Prime Minister acknowledges the work of Religious Sisters in combatting modern slavery

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The Prime Minister sent her best wishes to the Arise Foundation as it brought together a large audience in London to highlight the work of Religious in anti-trafficking. In the message, sent to John Studzinski CBE,  the co-founder and chair of Arise,  Theresa May referred to the “extraordinary global contribution of Religious Sisters to the anti-slavery movement” and said the work that Arise is doing to tackle the issue is key.

The evening was the official launch of a report by Arise which has revealed that nearly a quarter of Catholic Religious Congregations in England & Wales are battling modern slavery. It’s the first ever such mapping exercise and it has discovered that 172 members of Religious Institutes  – 144 women and 28 men  - are providing frontline services to people who have fallen prey to traffickers.

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The launch was hosted by ITN Presenter Julie Etchingham who spoke with three Sisters involved in helping victims – Sr Lynda Dearlove RSM MBE, who’s based in Kings Cross, Sr Cecilia Espenilla OP from the Philippines and Sr Arpan Carvalho BS from India. Cardinal Turkson, who is visiting London, spoke of the vital role of Sisters in anti-trafficking.  He recalled a gathering of Police Chiefs from around the world who came to the Vatican to discuss the issue – a valuable dialogue :  “but we realised we weren’t talking to the infantry!”

Seventy-three Congregations responded to a survey sent out by Arise and their answers revealed  that 40 Institutes are involved in a wide range of ministries, in both antislavery and prevention work; others, not involved in active ministries, are doing something in their own way, such as making financial contributions. The details of the findings were presented by the CoR Vice-President, Sr Jane Maltby, RSCJ:

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PROPERTY:  In addition to offering personnel, 16 Religious Congregations have provided 29 properties at a book price of nearly sixteen-point-four million pounds.   But this is the BOOK rather than market value, so is highly likely to be an underestimate of the value of these buildings. Some of these properties are used as safe houses where victims of modern slavery, including women with children,  can find refuge and start to rebuild their lives.

MONEY:  CoRew members have donated more than £10 million pounds to anti-trafficking in the last five years.

WORKING WITH POLICE:  A hidden aspect of the involvement of Religious in anti-trafficking is when they accompany police during rescue operations.  The survey has discovered that a total of 23 Congregations work with the Police and NGOs.  They also assist in managing referrals from the police, joint outreach and  providing training. Notably, one Congregation donated a property for a local police constabulary where victims of trafficking could be interviewed  in a less formal environment and provided with safe accommodation. 

LENGTH OF SERVICE:  A question was also asked about length of service – the amount of time people have been doing this for.   Adding the cumulative total, it’s possible to quantify it as 643 years of combined antislavery service with a couple of people having spent nearly a quarter of a century in the struggle.

FINANCIAL REWARD: And it’s all predominantly voluntary work, in line with their vocation. 144 Religious receive no financial remuneration for their ministries;  only 9 members hold paid roles.   

PIONEERS:  22 Religious have been involved in founding antislavery organisations. They represent the full range of antislavery service provision: from prevention work to rescue, shelter and on-going accompaniment.

 Sister Dominica Popach OP (left) with Sr Sheila Barrett DMJ

Sister Dominica Popach OP (left) with Sr Sheila Barrett DMJ

The research, which was conducted by Sister Dominica Popach OP, who was seconded for the task for much of this year, shows that Religious Congregations have not allowed their changing demographic to prevent them from contributing in important ways to the antislavery movement.  The Conference of Religious of England and Wales has announced that it will now set up a UK Network of Religious involved in anti-trafficking work, to provide a platform for enhanced collaboration. It will be affiliated to similar international groupings. 

 Image from the property gifted by the RSCJ Congregation to the Medaille Trust

Image from the property gifted by the RSCJ Congregation to the Medaille Trust

Sr Jane Maltby RSCJ  thanked Arise for the research project: “Speaking from a personal perspective, my Congregation owns a property that we no longer need, and, rather than sell this commercially, we undertook extensive research and consultation in order to make the best decision we could, that would be in line with our priorities for mission. In the past, we ran schools and projects around the welfare of women and children, with others collaborating with us. Today, we are delighted to be able to turn that around, and we collaborate with others. In gifting the property and enabling women and children survivors to be cared for in a safe environment, we have entered a partnership which expresses the gospel values of tenderness and mercy, so much a part of our charism, or special spiritual character. The property currently houses 26 women and ten children and babies, a result that touches us deeply.

It cannot be ignored that the contribution outlined in this report is overwhelmingly female. This may reflect the fact that, until recently, the issue was framed almost always in terms of human trafficking, which for many reasons has been understood as a problem predominantly affecting women. 

 John Studzinski CBE, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

John Studzinski CBE, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC

Finally, going beyond numbers and statistics, it is abundantly evident from the different categories of giving, in terms of human resources, property and money, that the commitment of religious is long-term, is inspired by traditions of service to those in need, and is an integral part of their spirituality. There is an important section in the report which I recommend that you read which speaks about the intangible aspects of anti-slavery accompaniment. Aspects like love and trust which are so critical to this work, and yet feature so rarely in policy conversations on this subject. Love and trust takes time to build and to make manifest. It is the core strength of the work of religious in this area. “

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The Director of the Arise Foundation, Luke de Pulford added:   “Women religious are the un-sung heroines of the anti slavery movement. They are active in the worst-affected parts of the world - preventing, rescuing, and offering accompaniment over decades. But they are also active in countries of destination like the U.K. where they continue to make a huge contribution, giving their houses to be used as shelters, and so much more. Arise is privileged to have produced this research, documenting the scale of the contribution of religious in England and Wales. We are conscious that these numbers do not do justice to the special character of the work of religious, which is less about numbers and more about the quality of long-term, loving commitment to those on the margins. Their voice is sorely needed in this movement, and I hope this report enables them to be heard.”

 A joyful reunion for Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa with Cardinal Turkson who they knew for many years in Africa

A joyful reunion for Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa with Cardinal Turkson who they knew for many years in Africa

UK envoy to Vatican impressed by women’s leadership in Church

 Sally Axworthy and Sr Imelda Poole IBVM

Sally Axworthy and Sr Imelda Poole IBVM

By Elise Harris, Crux

ROME - Sally Axworthy, the British ambassador to the Holy See and a supporter of women in leadership, has said she believes the Vatican is making progress and finds the Catholic Church, particularly women religious, to be a key partner in fighting plagues such as slavery and human trafficking.

In an interview with Crux, Ambassador Axworthy said that in her experience, “you hear a lot about women in the Holy See, so I think it’s an issue that people are thinking about … and how they can address it.”

Noting how Vatican mechanisms for decision-making are different than a traditional government, and that change often takes longer to achieve, she said this is in part because the Holy See doesn’t have the pressure of election cycles and they aren’t forced to “cram things into a short space of time.”

However, the topic of women’s empowerment and the need for an increase in women in leadership is, in her view, “definitely an issue that’s on the table,” especially when it comes to key points of collaboration between the British government and the Holy See such as the fight against slavery, human trafficking and sexual violence in conflict.

Ambassador Axworthy said that in her two years in Rome, she has been “very struck” by the contribution of women religious, who “seem to be very responsive” to the needs of the people in the places they’re in.  “If there’s a global problem, you usually find the religious sisters there at the sharp ends, whether it’s migrants and refugees, victims of sexual violence in conflict, or victims of human trafficking and modern slavery,” she said. And while religious men are also involved, “there are more religious sisters, they’re the ones who are responding.” 

