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."

Image: Cutting the carbon, caring for creation

A reflection by by Marian Pallister

A ‘gathering’ in Oban, that west coast gateway to the isles, is usually tartan clad and rich in pipes and Gaelic. But one Saturday in September, an Argyll Gathering of a different kind took place at Glencruitten House high in the hills above Oban, hosted by Eco Congregation Scotland.

The vision of the organisers and the delegates was for ‘a Scotland that cares for creation now and forever’.

Eco Congregation Scotland is an independent charity working with all denominations. The Gathering aimed to encourage parishes in Northern Argyll to work for change.

These aims echo Pope Francis’s well-received encyclical Laudato Si’, the 2015 document ( ) about care for our common home. It reminds us that we are stewards of this earth and that our interconnectedness means our actions impact on our neighbours.

And our neighbours, of course, live in an Africa beset by more and more frequent droughts, in a Bangladesh more victim than ever of catastrophic landslips and floods, and in a Perth or an Appleby where rescue by boat is becoming a regular feature of life as the Tay and the Eden sweep through homes.

Where I live in Mid Argyll, we can no longer grow the crops common 50 years ago because the land has become too wet. Climate change is as responsible for the lack of barley and potatoes in Argyll as it is for the starving child in Ethiopia.

And Eco Congregation Scotland wants us to do something about it.

For Catholics, this is not a new message. In 1971 Pope Paul VI said ‘Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation.’ The UN at the time was talking about an ecological disaster. Without moral and social progress, Pope Paul VI said, industrial and scientific advances would ‘definitively turn against man’.

Fast forward to Saint John Paul II’s first encyclical warning that we seemed to see the natural environment as something to use and abuse. Now Pope Francis wants a dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet, reminding us that ‘… the urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change’.

The Eco Congregation movement has perhaps gained a false image of being about the greening of church buildings – little more than swapping oil-fired central heating that in many ways cost the earth for air-to-air heat pumps that make congregations more comfortable and contribute to saving the planet.

But while it is good to tick the eco-friendly church box, that is far from the true aims of the charity. It wants us all to green up.

Frances Rayner of SCIAF and John Seenan of Justice and Peace Scotland, both now on the board of the charity, would agree that for a parish to register as an Eco congregation is a good first influential move.

But Adrian Shaw from the Church of Scotland took delegates beyond the church buildings, reminding us of the momentum gained at the CoP21 conference in Paris and the hope provided by the Scottish Climate Change Act. We can’t leave it to governments - we must all act in a responsible and generous way to bring about the changes that can cut our carbon footprint.

I took SCIAF’s ‘Caring for our common home’ booklet  to the Gathering. It’s a document that aims to help us ‘bring Laudato Si’ to life in our parish’. It’s a starting place, as is filling in a SCIAF campaign postcard to make sure the national and international legislation on climate change makes progress. Justice and Peace Scotland liaises with Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. The people of North Argyll are planning their own changes: it’s time for us all to act.

Image: Blessed are the peace makers

A reflection by Marian Pallister

As a teenager, I shared the very real fear of my contemporaries that four minutes to nuclear oblivion was almost a certainty. We lived through the stand off over the Bay of Pigs incident when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev placed nuclear weapons just 90-off miles from the Florida coastline. We were terrified that either President Kennedy or Khrushchev would press the red button.

That’s history - a history that doesn’t engage today’s young people in the same anti-nuclear mind set of an older generation.

Membership of CND, ban the bomb marches, the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp protest against nuclear weapons at RAF Greenham Common, which my mother and I briefly visited in solidarity with women far braver and more persistent than we were – are all part of the history of the peace movement. After decades of ‘deterrent’ indoctrination that has kept Trident firmly on the UK Government’s agenda, it’s difficult to convince people that nuclear disarmament is much more than a political football.

And that’s why Pat Gaffney, national coordinator of Pax Christi – an organisation that has to date billed itself as the International Catholic Movement for Peace – wants a new vocabulary to engage 21st century peacemakers.

Gaffney delivered a cluster of talks in Scotland in September, travelling north from Pax Christi’s London headquarters on a day that a convoy carrying nuclear warheads was scheduled to make a similar journey the length of England north to Coulport on the Clyde. Neither she nor the convoy attracted headlines, despite the significance of each (in opposing ways) to the wellbeing of our world.

Her message was that it’s time for a change of approach and a change of language. She spoke of Pope Francis’s message to delegates at a conference earlier this year organised by Pax Christi International, the Catholic Peacebuilding Network, and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which explored the theme Nonviolence and Just Peace: Contributing to the Catholic Understanding of and Commitment to Nonviolence.

He had called the current global situation a ‘world war in instalments’ and said ‘…humanity needs to refurbish all the best available tools to help the men and women of today fulfil their aspirations for justice and peace’. He spoke of a tangible ‘wall of indifference’ and admitted that that it is a ‘formidable’ task ‘…to work for peace by living the practice of non-violence’.

Pat Gaffney suggests that to become involved in non-violence and a just peace making means leaving behind the ancient concept of a ‘just war’ and instead diverting resources to create peace workers.

To engage a new generation in working for a just peace the scaremongering and fear have to go. Instead, Gaffney says ‘A shift in language is important.’ She wants ‘social justice’ to replace ‘peace movement’ because there is a need to ‘be aware that we are working for a much bigger picture’.

I was privileged to discuss with Gaffney the ’bigger picture’ – the interconnectedness of the arms trade, the banking system, the effects of austerity and of climate change that have created what she calls ‘today’s mess’. As individuals and as a Church, Gaffney suggests, issues of ethical investment need to be raised.

We can’t get rid of arms of any sort as long as the trade in them is so valuable to their manufacturers and the shareholders who invest in their manufacture. We must be aware that banks and insurance companies make us complicit by investing our money.

‘We need to reflect on the role of money in our lives and the ethics of making money out of money and money out of arms and fossil fuels,’ Gaffney said.

A reminder, surely, that Pope Francis and Pax Christi reaffirm the message Pope Paul VI gave us half a century ago when he said ‘If you want peace work for justice’ – Justice and Peace Scotland’s leitmotif.

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