Image: The Common Good on our Common Seas – Copenhagen, May 2019


This week in our blog, Maria Hammershoy of the Danish Justice and Peace commission reflects on the forthcoming Conference on the Seas which she has been instrumental in organising and which she hopes you will take part in.

Like so many other people I was deeply touched by Laudato Si’ in 2015. The publication came at a time when not only Church, but also civic communities were waking up to the need for action. Shortly afterwards, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals ) as the framework for large scale international action towards a sustainable future for all.
Many other initiatives like the Global Climate Summit were launched.
These inspired my hope and an urge to respond to the call for action.
When I think of Creation, I mainly think of the 70% that is the sea. The sea is an integral part of my life. Copenhagen, where I grew up, is a cluster of islands and Denmark consists of 1,419 islands and a peninsula connected to the European mainland. Crossing bridges and going by boat is part of daily life. My country is an ancient seafaring nation and from Viking days, the seas have been central to the life of my family and my nation. I read Laudato Si’ from this perspective.
The encyclical is about much more than environment and climate change. For me the key word is ’integral’. Pope Francis points to the conviction that everything in the world is connected and at sea this is very clear. Modern slavery and climate change have emerged as concurrent crises in the contemporary world and recent research shows very obvious connections between them.
So, I got together with colleagues from Justice and Peace Denmark and across Europe, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Stella Maris: The Apostleship of the Sea, and the Global Catholic Climate Movement, to plan a celebration of life on, around and in the seas, as a common heritage of all humankind. This celebration will take place in Copenhagen, 3-5 May 2019 and you are warmly invited!
The growing list of speakers includes the UN Special Envoy to the Ocean, Mr Peter Thomson, the President of the World Maritime University, Dr Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, and Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
We will encompass the perspectives from various fields including theology, policies at national and multilateral level, human rights, ecology, business and industry.
We will host an enriching and cross-pollinating dialogue, engaging key stakeholders across sectors, hearing their visions, disseminating knowledge, sharing challenges and hope. The conference aims to inspire a much-needed broader and sustained dialogue on our common seas. It has to take place with an integral approach and must take into consideration the wisdom and genuine principles from faith communities.
Change is impossible without a process of introspection, conversion, motivation and education, and we hope to be part of a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. The conversation must include everyone and we would love to have your input in Copenhagen. There will be lots of concrete tools and actions to take back to your parish or diocese, whether you want to set up ship visiting groups, join a divestment programme, lobby local politicians or increase your activist skills. See you there, I hope!
You can find info on how to register for the conference here

Image: Encounter: Calais


Shirley Gillan took part in the first group of volunteers to Encounter: Calais and very soon after arriving home she put her thoughts down on paper for this week's blog.

I have worked with refugees for 25 years, in Scotland and overseas, so my reactions since returning from volunteering in Calais have surprised me.

Is it because my taxes contribute towards a British-bolstered French security system that slashes and confiscates tents, the only shelter many have against an icy winter?

Because of the anti-refugee rhetoric spewing from our papers and politicians that directly leads to women, children and men sleeping in parks or beside railway tracks in the snow, because they are not welcome in our country?

Because Calais is on our doorstep, and maybe, despite the evidence to the contrary, I expected better?

I went to France with Justice and Peace Scotland to spend a few days volunteering with Care4Calais. My motivation? I work with migrants and refugees affected by detention in Scotland, many of whom have also been detained in France or Belgium. I’ve met a  Dungavel detainee who slept rough in France for seven months, finally making it to the UK only to be put in a detention centre. And the deliberately hostile environment our government has created means unaccompanied children are sleeping under trees just across the Channel.

I doubted how useful I could be on such a short trip, but Care4Calais have a welcoming, supportive, streamlined and extremely organised approach, so new volunteers are quickly brought up to speed and put to useful work.