Ambassador Axworthy, who is not Catholic, said when she came to the Vatican, she was surprised by how active the sisters are, and has enjoyed working with them on projects to prevent sexual violence in conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

“They bring the pastoral expertise, and we’ve brought expertise on the international legal framework for combatting war crimes, so that’s a nice fit between our two strengths,” she said, adding that “there are some really good synergies with them and what they do, and that’s a key part of how we work as an embassy.”

 Sr Imelda Poole IBVM giving a speech at a reception hosted by Ambassador Axworthy

Sr Imelda Poole IBVM giving a speech at a reception hosted by Ambassador Axworthy

In June 2018, Sister Imelda Poole of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and president of the RENATE anti-trafficking network, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her efforts to fight modern slavery, illustrating ties between the British government and Catholic women religious, especially on issues related to human rights.

 

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Speaking about the recent Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops on young people, during which a large portion of the discussion was dedicated to the role of women, Axworthy said she found the women present either as delegates for their orders, or as experts in the field of youth ministry, to be active and engaged.

“They had a lot to bring and contributed their own knowledge. They were very articulate, so they’d obviously made a big contribution to that synod,” she said, adding that “it was an instance of women making a contribution to something which in the past had been very male-dominated, and feeling very engaged and empowered by that experience.”

While the gathering was mainly an in-house Church discussion, Axworthy said she and other embassies followed the synod discussion closely, because they are interested in what the big issues are for the Vatican, and how it develops relations internationally.  In her view, the reflections on women in particular “were great in the synod. There was some really clear language in there, which is encouraging.”

 Ambassador Axworthy, who hosted a Nov. 6 event marking the 50th anniversary of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano’s English edition, also voiced appreciation for the paper’s monthly edition dedicated to women, Donne, Chiesa, Mondo. Headed by Italian journalist Lucetta Scaraffia, the women’s edition is not afraid to tackle more sensitive topics, Axworthy said, recalling how shortly after her arrival on the Vatican scene, the paper ran an article written by Baroness Joyce Ann Anelay on sexual violence in conflict.

 “This is quite a difficult issue. It’s one that the UK campaigns on, but it hadn’t had so much attention I don’t think in the Holy See community,” Axworthy said, noting that the paper immediately said yes to running the piece. “They push the boundaries a little bit, but in a very good way.”

 

 Rome reception for Sr Imelda

Rome reception for Sr Imelda

Speaking of UK policies which seek to empower women, Axworthy noted that several of these intersect with Vatican interests, including campaigns directed at ending sexual violence in conflict and human trafficking, as well as a major one-day conference with women in parliament in November in London, attended by women from all over the world.

 

“We have a whole range of policies that support women’s empowerment, but women’s leadership as well,” she said, adding that in her view, the policies are a reflection of the journey the British government and foreign ministry have taken on the women’s issue, and the progress they have made. Noting how when she joined the diplomatic service 30 years ago, just a few women occupied senior positions, but she said “now there are more. It’s not 50/50, but it’s more, and it’s a journey,” adding that she is “very interested in how the Church addresses their own journey on women in leadership and I follow it closely.”

Although the UK has perhaps taken more steps to get women into leadership, even their own process is “recent history,” Axworthy said. “It’s within the last generation that the role of women has changed, so it’s interesting to have a dialogue on that even though we’re in slightly different places.”

Crux article : https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2018/11/08/uk-envoy-to-vatican-impressed-by-womens-leadership-in-church/

 

Ditching the 9-5: Life as a twentysomething monk

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By Dom Anselm Brumwell OSB, Downside Abbey

So often our schools and universities promote an idea of life which is based on a well-paid job, a successful career, with suitable opportunities for promotion and these are presented to young people as the only criteria for happiness. It was with great pleasure that we at Downside Abbey responded to a call from BBC Radio 1, asking whether we had a young monk who could talk to them about his choice to leave such ideas behind and embrace the religious life. Enter Br John, a junior monk in his late-20s, in temporary vows, who has been in the community for 3½ years.

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A team from Radio 1 came to visit Downside in July for three days, and they followed his daily routine, interviewed him both formally and informally & filmed and recorded.

Br John’s choice to live as a Benedictine monk was viewed positively, and the Radio 1 team showed a real interest in trying to understand the meaning and importance of religious life for today’s world. The other young people in the programme are Zeki, a survival expert in the Scottish Highlands and Jess, an illustrator who lives on the edge of an estuary in Suffolk.

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Br John said: “The Radio 1 programme offered a unique opportunity to see behind the scenes of the monastery and how we live out our life. What struck me most about the BBC Radio 1 team was their desire to genuinely listen to my vocation story. The fact that the programme was aimed at a young audience demonstrates how there remains a deep yearning for satisfaction in life among the younger generation. In light of the troubles that the Church is currently going through, the experience of taking part in this programme helped remind me the reason why I still remain a monk."

This is worth watching for anyone who is thinking of religious life and for those who want to hear the perspective of younger people about going against the grain:

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06jxs67   

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Called to global leadership

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PROFILE: Sr Jane Livesey CJ

“I’ve sailed down the Amazon, gone by train across Siberia, been to Nepal, Korea  and many remote parts of India, to name but a few of the places where our Sisters are on mission. I’ve had one-to-one meetings with over 1500 Sisters in the Congregation globally, in countless countries!”

As General Superior of the Congregation of Jesus, Sr Jane Livesey leads Sisters working throughout the world – across Europe, Africa, South America & Asia. Sr Jane is based in Rome, but places great importance on spending time visiting the work of her Sisters worldwide:

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 “A privilege of my role is meeting our members, hearing stories of their ministries and their efforts to be faithful to God and to their lives of service. The work that they do might look the same as the work being done by NGOs, but it is different, because the Sisters have been given a mission in companionship with Christ and with one another. It’s a huge privilege to see that across the congregation worldwide.” 

Her international zig-zagging is a modern day echo of the footwork put in by her Order’s legendary founder, Yorkshire woman, the Venerable Mary Ward.  In the early 1600s, Mary Ward was remarkable for believing that women should be actively involved in the apostolic life of the Church, at a time when women religious were required to remain cloistered.

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She took inspiration from the Jesuits, dreaming of sisters who were free, mobile, and trained for apostolic work. However, Mary faced fierce opposition; three times she and her companions walked to Rome - twice to try to gain Papal approval and the third time following her imprisonment in a convent in Munich and the suppression of her Congregation by Pope Urban VIII in 1631. During this period she founded houses and schools in Liège, Cologne, Rome, Naples, Munich, Vienna, Pressburg (Bratislava) and other places.

The tide eventually turned, although it took a while:  “That incomparable woman ….whom Catholic England gave to the Church” was the eventual description given to her by Pope Pius X11 in 1953.

Mary Ward famously said that “women in time to come will do much.”   As her 21st Century successor, Sr Jane Livesey tries to model leadership that mirrors the Order’s charism of freedom, justice and sincerity: “Being General Superior, I have a Council – Sisters who are from Chile, India, Korea, Germany, Slovakia & Romania.   Building a team is challenging as it is both multi-cultural and inter-cultural. One of the big areas of learning is around cultural differences: how do you live as a community with different cultures? We are not like an NGO as we have a charism, a shared spirituality that is non-negotiable. The charism is shared, but how it manifests itself is very different in different parts of the world.”

In Europe, the Congregation has seen a move away from running schools and towards helping women where they are in most need now - as victims of trafficking and modern slavery, in hospitals and in prisons. In India and Latin America the order still runs schools, seeing that as the best route to improving women’s lives.

