faith fan into a flame”, and the message of St. Catherine of Sienna to “be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire”, and on March 11  the Salesians of Don Bosco took a group of 560 people from their schools, parishes, and youth centres, including 30 students from schools across central Scotland connected with URSpace; the retreat community run by the Salesian Sisters from their base in Glasgow.
 
My connection with URSpace goes back to Sr Gill – who I first met at a Salesian retreat centre 10 years ago, and it was Sr Gill and Sr Bernie who gave me a place to stay for my first two weeks north of the border working with Justice and Peace Scotland. So of course, I was going to join students from St Maurice’s (Cumbernauld), St Ninian’s (Eastwood), John Paul Academy (Glasgow), St Andrews and St. Bride’s (East Kilbride), and Cardinal Newman (Bellshill)  travelling down to London on the Friday.

For some of the Scottish young people it was their first time in London, and after navigating the Underground we made camp at The Bosco Centre, a vocational college in Bermondsey, before setting out to see the Thames at night, walking down to Tower Bridge.

The following morning we were up early and on the tube to Wembley. Being the only Scottish group attending we broke out the face-paint, and arrived well decorated in both Saltires and the Salesian family logo. The event started with Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster reading a message from Pope Francis. Music-led by worship leader Matt Redman (back after appearing at Flame 2 in 2015) helped to focus on the theme. His song “10,000 reasons”, reflecting the 10,000 of us gathered there, all of us a blessing to the church, each other, and, in the words of Don Bosco, “loved, and lovable” to God.

Cardinal Charles Bo of Burma addressed us, speaking about the church in his country under persecution for so many years, now finding its place in an emerging democracy, and leaving us with the message that all of us “are made for greater things. Let hope put fire into your hearts and make you a great human being”.
The lunchtime activities were the original reason for my attendance, and along with colleagues from Bosco Volunteer Action, the Columbans, and Assumptionist volunteers we delivered “Imagine” – challenging young people, their leaders, and a few bishops to imagine they were threatened, and having to flee to safety, what would they pack, how would they feel, and how do they imagine they would be received in a strange country? This led into the afternoon, where an unapologetic focus was placed on refugees and asylum seekers. Present in the arena was T06411, a boat that had crossed from Libya to Lampedusa. Volunteers from CAFOD spoke about their experiences of visiting partner organisations in Lebanon, and staff from Jesuit Refugee Service shared the experience of their work here in the UK.
 
The afternoon ended in prayer, with the whole of Wembley arena silent in Adoration, before singing and dancing our way out of the arena. A late night trip to Piccadilly Circus, and an early start for Mass at Westminster Cathedral left all of us tired, as we sat, slept, or (in my case) wrote this blog, on the train back to Glasgow.
 
The speakers, videos, and drama at Flame are a real inspiration. But even more powerful was to travel with our young people visiting London, and taking part in Flame for the first time. While walking on the Friday, several were speaking to me about how they lived their faith in little acts of service; volunteering in soup kitchens, and as peer mentors in their schools. I have never accepted the despairing remarks that “young people don’t get involved in the church”, and the stories they shared were always described as “it’s just something I know I should do” – no fanfare, no praise sought - makes me feel as sure of our young people, as standing amongst 10,000 in worship on the Saturday did. I know that I would have been at Flame this year either way – but the experience is multiplied thousands of times by sharing the journey with such amazing young people.

Danny Sweeney is Justice and Peace Scotland’s Social Justice Co-ordinator, a Salesian lay-volunteer, and (at the time of writing) hasn’t slept in 2 days!
For more information about the work of URSpace in schools across Scotland, see their Facebook page (search for URSpace).

For photos and videos from Flame see our Twitter feed (@JandPScot), and also Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for @FlameCongress, and #Flame2017.


Image: It's Tough Being An American Catholic Right Now

10/03/2017

In our latest blog, Justice and Peace Scotland Commissioner for the Diocese of Aberdeen, Jill Kent, gives a personal account of being an American Catholic living in Scotland since the election of President Trump.


I'll be honest. It's not an easy time to be an American Catholic committed to social justice and environmental protection. The difficulty started to build last year when candidate Trump began to be taken seriously. I joined so many here in the UK looking across the Atlantic and wondering how so many of my fellow citizens could hear and see what we were witnessing, and somehow come to the conclusion that the lack of empathy and vitriolic speech was alright.
 
This new era in American politics has become a reality. Since January we have all watched as cabinet selections were made and ill-thought executive orders were issued.
 
Now I would like to share how it feels to have an American accent and be myself an immigrant (albeit to the UK). Until recently I was a bit like the Ugly Duckling. I forgot that I was different from everyone around me.  My husband and children are Scots, most of my friends are Scots and I'm the only "outsider" in my place of work. Now with the reality of President Trump it is the thing that many people turn to me and ask me about. And the answers aren't easy.
 
There is so much that I disagree with.. And there is even more that I find repulsive. Trump’s attitude towards Muslims and his edicts on immigration have had a very unsettling affect on people around the world. What has happened to the proud melting pot of America?  I worry that the fear and hate that is being incited in America will give confidence to others here in the UK, across Europe and around the world. I cannot understand how the facts about immigrants and the contribution they make to society are ignored.
 