The day starts at 9.30am with a hot drink.  The team meeting sets out the agenda for the day, outlines tasks needing done, and the morning is spent in the warehouse, preparing for the afternoon’s distribution.  You can choose your task – sorting coats into different sizes; mending ripped sleeping bags; putting together the hot drink supplies for the afternoon; checking the pop-up barbershop has all it needs, or cooking the volunteers’ lunch.

After lunch, the van and minibus are loaded with generators, power boards, a wifi supplier, and the day’s items for distribution – coats, blankets, joggers, gloves and hats.  In this harsh winter, it’s all about providing whatever warmth we can. A wee red car is the pop-up tea shop, with hot urn and stacked cups already loaded with tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

Some areas have 25 people sleeping rough. Others up to 400.

At each venue - a small encampment beside a railway track in Calais, a car park in Dunkirk, a city park in Brussels -items are distributed, hair is cut, the charger board bristles with phones and cables and people clasp hot drinks in freezing hands.

Meanwhile, we talk and share – hopes, dreams, tears and triumphs.  The courage and resilience, solidarity and support amongst the refugees seem miraculous. But it’s just basic humanity.

I am still processing it all. Wondering what my continued response should be.
I know we all can do something: giving time in France; collecting supplies and getting them to Calais; raising awareness of the situation and lobbying for change; praying or welcoming and working alongside refugees here in Scotland, where there are also homeless or destitute people.

There is no need to do nothing.

Shirley Gillan, Feb 19

Image: The Service of Politics


Councillor Douglas McAllister reflects on his role in politics in light of Bishop Nolan's call for peopole to put their faith into action and get involved in politics.  


Bishop William Nolan, Bishop President of Justice and Peace Scotland, called on us in his New Year letter to become more politically active and start influencing the creation of policy within our political parties in Scotland, playing an active role in choosing the candidates who represent the political parties.
As a councillor in West Dunbartonshire since 2003, I agree entirely.  Pope Francis has said ‘Catholics must get involved’ in politics, even if it may be dirty, frustrating and fraught with failure.  He said ‘Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony – no, you can’t watch from the balcony.  Get right in there’ he said.  And I hope that is what I am doing at the moment.
I was brought up in a working class Catholic family. Both of my parents were members of the Labour party, giving us two major influences in our lives, the Church and the Labour party. Both have helped shape my belief in social justice.
As a young man I wrestled with the thought of entering the priesthood but instead I studied Law at Glasgow University.  I’m a solicitor, but it’s being involved in local government that I find hugely rewarding.
Local government can shape a fairer society. North Lanarkshire Council is the first local authority in the UK to tackle holiday hunger.  It is shocking that thousands of children in Scotland go hungry during school holidays.  We could all campaign to persuade the Scottish Government to introduce some form of holiday hunger payment to the poorest families in our society, or alternatively provide sufficient funding to provide school meals during holidays.
When I was Provost of West Dunbartonshire Council from 2012 and 2017, I was able to champion the Christian groups within my community, such as the Churches Together Movement, who are the driving force behind the West Dunbartonshire Foodshare Trust, and the Clydebank Citadel of the Salvation Army who do so much for the most vulnerable within our society. 
Why keep silent about our own faith? I believe we should all answer Bishop Nolan’s call, raise our Christian voice, and become active in politics.  That voice could be used, for example, to push back against those who attack the sanctity of life, or question the validity of our faith schools.
At the end of Mass on Christmas morning at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice in Clydebank, Sister Rita Dawson told us that she has a daily battle with those who would have her remove any reference to our religious beliefs from the work of the hospice.  She called on those politicians present to stop apologising or being embarrassed for their religious beliefs and instead to use our office to fight for the dignity of every human life. 
She suggested that perhaps all politicians in Scotland should spend a day with her at St Margaret of Scotland Hospice. I have since reflected on the words of Pope Francis, who said ‘The best medicine to cure the disease of indifference is touching the wounds of the Lord in the poor of our time’.

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