Sister Jane felt called to join the Congregation while she was studying law and, after a degree at Cambridge and a period teaching, spent 13 years as headmistress of a school in Dorset. She was then Provincial Superior of her Order in England before being elected the first English General Superior of the Order since the 18th Century.

So what are the most difficult aspects of being in a position of global leadership? “Learning even more than before that Religious are human beings with all the frailties that go with being human beings! It’s about finding the balance between encouraging and challenging them.” 

Sr Jane returns repeatedly to the word ‘privilege’ when reflecting on all the work she has witnessed at first hand, in so many countries.   She recalls with particular joy a kindergarten in Namchi in the north eastern state of Sikkim in India – in the foothills of the Himalayas. 

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“Seeing those young children and knowing that the education we are offering will raise their prospects in life is hugely uplifting.”   There is also an acknowledgement of the suffering Sisters can endure and of how they put themselves second:  “I get to see the conditions some Sisters live in – sometimes awful conditions. For instance in one community in India a classroom by day becomes a dormitory by night for the Sisters there.  Eventually they will get a house, but their priority is to be able to offer a classroom.”

Looking back on her years in Rome, Sr Jane says there is one key moment that stands out: “When Pope Francis was elected, I was there on the piazza in front of St Peter’s. At first no-one knew who he was. But when he said: “don’t forget to pray for me”, it was an unforgettable moment! Living in Rome, during this Pontificate, has been hugely enriching.”

Her term in office runs for another two years:  “My future has to be what I’m asked to do.  Over the years, my life within the Congregation has just unfolded. When I joined, I was asked to be a teacher, then a headteacher, then a Provincial Superior, then a General Superior.”

Has the focus on leadership left her feeling she has missed out on anything?  “I would like to have had longer contact with young people. I miss that contact. But this is what the Lord asked. We all signed a blank cheque on joining!  I don’t spend too much time thinking ‘what if…’”

  

Contemplatives digest new Vatican rules governing their existence

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The Conference of Religious joined enclosed nuns from across the UK and Ireland who gathered at Stanbrook Abbey in North Yorkshire for a three day meeting to examine a new Vatican document outlining rules governing their monastic structure and way of life. The conference was  led by two canon lawyers, Sr Scholastika Haring, a Benedictine from Germany and Fr Luke Beckett,  a monk of Ampleforth Abbey.

The document, ‘Cor Orans’ (Praying Heart) provides instructions on how to apply Pope Francis’ 2016 Apostolic Constitution – “Vultum Dei Quaerere” (“Seek the Face of God”) -  addressed to Catholic women religious in contemplative communities.  In it, the Pope calls for  changes to be implemented in 12 diverse areas. 

There are almost 38000 cloistered nuns in the world today and the document provides precise guidelines regarding all the practical, administrative, legal and spiritual aspects pertaining to the founding and running of monasteries for contemplative nuns.

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These include detailed specifications regarding the autonomy of monasteries, relations with the bishop of the diocese in question,  rules and regulations regarding “the separation of the nuns from the outside world,” means of communication, the various forms of cloister including “papal enclosure”  and formation.

‘Cor Orans’ begins by saying: “The contemplative life of nuns, rooted in the silence of the cloister, from its beginnings through a mysterious apostolic fruitfulness enriches the Church of Christ with fruits of grace and mercy.”  Silence and prayer were central elements of the conference at Stanbrook Abbey, interspersed with intensive input from the two canon lawyers.

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The conference took place within and around the normal structures of rhythmic prayer of a contemplative setting. So, for instance, the schedule for the middle day was as follows:  Vigils at 0600, Lauds at 0730, Mass at 0900, two sessions in the morning, then Midday Office at 1230, two sessions in the afternoon, followed by questions. Vespers at 1800, Compline at 2015, then silence.

Certain topics generated intensive discussion.  Such as how long formation should be before nuns make their solemn vows. Under Cor Orans it’s proposed that the period is extended for up to nine years. But concerns were expressed around this, with one nun pointing out that women joining congregations these days were often older than in the past and came with professional qualifications, careers to decide upon and properties to deal with, so extending the time before which they could become fully professed was problematic:  “Women joining nowadays have much more mature commitments than we had when we were young.”

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Canon lawyer, Fr Luke Beckett OSB, probed the concept of what it means to have ‘separation from the world.’ He deployed some phrases to illustrate what this really means: “‘city on the hilltop /  the heart constantly turned towards the Lord /  seeking the face of God.”  He defined the cloister as quite simply, a space that is for the nuns only and a positive space to create a family atmosphere: “The way that separation happens is not ideological, it’s a space to be protected.”  Acknowledging the famed Benedictine hospitality, Fr Luke noted the ‘tension’ between preserving the cloister and inviting guests in; “It’s a source of  fraternal tension that rivals the liturgy!” he quipped.

When ‘Cor Orans’ was released earlier this year, there was huge media interest in the rules governing the use of modern, social communications.  The document warns that “it is possible to empty contemplative silence when the cloister is filled with noises, news, and words. Recollection and silence are of great importance for the contemplative life.”  Guidance was offered that the modern methods of communication (Facebook, twitter, etc.,) must be used with “sobriety and discretion” so that they “do not become occasions for wasting time or escaping from the demands of  fraternal life in community, nor should they prove harmful for your vocation, or become an obstacle to your life wholly dedicated to contemplation.” One nun made the point that the internet is a vital modern means of a community developing its charism, for instance, her community has done a lot of work with the concepts raised in the environmental encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’  - thanks to what they’ve been able to read online.

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Fr Luke said what it boiled down to was  “not running away from the cloister to surf the net” and said access to the means of social communication was about trying to balance the good things with the negative aspects of social media and keeping the right balance. But he acknowledged it can be difficult for the younger generation, “who are surgically attached to their phones!” “There has to be some inter-generational discussion about embodying your discernment and coming together around values that are commonly shared; we all have to learn to be good stewards,” he advised.

Ultimately, said Fr Luke, there has to be reflection around the question of what contemplative life is.  “Consecrated life,” he said, “is a passionate love for the Lord, seeking the face of God, being co-workers of God.”

 

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Vatican expert calls on Religious to be part of the healing process

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Vatican safeguarding expert, Prof. Fr Hans Zollner SJ, has described a one day conference at Ealing Abbey,  on child abuse, as a courageous, forward looking step that could act as a model for monastic and religious communities to participate in the healing process for victims.  Fr Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was the keynote speaker at the conference, which was aimed at a wide range of people involved in safeguarding, psychology and education. 

Speaking exclusively to the Conference of Religious, Fr Zollner said it was vital for the church to focus on survivors “in the crisis we are facing at this moment.”  “I feel strongly that we need as a Church and in dioceses, to find our place in that situation, not just at a local level, but in the Church as a whole.”

The conference, entitled “Growing in Connectedness: Healing the History of Child Sexual Abuse,” was the brainchild of Ealing Abbey monk, Fr James Leachman OSB, who felt it was vital to move beyond words and apologies and do something concrete. He also views the conference and a new counselling service that is being launched as a means of “helping Ealing Abbey community be more restorative for the past in its core mission.”

Reflecting on the role of religious communities in helping to address the crisis, Fr Zollner said they definitely could think about being active participants: “Maybe religious and monastic communities could become a place of welcome, offering space and time for accompaniment for those harmed within the Church?”   Making a comparison to how religious communities across Europe in the 19th Century adapted their charisms in order to help the poor as well as exploited workers and those in need of education, he described such an approach as a timely response to a crisis of that era:  “Why could there not be a similarly timely response now, to addressing people grievously harmed?  There would need to be a re-allocation of means and re-orientation of pastoral and social ministries,” but, he added, “it’s vital that survivors are listened to.”