But really I am broken hearted. I am deeply shaken by the negative tone and direction of these early days of the Trump administration. And most importantly I feel frustrated that people who disagree on issues are losing the ability to have civil discussions about differences. I worry that treaties and peaceful dialogue that took so many years to put together can so easily be disregarded
 
The Paris Climate agreement finally brought America into the fold to commit to reducing our greenhouse gases. Now there is a real chance that with the stroke of a pen the US will withdraw from the treaty or simply not enforce the agreed environmental protections. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) took years of negotiations to give basic healthcare to everyone. If it is repealed, the very people most in need of decent health care will be unable to afford it, or simply be excluded from it due to pre-existing conditions. As someone who has enjoyed the benefits of the NHS, I cannot fathom why the country would want to return to leaving those most in need of health care without any way of accessing it.
 
The one thing that heartens me is the way so many people across the country and across the world have spoken back. My sister was able to attend the large march in Washington DC the day after the inauguration. She phoned me as soon as she got home to tell me of the solidarity of the (mainly) women in the streets with all their hand made signs, building each other up. The crowd was so large that the subway wasn't able to stop at any of the central stations because there was nowhere on the streets above to hold any more people.
 
Her elation at the response sounded in her voice.
 
And so I remember that when I am starting to despair. America is a democracy and we, the people, have many ways to speak up. It's now up to us to do our part. It is more important than ever.


Image: 1 Day Without Us - Day of Action

24/02/2017

In our latest blog, our Social Justice Coordinator, Danny Sweeney, gives a personal account of the 1 Day Without Us Day of Action in Glasgow on Monday 20th Feb


Monday, February 20 was the first national day of action across the UK under the banner of #1DayWithoutUs.  Migrant workers withdrew labour to demonstrate the contribution that they make to our society – an issue that mainstream media have consistently overlooked and ignored. On the same day, we celebrated the UN World Day of Social Justice, and nationwide, events were planned in support. This became a day to recognise and celebrate the contributions of migrants in our communities.

It turned out to be a massively positive day for migrants – and an interesting debut for me as Social Justice Co-ordinator for Justice and Peace Scotland. I hadn’t imagined I’d be speaking in Glasgow’s George Square quite so soon in this job. But when I heard the words “If there is anyone here representing any groups or organisations, or who has worked with migrants please come and let us know as we would like to have as many speakers as possible,” shuddered, and then obeyed.

When we were considering our response to the event at the Justice and Peace Scotland office, we considered closing up in support of those who had withdrawn their labour for the day. But that didn’t seem like the best option. Instead we got busy. Emails and tweets went out to supporters, followers, and diocesan groups. We invited people to seek out local events in their area, to join in the nationwide twitter-storm at 1pm, or to join us in George Square, Glasgow.

On the day we rolled out the Justice and Peace banner, and made some placards with one simple message: migrants are welcome here and are a valued part of our society. We had no idea what response our emails would get. Would it be just the two of us from the office? In the end around 20 people stood behind the Justice and Peace banner, with Motherwell and Galloway adding their banners to ours.  I confess that we were all upstaged by the banner included in photos below – only Glasgow could produce one interpreting aliens quite that way and get away with it.

Being among the first to arrive, the crowd seemed to form around us. This meant our banner became the centre piece in much of the media coverage. I think this can only be a good thing - our presence there was an unapologetic expression of our faith, which demands that we welcome the stranger and love our neighbour.

When I was given the mic (with about 5 minutes to prepare) I could only share my story as an adoptive Glaswegian of six weeks standing, the welcome I had received, and the joy I get from hearing about the work done by different Justice and Peace groups around Scotland. I also shared my experiences working with asylum seekers, and a visit I made to the Calais refugee camps that I wrote about in this space earlier this year.

I also reminded people what I had seen happen since: the refusal by the government to fulfil its promise to accept unaccompanied children to the UK. Then there was their profiling of children by gender, age, and country of origin, as if somehow being from Syria or Sudan makes a 15-year-old more or less vulnerable to human trafficking while abandoned in Europe than being from Eritrea, or Iraq.

Other speeches were made by Glaswegians with roots, and by families from across the globe. We heard letters of welcome from the Refugweegee campaign, and Carol Clarke, former Communications and Campaigns Officer with Justice and Peace and Margaret Donnelly Galloway representative for Justice and Peace spoke about the situation in Dungavel, and the work done to support detainees and their families. The rain held off, and at moments the sun came out as we stood witness to all that our country gains from migration.
 
Danny Sweeney is the Social Justice Co-ordinator for Justice and Peace Scotland, and a migrant from England.
Aliens Make Glasgow Banner

More information about #1DayWithoutUs events can be found at : http://www.1daywithoutus.org/
For the Glasgow based Refuweegee campaign see their website : https://refuweegee.co.uk/
For more photos and live tweets from the Glasgow demo please see @JandPScotland, or #1DayWithoutUs



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