Blog

Image: Families Can't Wait

11/01/2019

Justice and Peace Scotland’s vice chair & commissioner for Argyll & the Isles, Marian Pallister, reflects on our on-going Give Me Five campaign.


Towards the end of 2018, I found myself begging mums and grannies in my parish in Argyll and the Isles to be photographed with a laminated poster reading ‘Families can’t wait’. Not surprisingly, everyone I approached was only too eager to pose with the poster – because they understood how much our Justice and Peace Scotland ‘Give Me Five’ campaign is needed.
 
They weren’t alone in wanting to speed up the Scottish Government’s response to our call for an extra £5 a week to help lift thousands of children out of poverty. Justice and Peace Scotland commissioners in every diocese collected dozens of pictures like mine to remind the decision makers in Holyrood of the urgency that the 2019/20 budget and Scottish Government spending plans include that top-up to child benefit.
 
We’ve been campaigning with the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland for this top-up for too long, and that’s why we added this rider that ‘families can’t wait’.
 
And they can’t. Poverty affects one in four children in Scotland. To put that into context, count the children in your street, up your close, in your children’s class at school - the children preparing for Confirmation in your parish. Now imagine that one in every four of those children may lack a full school uniform, a pair of winter shoes, breakfast. That’s why we’re campaigning.
 
Our parish is involved with a local charity that provides emergency packs for individuals and families in crisis. Your parish probably has something similar going on.
 
I helped pack up ‘special’ Christmas parcels for that charity. The only information we were given was an identification number and whether the pack was for an individual or a family. A big percentage of the 25 packs were for families.  We are a rural area – your parish is probably donating on a much bigger scale. But let’s think of the people, not the number of packs. What we included in packs for our social work department that day meant that on Christmas Day, the children would be able to pig out (!) on tinned steak and kidney pie, tinned peas, tinned fruit and ‘special’ chocolate biscuits. As we finished the packing, social workers asked for two more emergency packs for families. I went home and wept.
 
This week Derek Mackay MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, told Give Me Five campaigners that the Scottish Government shares our commitment to ensure it does ‘all we can to tackle the deep seated inequalities in our society’ but that it is a complex task to change a reserved benefit and so it will be taking its time to consider the issue of giving that extra fiver in benefit. 
 
I can only pray that children who relied on charity for something vaguely resembling a ‘good meal’ at Christmas 2018 will literally get a bigger share of the cake at Christmas 2019. And that Mr Mackay and his colleagues come to understand that families really can’t wait because children’s lives are dribbling away in Dickensian misery.


Image: Rolling out Laudato Sí – On Care for our Common Home – in the Irish Church

04/01/2019

To get our new year of environmental campaiging underway, Lorna Gold of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference writes this week's blog and reflects on the decision of the Irish church to divest from fosil fuels. 


Following the publication of Laudato Sí in 2015, in Ireland there was a strong sense that we had to do something significant to ensure that this letter did not remain mere words on paper.

However, the task ahead seemed very daunting. In an over-stretched church, dwindling in numbers, Laudato Sí risked being seen as an irrelevance to the vast majority of Catholics.

However, those involved in justice, peace and creation care felt a major step was required. Meeting shortly after the launch of Laudato Sí, we agreed that a working group on the encyclical under the auspices of the Bishops’ Conference would be very helpful. The bishops agreed and the group was established. It includes scholars and experts in the areas of theology, climatology, international development, pastoral work and education.

Almost all of the members were lay people who gave their time voluntarily.
Over the past two years the group has gone from strength to strength, awakening the call to action in Laudato Sí across the church. A key approach has been to provide materials for reflection and in-service trainings to clergy and staff of the Church – starting with the bishops, who all received a one-day training in February 2018. This has been critical in plugging the gap that exists in theological formation – a big obstacle to moving Laudato Sí forward. With this foundation set, many other very significant initiatives followed in individual departments, ranging from incorporation in the World Meeting of Families to the adoption of the annual Season of Creation across the whole church.