Fr Zollner, who is also the President of the Centre for Child Protection of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome,  said the Church needed to ask “where is the place of survivors in our midst” and everyone was called to face reality. He hoped the message from the conference would be “of the necessity to really listen to survivors” and that the gathering would also be an inspiration for a “continuing, sustainable approach in safeguarding.” 

He said religious communities could discern how to respond to help those in pain:  “You need to be prepared to apply the medium which is available, but if you open your space and invest in it, you are trying to contribute to the healing process.  The alternative is to look inwards - in bitterness and despair – but that is not consistent with the Gospel.”

 

 

Tackling poverty from a faith perspective

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By Sister Gillian Price FC

Tackling the roots of inequality in the UK was the inspiration behind a gathering in London of 30 religious, associates and friends from the JPIC Links Network for their annual, ‘Linking Day’.  With the title, ‘Re-imagining Britain – Freedom and equality as the way to social justice’, the day was facilitated by Canon Paul Hackwood, executive director of the Church Urban Fund. https://www.cuf.org.uk/

The Church Urban Fund (CUF) was established by the Church of England as a practical response to unmet need and has been active in local communities for over 30 years.  Grounded in the lives of ordinary people CUF works to bring people of different communities together to make a difference.  Its vision is to see people and communities all over England flourish and enjoy life in all its fullness.  CUF works to bring about positive change in neighbourhoods. Committed to working through relationship partnerships, CUF works by building trust, empowering local people to have a go at addressing the areas of greatest need in their communities, and speaking out against injustice.

Using his extensive practical experience of approaching social justice issues from a faith perspective and his work to bring people of different faiths together, in the morning Paul Hackwood explored ‘Freedom, equality and Justice – our Christian heritage’ while in the afternoon we looked at some practical responses.

Living in a time when the Roman power had monetised the economy and encouraged a breakdown of community and family life, Jesus preached a different way of being human with a different kingdom at its centre. In the Kingdom of God everyone has importance and each person is included.  Relationships are key to the Kingdom, each one working with others to create a better world.

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Paul suggested that we too are in a period of re-construction in the UK.  People are not valued because of their intrinsic value, but for what they contribute to the economy.  Just as in Jesus’ time a wasteland is created where relationships are extra. “Our brains” he said, “are created for relationship for we are made by the ways others speak to us, imagine us, nurture us or fail us”.  He suggested that we have allowed capital to make the rules and he asked the question, “When everything is focussed on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) what does this say about us as human beings?” Our institutions have become slaves to this economic model so that our universities are seen as training places for economic outcomes, rather than places of learning and Trade Unions are seen as places of agitation rather than a means of social good.  The prophetic edge of the Church is also undermined when people perceive the church as a place for personal morality and a source of volunteers that can be ‘mined’ for delivering services. When 70% of workers in the UK have seen wages stagnate or drop in the last 10 years there is a massive reservoir of unhappiness and resentment in the UK at the moment. It’s an uneven playing field and people want to get out of the game.

Building on the fact that the Christian faith gives us an alternative, the Church Urban Fund is about connecting people in a way that breaks up the monetary model of value. “We don’t do numbers”, said Paul, “we do relationships”. CUF works with others by building trust and respect. It believes that meaningful relationships are the basis of real and sustainable change and this is central to everything they do. There is a focus on relational equality, building up community associations and strengthening local institutions working to inspire, inform and support others and do this through the quality of the connections they build.  

The Church Urban Fund has three ‘strands’ to its work, Near Neighbours – (social cohesion), Together network – (the poverty arm) and Just finance – (the financial arm).

1. Near Neighbours

Kim Gregg, Near Neighbours co-ordinator for East Midlands,  told us about her work, including:

Small grants programme - For community groups that want to create a project, to bring at least two faiths together in social action and social interaction. An example of this was the multi faith community archery project in Luton.

Catalyst - A leadership course for young people aged 16 – 25

Real people/honest talk  - where people meet together for three conversation evenings.  This gives voice and space to talk about what is concerning people.

Places of welcome- Support is given to create a place for people to visit at the same time every week for coffee/tea and a biscuit/cake. Kim spoke about the 5 P’s of places of welcome - Place, Presence, People, Participation,  Provision.

2. Together network

This aims to build relationships and encourages people to have a go themselves.   It informs, inspires and supports local Churches to tackle poverty and build community. Aiming to build individual resilience, Together network gives people an opportunity to shape the world around them and so contribute to the common good. People belonging to the network go on a relational journey where the person is at the centre.

2. Just finance

There are 3 strands to this

a. Getting people to take responsibility for lending and saving

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This helps children to manage money wisely.  CUF is already involved with 300 primary schools and £50,000 has already been saved by children in savings clubs, thus establishing good habits of saving at an early age.

b. Enhancing the social finance sectors

Cash mark, credit savvy

This is a course which deals with understanding managing money.

Universal credit savvy

This is a course which deals with understanding how the Universal Credit system works.  The Department of work and pensions are thinking of using it.

3.  Work in local communities

Since the only way to change things is by doing it through real people, the more you can broker conversations between groups, the more you can do, CUF starts with people in communities and works through a ‘relational’ way of working.

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In the questions Paul was asked about the banking crisis.  He replied that ‘bashing bankers’ is a way of avoiding the issue.  Banks recognise that there is a problem and want to work with CUF. Paul said that the banking crisis had undermined the public trust in the banking system so CUF say to bankers, “If you do something to put money in and working together then it will put you on the road to trustworthiness again.” He added:  “If I can get bankers to talk about poverty, then that’s success.”

Global Goal 17, the need for ‘Partnership for the goals’ kept coming to mind throughout the day. As always the day was as much about networking with and celebrating each other as the actual input.  Several participants are exploring ways of linking with CUF to support multi faith and ecumenical projects they are involved with. We were reaffirmed in our own belief that rather than ‘charity’ it is vital that we give those with whom we work an opportunity to shape the world around them and take control of their own destiny.

Finally Paul quoted Archbishop Tutu as once saying that if you keep finding bodies you need to go up river to see who is causing the people to fall in. We were reaffirmed in our belief that as Christians we are called to be ‘political’ beings and to use our voices to call people to account. We in JPIC Links are looking forward to working with CUF on an exciting project they are planning -  of further ‘speaking truth to power.’

Novices learn about praying with art

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Spirituality through visual images was the theme of a recent gathering of novices and their formation directors.  Eleven participants from different congregations came together for two days of  ‘Prayer with Pictures’ led by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ.  They were invited to explore their own experience of praying with art and also how they might guide others in this. The group was composed of first and second year novices from the Jesuits, the Congregation of Jesus and the Mercy Sisters and they met at the Jesuit novitiate, Manresa House, in Birmingham. The Holy Family was one of the pictures the group looked at together:

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One of the participants, Leona Fernandes, CJ, described the experience as  lively and prayerful: “Fr. Dries provided input on praying with paintings, sketches, sculptures and other artwork using Ignatian contemplation as a model for entering into prayer and reflection. There was also plenty of time for the novices to get to know each other, pray together, as well as to visit the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham. The novices found it to be a very edifying and joyful time together and we are looking forward to the next session in February.”

