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Image: Making the Connections

11/11/2016
A reflection by Eildon Dyer of ALTERnativity.

 

Today I am helping my mother write her Christmas cards. As someone with mild Alzheimer’s who was widowed in the last 2 years and moved to a care home, writing Christmas cards and talking about the people on her list can be a challenging exercise. 


The upside is that this is an opportunity to remind her of people who have been significant in her life and to give her a chance to talk about what she does remember about them. These anecdotes are important for me as I store away fragments of information to act as memory prompts at a later date. 

The downside is that each time she signs her name it reminds her that my dad and her husband of 62 years is no longer here. Mum’s connections are diminishing. The physical connections in her brain are covered in plaque that reduces their functioning. Her social connections are reducing as people of her age die and as she forgets the names of people who visit her. What does remain true is that she loves a visitor no matter who they are.

Increasingly we are becoming aware of the importance of social connectedness. I suspect that instinctively many of us know that to be true but some scientists are now claiming that social connectedness is a greater determinant to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. When we think about improving health we often think about reducing smoking and obesity but not about improving social connection and yet is well documented that those with poor social connections are likely to be more anxious or depressed and this can extend to the cellular level by causing more inflammation and physical illness. 

Being well connected is crucial to our well being and happiness. For some this means having a few strong and significant connections and for others it means having many connections.

Christmas is a time that throws this connectedness into sharp focus. In ALTERnativity, work we have done has shown that for some people the social aspect of Christmas is very challenging.  This can be when you don’t have the people there with whom you would like to socialise or, even worse, when you are forced to socialise with people you would rather not be with! 

Loneliness at Christmas can be very acute. One of the signs of a healthy church is its degree of social connectedness. People look to the church for support in times of difficulty and an aware church will be alert to the wider community in times of difficulty. However Christmas day is frequently a day when many churches are curiously closed. There may be a morning service or mass and then the doors are closed. 

This year Christmas is on a Sunday. How many people in our parishes who are on their own, or who are not on their own but find Christmas difficult, will be wishing that there were people to spend Christmas day with? It’s a challenge we in ALTERnativity have tried to come up with some useful suggestions for. Christmas could provide an opportunity for making new connections in our community or strengthening the ones already there.

This Christmas mum will be with us. It’s a context she understands and it makes her feel secure. It’s evident from our interaction with her that having company improves her physical and mental health. Headaches she has miraculously disappear with a chat and a cup of coffee. This Christmas will be hopefully be a healthy and happy day as she connec



Image: A change of vocabulary for Catholic Social Teaching?

02/11/2016
A reflection by Marian Pallister after addressing the AGM of the Conference of Religious in Scotland

It is daunting to talk to an assembly of Religious about Catholic Social Teaching. After all, are these not the people who have forgotten more about CST than most of us ever knew in the first place?


However, I was hoping to receive as much as I gave when I prepared a presentation for the AGM of the Conference of Religious in Scotland. I would tell them about the Just Faith project I have been delivering in my home diocese of Argyll and the Isles and then pick their brains about a question I have been asking in parishes – ‘Is Catholic Social Teaching the Church’s best kept secret?’

Throughout the diocese there have been some interesting answers – sometimes defensive, sometimes dismissive, and sometimes downright puzzled. I wanted to know what the SCR delegates thought.

First – the Just Faith project. Argyll and the Isles has been one of three dioceses in Scotland piloting it. Approved by the Bishops’ Conference it brings together Justice and Peace, SCIAF, and Missio Scotland - three organisations that share the social justice work of the Church. The mission: to encourage Catholics to connect their faith with action for change.
The project has been piloted in different ways in Dunkeld and Paisley. Argyll and the Isles stretches from Campbeltown in the south to Stornoway in the north and is mostly rural. Parishes are large in area, small in numbers.

My intention has been to give parishes ownership of the project by asking what the issues are that concern people and that they feel should be approached through faith in action. Initial Just Faith events were followed up with the project’s Rediscovering Mercy resource (available on the website here)

It is clear to me as I travel to different parishes that a lot of work based on CST is going on – just as lots of ‘Justice and Peace’ work is happening – but lots of people aren’t aware of the Catholic Social Teaching label.

A short video from SCIAF’s resources gives the lowdown on CST in the hippest way I’ve encountered, and it’s one I’ve used in presentations throughout the project. I included it in my presentation to the delegates at the CRS AGM and told them that one of my feedback questions asked how well people thought they knew CST. The responses I had got showed that while a healthy minority said they were very comfortable in their knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching, many said they had no knowledge of it – or at least under that label.