One decision that stands out is the bishops’ conference commitment to divest their financial resources from fossil fuels. Having understood the message of Laudato Sí and its call to “shift away from fossil fuels without delay” (#165), the Laudato Sí group, supported by the expertise of Trócaire which has led a national divestment campaign, proposed to the Finance and General Purposes Council that the bishops make a statement on fossil fuels. An expert presentation was made by Trócaire to the Finance Committee in May 2018 and a motion proposed that resources should be removed from fossil fuels. The motion was passed without objection and received the backing of the full Bishops’ Conference. The announcement was made in Christchurch Cathedral on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Ireland.

The bishops’ decision to divest as part of their implementation of Laudato Sí is significant. In the words of Bishop William Crean, Chairman of Trócaire: “Our announcement, whilst modest in terms of financial resources, is more than just symbolic.  It is about joining the growing social movement, led by young people across the world, calling for the realignment of our financial policies to safeguard their future.  It makes good sense and it is the least that we can offer our future generations. Together with our brothers and sisters in the Church of Ireland, and with many Religious Congregations in Ireland that have already divested, we now call on all faith organisations at home and abroad to consider joining the global divestment movement.”

N.B.  The picture above shows climate justice prayer ribbons which were collected at World Meeting Of Families and taken to Katowice as part of the Climate Pilgrimage.



Image: Silence and Hope

28/12/2018

Ross Ahlfeld writes this week's blog and reflects on how he has been inspired by his son to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.


Every Christmas, I dig out this old newspaper front page from Christmas Eve, 2003. The headline proclaims ‘Last mad dash to the shops’ while the photograph presents a dizzying scene of consumers in a blur, frantically trying to purchase last minute gifts. 

It really could be a hellish vision of almost everything wrong with the dehumanising materialism of Christmas, with all its vacuous misery of spending money we don’t have, on stuff we don’t need. 

Fortunately, at the centre of this chaotic backdrop stands a beautiful little two-year-old boy, transfixed by his balloon, completely oblivious to the bedlam taking place all around him.  This powerful image has always helped me to reflect on how we might approach the celebration of Christmas.

Specifically, the child’s fascination with only his balloon causes me to contemplate Hebrews 12:2 – “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” The picture also encourages us to meditate on the biblical commendation to “become like little children, otherwise, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

Of course, we are all very different. Some take great pleasure in buying gifts for loved ones amid all the hustle and bustle of Christmas. Others feel totally overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds, the vast crowds and bright lights - they are left feeling utterly detached from it all, just as the toddler pictured remains disconnected from all the frenetic movement going on about him. Indeed, many of us feel that our senses are being flooded at this time of year and we end up quite distressed by the entire retail experience. 

Yet this same anxiety and sensory overload is the world which some (but not all) Autistic children and adults encounter every single day, not just at Christmas time.

Undoubtedly, we have a great deal to learn from our friends and family members on the autism spectrum, especially within the Church. Not for nothing is it said that the Church is one of the primary places where neurodiversity should be appreciated since “Christians with Aspergers often offer Church the gift of truth-telling”.

Perhaps the alternative to all the noise of secular Christmas is still to be found in the holy silence and stillness of the Church’s preparations for Christmas during Advent.  

 I should say that the little boy is my oldest son, soon to be 18 years old. He’s not just my son but also my friend, I’ve learned a great deal about life from this little boy with the balloon. Like all fathers and sons, we need each other. We are pilgrims on the road together, navigating our way through this often overwhelming and sometimes cruel world. At times we stumble and worry about of what lies further along the road - but it is always hope that drives us forward.

The peace activist Jim Forest describes living in hope as our Christian duty and responsibility. He quotes Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

In truth, Christmas is a time of both silence and hope; the silence of waiting and the hope in God coming to dwell among us, illuminating the world with his love and the promise of life.




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