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A second year novice with the Sisters of Mercy,  Nicole Keenan,  described the gathering as very constructive but also challenging on a personal level –  “as anyone who knows me, know art and I do not go together!”   Reflecting on the encounter with art in a deeper sense though, Nicole added: “Fr Dries presented the sessions gently and in a non-threatening way.  We were presented with different pieces of art, given time to reflect privately how the piece spoke to us and then share with the group if we wished. I learnt so much and look at art differently now.  I also learnt so much from my peers by their responses!.....Since I have been attending these gatherings various topics have been covered, all of which have been beneficial for me and my vocational journey.  I have also enjoyed connecting with others on their journey.  We have the space and time to chat amongst ourselves and I know this helps me as much as the input provided.  I am grateful for these gatherings and would encourage other congregations who have postulants and/or novices to attend.”

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Desmond Gibney SJ is a first year Jesuit novice from the Irish province and is based at Manresa House. He also particularly appreciated the opportunity to meet others in the early stages of their vocational life: “As an all-male Jesuit community, it was great to be able to share stories and experiences of novice life with Sisters. The walk to the Barber Institute highlighted another feature of life as a Jesuit novice that we have come to accept in the short time we've been in the novitiate: after a few wrong turns on the walk to the gallery, some of our female colleagues took out a strange device we had almost forgotten existed: smartphones with Google Maps! At the art gallery, we each picked out a painting that we liked and then explained what we saw in the painting that resonated with us. Overall, the inter-novitiate gathering was a pleasant break from our usual routine and we enjoyed the chats over coffee in our garden; we made promises to renew acquaintance again and maybe even consider a visit our newly-discovered colleagues in places such as York!”

The next meeting is scheduled for February 27/28, 2019. The theme is celibate chastity. For further details, contact: sarahdobsoncj@gmail.com

Sr Frances Orchard CJ joins Bishops during their 'ad limina' visit

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For the first time, a representative from the Conference of Religious joined the Bishops of England and Wales during their five yearly visit to the Vatican. Sr Frances Orchard CJ, a member of the COREW Executive, accompanied the Bishops when they went to the department responsible for religious congregations (the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life - CICLSAL).

Sister Frances, (pictured, centre, with Cardinal Nichols and others) said that what emerged from the exchanges was the huge appreciation that diocesan bishops have of the work of the religious in their diocese. Sr Frances, who spent nine years in Rome as part of the Congregation of Jesus General Council, added: “Many of the bishops said how pleased they had been with my presence – and I don’t think they were just being polite. They felt there was more openness and appreciation of our different roles all working within one Church than they had previously experienced on the ad limina."

Personal reflection from Sr Frances on the visit:

“After the ‘ad limina’ visit to CICLSAL several of the bishops present asked me if it had come up to my expectations. As there was no prior circulation of an agenda from the Dicastery nor a list of participants in advance, and neither had I, or any other member of COREW ever been present for an ‘ad limina’ visit to one of the Dicasteries of the Church, I arrived with no expectations at all. That said I was very pleased both to have been invited and very pleased after the event to have been present. I knew that having a religious sister present at an ‘ad limina’ visit was a ‘first’ and I did not want it to be a ‘last’ too!

The fact I was there arose out of earlier collaborative decisions. First, COREW is unique in having a national conference that includes both male and female religious. Second, COREW and the Bishops’ Conference meet regularly as the Mixed Commission to discuss matters of common concern. It was at the most recent meeting of this Commission that it was requested and agreed that a member of the executive of COREW would attend the forthcoming ‘ad limina’ meeting at CICLSAL along with the Bishops. Fr Chris Thomas, the General Secretary to the Bishops’ Conference, kindly made the arrangements.

From CICLSAL there were seven members of the Dicastery represented. They were headed up by the Secretary to the Archbishop, Mons. José Rodrigues Carballo OFM. About ten members of the Bishop’s conference were present, including the members of the Mixed Commission led by Archbishop Bernard Longley, who had asked Bishop Alan Williams, as a member of the Marist congregation, to preside. Instantaneous English/Italian translation was provided.

I had been warned that ‘ad limina’ visits could be very formal. The phrase ‘ad limina’ is itself interesting. It means that those from ‘the fringes’ come to report to ‘the centre’ – an interesting and not entirely acceptable image of the Church. The setting was indeed formal; however, we were warmly welcomed and invited to introduce ourselves. Mons. Carballo updated us on the progress of a new publication on Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life due out in 2019. This took some time and I was beginning to wonder if the ‘ad limina’ model as described above whereby the ‘centre’ told the ‘fringes’ what to do was going to be applied to the whole meeting, when Mons. Carballo stopped and invited us to respond to what he had outlined. There then ensued a good and quite lively exchange on issues and concerns around a series of topics: the challenge for bishops and religious to keep the ‘One Church’ model always in mind; the upsurge in new religious congregations, which though often a blessing to the Church, needed careful monitoring. We were invited to ‘discern among yourselves’ on this development within the church; the important role of Vicars for Religious within the diocese; the movement of religious women from ministries of education to ministries focussed on anti-trafficking; the diminishment and ageing of religious congregations and the challenge of finding good leadership, leadership that understood the importance of both ministry within the Church, but also the importance of charism and genuine spirituality within religious congregations; the practice of religious superiors removing key personnel from the diocese without due discernment with the local bishop; and, inevitably the recent report from IICSA on child sexual abuse in two Benedictine monasteries. It was recognised that monasteries need to be brought into a stronger confederation to enhance accountability.

Probably from the point of view of COREW the most encouraging comments made were on the contribution that religious make to the Church through the parish and the diocese.  This was seen not simply in terms of good work done, but more profoundly as an enrichment stemming from the charism of the particular congregation. This charism is imbibed by the parishioners, and they are impoverished when the congregation moves away. Particular mention was made of the good collaboration between religious and the bishops on the Mixed Commission. This is based on a recognition of differing roles and the importance of openness among us. Religious are perceived as a real blessing within the diocese for their presence, their charism and their dedication.

It was for me a privilege to be invited to join an ‘ad limina’ visit. I was warmly welcomed by all I met, supported throughout the meeting itself, and graciously thanked for my presence. I very much hope that this precedent will become the norm.”

 

UK Ambassador to Holy See pays tribute to Sr Imelda Poole MBE

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The work of religious in anti-trafficking was applauded at a reception in Rome in honour of Sister Imelda Poole, IBVM, who was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.  The British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, said she wanted to express thanks to “all Sisters and Brothers who’ve been so active in combating human slavery – it takes enormous courage and patience and we thank them very much for their efforts.”

Sr Imelda heads up a network of European religious fighting trafficking and exploitation – RENATE - and became its President after more than 11 years working in Albania, where the IBVM founded an NGO called Mary Ward Loreto.

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Addressing the reception,  Sr Imelda recalled a moving example of the type of victim that she encounters; a young woman who had been trafficked from the age of 12. The victim  was covered in hugely painful sores that had become diseased,  deriving from a nervous rash.  Sr Imelda said this was an example of a trafficked person who had been sold, forced to work, denied a wage and made to live in  “absolutely unbelievable” conditions. The victim’s mother had suffered a complete mental breakdown as a result of her daughter’s plight and remains in an institution.

Sr  Imelda also reflected on the founding of RENATE and said it was “quite extraordinary” that the network was now present in 30 European countries -  having not even been thought of less than a decade ago.

 Sr Bernadette Boland IBVM (St Peter’s in the distance)

Sr Bernadette Boland IBVM (St Peter’s in the distance)

IBVM Provincial Leader in England, Sr Bernadette Boland, gave a speech of thanks to the Ambassador, for a “wonderful night” and said Sr Imelda  took the MBE for all the religious working together in anti-trafficking.