And that’s what may be making CST the ‘Church’s best kept secret’.

I am impressed by the imaginative involvement parishes have in a whole range of projects, locally, nationally and internationally. There aren’t many formal Justice and Peace groups in the diocese (although we’re working on it and have a Justice and Peace Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JusticeandpeaceArgyllandIsles/), but if you were to make a video about Catholic Social Teaching using the work that happens in our diocese, it would illustrate every aspect covered in SCIAF’s funky three-minute introduction.

The response from the CRS delegates was encouraging, practical and right outside the box. If people don’t know what CST is or are put off by its finger-wagging sound, let’s change the vocabulary, they suggested. It needs a new label – or no label. It is, after all, what Pope Francis is doing in spades and if people are putting it into action without knowing it, all we need do is offer congratulations. 

And maybe call it ‘Just Faith’?


Image: Bishop John Mone

28/10/2016
In our latest blog Tim Duffy reflects on Bishop Mone's time as President of J&P

Bishop John Mone who died on 14 October has an important place in the history of Justice and Peace in Scotland. He was the second Bishop President, succeeding Bishop James Monaghan. Both were auxiliary bishops eliciting a slightly waspish comment from the then National Secretary, Fr Willy Slavin, that he wasn’t sure whether the Bishops’ Conference appointed auxiliaries because they thought they would have more time for the job, or because it reflected the level of importance given to Justice and Peace.


During his twenty-year presidency, Bishop John did not lack for things to do. He arrived at the height of Thatcherism and Reaganism. Neo liberal economics, with its policies of deindustrialisation and unemployment ran alongside the deregulation of financial markets in the Big Bang of 1986. Privatisation of public utilities and the sale of council houses was being rushed through on a tide of public cupidity and greed. The arguments surrounding nuclear defence were at their height over European and UK deployments (remember Greenham); while the UK’s ‘independent’ deterrent Trident was being brought into service. Forty years of apartheid was beginning to crumble in South Africa; and Central American states were slaughterhouses where ordinary people paid the ultimate cost of ideological and economic proxy wars.

Nor did Scotland have its troubles to seek. Culturally, Scotland was at odds with many of the political changes, but was politically under-represented at Westminster. The disproportionate effects of unemployment were only partly offset by using North Sea oil revenues. Perhaps the two major symbols of this alienation were the nuclear submarine base at Faslane and the imposition of the Poll Tax in Scotland a year before the rest of the UK.

Bishop John presided over the Commission’s initiatives with a genial and pastoral sense that cannot always have been easy. Justice and Peace commission members were a diverse group of deeply committed individuals not always characterised by the traditional deference accorded to the clergy. Sometimes the urgency of the issues seemed at odds with the available resources; but it is worth remembering that the Bishops were supportive, year on year, of the Commission and its work. Bishops are asked to be managers rather than social prophets and this has an effect on the ordering of priorities.

The Bishop was well aware of these competing needs. His pre-eminent gifts were pastoral and personal, in Scotland or on the many visits he made abroad (he was also President of SCIAF). He sought to avoid confrontation; and his demeanour was engaging and unfeigned. Yet in his later years as President he took a high profile stand against the policies that detained refugees and their families in Dungavel. Using existing international law and Catholic Social Teaching, he provoked discussion in the public arena. He emphasised the illegality of detaining children because, he said, if you start from one clear undeniable wrong, you are less likely to be sidetracked by diversions and misdirection. 

It is one of the ironies, in some ways perpetuated by the church, that Catholic statements or marches or demonstrations are only valid if there is a bishop up front. Particularly with the media, but perhaps more surprisingly with other denominations, they want a bishop. As Bishop Moran, Bishop John’s successor pointed out, that’s easier in, say France, with over a hundred bishops, than in Scotland with only eight.

Certainly, Bishop John took all his responsibilities very seriously. He attended meetings faithfully. He once told me that if I needed to speak to him for briefing or questions on Justice and Peace matters, I could catch him on the phone before 8.45 in the morning or after 10.30 at night. In between he was likely to be out and about on diocesan business.

He liked to be given all the facts about any issue we were involved in. His memory for names and faces was prodigious - a great asset for a man in his position. But it went beyond mere recognition to engagement with everyone he met. I think he lived by the gospel principle that whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me; and he lived it successfully. May he rest in peace.



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