Another British Sister present was Lynda Dearlove, RSM, who was also awarded the MBE – back in 2011,  for services to vulnerable women. Sr Lynda is the founder and CEO of women@thewell (a drop-in centre for vulnerable women in London), Vice-Chair of the trustee board of CSAN (Caritas Social Action Network) and also a trustee for ARISE Foundation.  She welcomed the affirmation that the government is fully behind efforts to eradicate trafficking: “I think it’s important to note the recognition from the current Ambassador to the Holy See, of the important work of women religious in both prevention, rescue and shelter of victims of modern slavery. In particular, the recognition that we provide a response that the state could not provide. I also welcome her identification that in the recognition of urgency to combat the scourge of modern slavery the Holy See and the UK government are at one.”

Other distinguished guests included Monsignor Antoine Camilleri of the Vatican Secretariat of State,  the Executive Secretary of the UISG, Sr Pat Murray IBVM, Dominican Sr Helen Alford OP,  Philanthropist  Christian Brenninkmeijer, who’d travelled from Vienna for the reception and  Luke de Pulford of Arise Foundation.

Sr Imelda concluded by thanking Pope Francis for being such a huge inspiration and source of strength,  in his firm condemnation of human trafficking and chose his words to sum up her mission: “We have to engage in this conflict; we have to engage with this whole scourge in our world today.”

 

Vatican safeguarding expert to address Ealing abuse conference

 Open invitation to conference which Ealing Abbey community hopes will be a “restorative act”

Open invitation to conference which Ealing Abbey community hopes will be a “restorative act”

 Fr  Hans Zollner, S.J., is one of the church’s leading experts in the area of safeguarding minors

Fr Hans Zollner, S.J., is one of the church’s leading experts in the area of safeguarding minors

A member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Fr Hans Zollner SJ, is the keynote speaker at a forthcoming national conference organised by the monastic community at Ealing Abbey,  entitled ‘Growing in Connectedness: Healing the History of Child Sexual Abuse.’  The conference, on October 21st 2018, aims to “provide a space to connect and share learning from both those dealing with the aftermath of child sexual abuse as well as safeguarding professionals, in order to prevent, stop and take responsibility for child abuse within our schools and churches.”

 Lea Misan

Lea Misan

Other conference speakers include Lea Misan, the founder of a charity which works with young people and their families affected by trauma, author Oluwafemi Hughes who writes about the experience of abuse within institutions of care and psychotherapist Milan Bijelic who also works with trauma victims and in post-war reconciliation.

 Oluwafemi Hughes

Oluwafemi Hughes

One of the conference organisers, Ealing Abbey monk,  Dom James Leachman OSB, explained the thinking behind the event: “It came to us as an idea, because nobody else was doing it! Why has nobody else done it?  There’s been a lot of talking and apologies, but this is about actually trying to do something. We need to put survivors first.”  The conference aims to be as broad as possible and is hoping to attract educators in schools, institutes, universities & seminaries and practitioners in new and traditional monastic communities as well as health and mental care professionals, psychotherapists and community activists.

Fr James, who is himself currently training as a psychotherapist, acknowledges the  gathering is particularly relevant due to the pain that has been experienced in Ealing. Last year the former Abbot, Andrew Soper, was jailed for 18 years.  He had fled to Kosovo in a bid to avoid prosecution: “We can’t change history, but might learn to change the future” said Fr James. “I don’t know what the conference will actually achieve. But it’s giving  a bit of an ‘edge’ - it’s doing something for the first time and then the hope is that it will ripple out.”

 Fr James at the spring in the cellar

Fr James at the spring in the cellar

In addition, as a new initiative,  Ealing Abbey is introducing a low cost counselling service -  ‘London Spring.’ The title is inspired by a freshwater spring which is hidden beneath the cellar of a large and underused house within the Abbey grounds, where the counselling will take place. The spring flows under the property continually and is automatically drained, by a pump,  when the water reaches a certain level.   In a symbol of change and moving forward,  there are plans to divert the flow of the underground spring out into the gardens, where the babbling stream will in future be enjoyed by all.

Fr James hopes that the counselling service, too, will  be a step into the future. Rooms are being made available for groups and for individual sessions  and there will also be placements on offer for student therapists, with supervision.  There’s a focus on transparency and community involvement.  The monks are inviting feedback on the name “London Spring” and have  created a survey:   https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/H9PMPMK to canvass public opinion around whether the project will be a good service to the wider community.  “So far in 2017 and 2018 we have looked at experiences of social isolation and fragmentation in the culture of the London we love. Together we have lots of contacts with people of faith, no faith and with social activists.”   

 Dom James Leachman

Dom James Leachman

Fr  James wants the support to be available   “for victims of all kinds of abuse and discrimination..…In 2017 we began by focussing on the sources of wisdom in different religious traditions.  Our activities translate Catholic and Benedictine values into language and expressions more accessible to post Christian generations.”   The aspiration, he says, is that the  new initiative will “help Ealing Abbey community be more restorative for the past in its core mission.”

CONFERENCE DETAILS: https://ealingmonks.org.uk/connectedness/

 

Invitation to a day devoted to the challenge of tackling poverty

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‘Re-imagining Britain’ is the theme of a justice and peace meeting in London on October 6th to which all are warmly invited. Facilitated by the Executive Director of the Church Urban Fund, the Rev Paul Hackwood,  the day will explore the target to radically reduce, by 2030,  the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in the UK. The initiative is based on  the agreement three years ago, by world leaders,  to set 17 goals for a better world by 2030 – the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

At the same time as that international agreement was forged, 30 Roman Catholic and Anglican brothers, sisters and lay people in Britain  met for a day conference entitled, ‘Leave no one behind’ - linking Christian social teaching with the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  Those involved were members of JPIC Links (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) which had been set up in the 1970s by members of the Conference of Religious to implement initiatives and lead congregations in the promotion of justice and peace issues. 

The Millennium Development goals and the Sustainable Development goals (Global Goals) are the road map for JPIC and during that one day conference three years ago, members made a commitment to make the Global Goals widely known and committed to ‘prayer for everyone’ to end global poverty by 2030.

One of those deeply involved in these efforts is Sr Gillian Price FC: “Guided by the goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and the general public to work together to build a better future for everyone.  If the Goals are met, they ensure the health, safety and future of the planet for everyone on it, and their best chance of being met is if everyone on the planet is aware of them. The more famous these global goals are, and the more widely they are understood by everyone - the more politicians will take them seriously, finance them properly, refer to them frequently and make them work. This is a mission for humanity, unified goals that resonate with everyone, everywhere.”

In July 2018 the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development’ (UKSSD) published a report, ‘Measuring up’ on how the UK is performing in achieving the targets of the Global Goals. The report found that:

  • Social protections for people experiencing poverty in the UK have been reduced in recent years

  • 16.8% of people are living in poverty according to our national definition

  • 3 million people in the UK are undernourished and 1.3 million of them are elderly

  • In the UK we have the highest levels of household food insecurity in Europe.

  • We have a food system that struggles to provide healthy sustainable, diverse diets for everyone in the UK.   

Adds Sr Gillian: “Knowing that we religious, associates and third order members from the 74 religious Congregations who belong to  JPIC Links see the effects of poverty in our day to day work,  we are looking forward to our Linking Day on October 6th with the Church Urban Fund  – you are very welcome to join us to explore how we can work together.”

RE-IMAGINING BRITAIN:  10.00 for 10.30 start -  finishing with Mass at 4.00

St Aloysius Church Hall, 20 Phoenix Road, Euston, London NW1 1TA

(full details on homepage of www.corew.org)

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 Some quotes from Christian leaders:

 “You pray for the hungry, then you feed them.  This is how prayer works”  - Pope Francis

 “We are not to simply bandage wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel”      -  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 “All humanity is dependent upon recognising the humanity in others” – Abp Desmond Tutu

 “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other” – Mother Teresa

 “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those bits of good put together that overwhelm the world” – Abp Desmond Tutu

 From: Prayer for everyone:

  1. https://www.prayerforeveryone.org/resource-centre/

Sr Gillian, as a member of the Daughters of the Cross of Liege, writing on September 14, the Feast of the Cross, adds a personal reflection as to why justice and peace issues are integral to her ministry: :

The first of our Constitutions, under Charism says:

No 1: The Daughters of the Cross form an institute of apostolic life which has as its aim to understand and to proclaim to others that the love of God has been revealed to us in the most striking way in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Their response to this love is to glorify and honour Christ by loving and serving him, above all in his weakest and most suffering members'.

No 8: In the different countries where the Congregation is established, the Daughters of the Cross always have a special preference for those who are poorest. They serve Christ in the words of general and special education, the care of the sick and the aged, abandoned children, the physically, psychologically and mentally challenged, the socially deprived, local pastoral work and the various needs of the Church. They remain faithful to their original charism, which excludes no work of mercy.

No 10: As an ecclesial community, the Daughters of the Cross are called to pay special attention to the signs of the times.  Rooted in the Gospels, they endeavour to be alert to the growing needs of the world, and to involve themselves in movements for justice and peace. Recognising the inter dependence of all Creation, the sisters strive to be aware of global issues of poverty, exploitation, inequalities and oppression in its various forms. They are encouraged to respect the diversity of religions, cultural practices and traditions'.

 

 

Praise for the huge part played by Religious in the World Meeting of Families in Ireland

 Sr Liz Murphy with Niall O’Shea, seconded by Bank of Ireland to WMOF for 2 years

Sr Liz Murphy with Niall O’Shea, seconded by Bank of Ireland to WMOF for 2 years

A Bank of Ireland senior executive, who was seconded as head of financial development for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, has heaped praise on the many religious communities who backed the event financially as well as individual religious who gave their time and support as volunteers.  Niall O’Shea, who was released by the Bank of Ireland to assist the organisers raise tens of millions in funding said: “The religious congregations were involved and enthused about WMOF2018 from the beginning of preparations. From their profiling of the WMOF2018 as part of the various publications published and edited by Irish religious, there was a commitment to the work we were doing.”

The acknowledgement is echoed by Sr Liz Murphy RSM, Secretary General of AMRI (the Association of Leaders of Missionaries and Religious of Ireland), who was instrumental in drawing in religious as the preparations took shape, after attending an early meeting of the organisers in May last year. Sr Liz recalls: “I felt, where are all of the religious in all of this?”  Sr Liz subsequently invited congregational leaders, provincial leaders and bursars to come together and find out for themselves about the visit and how they could contribute directly to the costs. “I kept putting people in touch with Niall O’Shea!” she laughed.. 

 A contemplative Sister rejoices in getting her ticket for the Papal Mass

A contemplative Sister rejoices in getting her ticket for the Papal Mass

Sr Liz is also joyful about the fact that Irish contemplatives were drawn into the preparations by receiving prayer requests which had been handed in by people who viewed the specially created icon that toured Ireland over the past year.   Joy, as well, that “loads of contemplatives” turned up at the RDS as well as at the Papal Mass at Phoenix Park.

The Redemptoristine Sisters in Dublin played a central role in the writing of the icon and from time to time they took it home to refresh and touch up during its mammoth tour of each of the 26 dioceses in Ireland as well as a trip to Rome. Said Niall O’Shea: “You cannot talk about the WMOF2018 without mentioning the Redemptoristine Sisters in the same breath.” (view the video on www.corew.org).

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He also is deeply grateful that many of those who signed on as volunteers for the event were members of religious congregations: “They worked with us on all the local and national preparations for WMOF2018. They are too many to mention one by one. They worked with us before and during our events, doing general volunteering,  singing in the choirs,  making themselves available to hear confessions at the larger WMOF2018 events,  making themselves available as media volunteers to offer commentary on the events........ Members of religious congregations were the heart and soul of many of our volunteer teams.”

At the WMOF2018 Pastoral Congress there were many members of religious congregations on panels and taking part in discussions.  They were visible at the daily celebration of the Eucharist and on the campus where, several times, they were spotted sitting with attendees in quiet moments of prayer and reflection. Some of the high profile speakers were members of religious congregations too.  

 Cardinal Nichols visiting the AMRI exhibition stand

Cardinal Nichols visiting the AMRI exhibition stand

Niall recalls how “several members of the media commented on the visibility of male and female members of religious congregations, with one commentator describing the Festival of Families playfully as ‘Electric Picnic for Nuns!’ But the impact of this visibility of religious is something not to be underestimated argues Niall: “Our events were largely attended by families. It is in families that the seeds of vocations are sown and therefore the visibility and availability of so many religious at our events is something to be encouraged in terms of fostering conversations about vocations [and vocations themselves] to priesthood and religious life.”

 Laudato Si' garden in Dublin

Laudato Si' garden in Dublin

The ‘Our Common Home’ project was a key component of the WMOF2018, offering information on ways that everyone can help to care for the environment: “A religious congregation across the road from the main Pastoral Congress complex gave over some space in their grounds for us to construct a beautiful Laudato Si’ Garden. This was one of the most visited aspects of the WMOF2018 Pastoral Congress and it is something that was welcomed with open arms by the congregation” reflects Niall.  He also notes: “The Communion Hosts for both the RDS Pastoral Congress and the WMOF2018 closing Mass were manufactured and gifted by two religious congregations to the event. The Glencairn Sisters gave the hosts for the Pastoral Congress and the Redemptoristine Sisters gave the hosts for the closing Mass.”

 Prior Provincial, Fr Gregory Caroll OP, Archbishop Michael Neary, Fr Bernard Treacy OP

Prior Provincial, Fr Gregory Caroll OP, Archbishop Michael Neary, Fr Bernard Treacy OP

A Dominican who was present at the RDS, Fr Bernard Treacy OP, Director of Dominican Publications (pictured to the right) commented: “The visible presence of so many religious alongside families, specially at the Pastoral Congress, made visible that the whole family of the church was committed to celebrating the Gospel of the Family.”

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Another aspect of the gathering was a pilgrim walk through Dublin; of the seven churches involved, four were attached to religious communities:  Carmelite, Discalced Carmelite, Dominican &  Jesuit, and another is a parish staffed by the Capuchins, from the same community that Pope Francis visited.    

Looking back on all the months of preparations, Niall O’Shea says it’s important, aside from all the practical arrangements that religious were involved with, to not forget one other crucial aspect: “There was a huge programme of prayer that was undertaken for almost a whole year by the religious communities throughout Ireland. “

 

Religious urged to apply for key role with CoR

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Staff who have worked over the years with the outgoing General Secretary, Brother James Boner OFM Cap, were invited to join the Executive for a farewell lunch in August. CoR President, Fr Paul Smyth, in a message to members of the Conference of Religious commented: “The occasion provided us with the opportunity to express on your behalf our gratitude and make a small presentation for his sterling years of service to our membership.” 

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Brother James explained to members: “I was re-elected as the Provincial of the Capuchin Franciscans last September.  I am also involved with my Order at an international level as a project manager and visitator on finances. I have found it increasingly difficult to give the time and energy to my role as General Secretary whilst fulfilling my other positions.”  He also  added: “I have learned so much from you as members – much more than I have given to you.”

The search for a new General Secretary is underway. Full details can be found on the CoR website and the closing date is September 10th.  Fr Paul Smyth urged Congregations to be generous in their response: “I would encourage you to see this as an opportunity for a Congregation to engage in a salaried ministry in which their member is going to have access to resources that will benefit their own congregation for years to come as we continue to develop ways of responding to the legal demands that are placed on us.” 

Looking back over his time in the role, Brother James offered this reflection:  “It has been quite a learning experience these last four years, I have been so fortunate to be in this position of trust. This has given me a wide appreciation of the depth of work that the members are involved in and your continued dedication to the marginalised and those without a voice. I know that there are many challenges that lie ahead with the reduction of our membership and the increased legislation that we are all faced with on a daily basis. However, it is in our weakness that we find strength with one another. I leave with sadness, but know that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us all in His ways.“

Conference of Religious calls for action to tackle abuse

 Conference of Religious recent AGM

Conference of Religious recent AGM

Statement from Executive of CoR:

The Conference of Religious of England and Wales (CoR) shares in the profound shock and sadness that continues to arise as we are confronted by information about the sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy and people in positions of responsibility in Catholic institutions. Church authorities must take action to end a culture of silence, hold abusers accountable, and provide support to those abused. 

In recent weeks we have been confronted by cases of the abuse of power against vulnerable adults and children in America, Catholic Sisters in different parts of the world, and closer to home with the reports generated by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)  that has been looking at educational institutions run by the Benedictines.

We agree with Pope Francis that  “looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”  

Despite the work done in recent decades to create a safe environment within our church institutions, our members are horrified by the accounts that have been reported and we stand in agreement with all those demanding the end of a culture both within the church and in wider society that ignores or tolerates sexual abuse of any other adult or minor perpetrated by those in positions of trust.   We are concerned that a desire to protect the Church has at times erroneously limited the ‘Church’ to mean  the power and status enjoyed by the hierarchy. In reality, this leads to the perpetuation of the suffering of the Church -  manifest in the victims of abuse, who in reality are themselves the Church -  the body of Christ - in need of our protection.

We thank all those members of the Church throughout the world, who, at great risk, have spoken publicly about the abuse they have experienced within Church institutions.  We stand with all those countless Priests, Sisters and Brothers who, while horrified by the actions of this significant minority of their companions, continue to faithfully strive to build God’s Kingdom, treating those they work with, with respect and justice.  

No slowing down, at 81, for Sister Lucy

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Every weekday morning, Sr Lucy Dunne makes her way to a supermarket, to stock up on fresh produce for Cornerstone, the Manchester day centre for the homeless that she has run for sixteen years.  Until very recently, she would also be found every day stirring the vast pots of food,  helping to serve up 200 lunches.  Sr Lucy, of the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph, looks back with great satisfaction on having been able to help many people in need: “Over the years, I’ve enjoyed cooking very much. Nobody who comes here goes without a meal. A hot meal is very important to the people who come to us.”

 Sr Lucy is a keen cook

Sr Lucy is a keen cook

Each weekday,  breakfast is served, then lunch and the Centre has now expanded its support for the vulnerable, by offering showers & laundry provision, haircuts, eyetests and educational classes, including English for asylum seekers and refugees. Uniquely, it also offers temporary accommodation in portacabins which have been donated by a construction company. These ‘pods’ now sleep 24 people nightly in addition to the emergency bedding that is available inside the Centre.

Sr Lucy is saddened that all this is necessary in a prosperous city, but is heartened by the outpouring of goodwill from all the volunteers who support her: “Unfortunately it seems that the need continues to grow greater than ever and so we must continue to ask the Lord to continue to bless us in our work each day.”

The idea of helping the growing number of single adults adrift on the city streets came from a local priest 27 years ago, who enlisted the support of Sr Pauline Gaughan, who initially opened a small café offering sandwiches and drinks. Sr Lucy comments:  “The apostolic drive of the Daughters of Charity, particularly Sr Pauline and the inspiration of the Divine Word, elaborated in Chapter 25 of St Matthew’s Gospel, turned the half sheet of foolscap into a living and breathing mission, within a matter of months.”

 Builders' portacabins turned sleeping pods

Builders' portacabins turned sleeping pods

In recent years Sr Lucy has noticed an increase in asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in great need: “These people are really destitute, they are entitled to nothing. We’re trying to make life a bit easier for them.” A barber from Syria, who originally turned to Cornerstone for help, is one of those who now volunteers his services weekly.

Of society in general, Sr Lucy notes that compared to when she started at the Centre, food poverty is now an issue and not just for the homeless:  “There were no such things as foodbanks 16 years ago. Families are needing them now – the working poor. In addition the delays in processing benefit payments have created a lot of difficulties for some.”  She also laments the availability of cheap drugs: “The latest one that’s around has been making people ill and some have died. It destroys people.”

Sr Lucy has been described as “like a mother to all who come to Cornerstone.”  She focusses these days on spending time talking to clients and befriending them individually: “They see this as a safe place to be, a bit like having a family. When they come in, I get their life story and an account of how they arrived to be where they are. People of any age group can encounter problems.”

Turning her thoughts to the future, Sr Lucy is looking forward to staying put: “I enjoy being here, wandering around in the background. I keep an eye out for any clients who might be looking a bit lost. Faith is the basis of what we do: Jesus wants us to look after the poor and downcast. The Lord will let me know when it’s time to stop.”

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Religious life and the digital sphere

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“Studying new ways and means to communicate the Gospel of mercy to all people, in the heart of different cultures, through the media that the new digital cultural context makes available to our contemporaries is something that is “very much in my heart.”  (Pope Francis).

Pope Francis has called the internet, text messages and social networks ‘a gift from God’ and the Conference of Religious, in line with its strategic objective to have a more visible presence and a stronger voice, has launched social media accounts and redesigned its website.   Through Twitter and also Instagram (- a photograph and video sharing social network), the mission of religious communities in England and Wales will be highlighted and promoted.  This redesigned homepage aims to be a showcase of the work of religious and allow individual religious to share their thoughts in the newly created ‘blog’ section.

The power of these new methods of communication can be seen in Pope Francis’ engagement with the digital sphere. On Instagram, he has 5.7 million followers. His @Pontifex Twitter accounts have reached more than 40 million followers in nine different languages. The Vatican Secretariat for Communication has described the accounts as an essential way for Pope Francis to personally connect with people around the world: “Every day, through his tweets, Pope Francis makes himself available to men and women through social media, at times offering a spiritual thought,” the Secretariat has said, “other times sharing with his followers a reflection on events of great significance for the international community.”    For instance, at the launch of his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis sent out nearly two dozen tweets over six days, calling for immediate action on climate change – with the notably pithy  tweet, warning that the earth was beginning to "look more and more like an immense pile of filth." 

In a message for the World Day of Communications Pope Francis said : “The internet can be used wisely to build a society which is healthy and open to sharing. Communication, wherever and however it takes place, has opened up broader horizons for many people. This is a gift of God which involves a great responsibility. I like to refer to this power of communication as “closeness”. The encounter between communication and mercy will be fruitful to the degree that it generates a closeness which cares, comforts, heals, accompanies and celebrates. In a broken, fragmented and polarised world, to communicate with mercy means to help create a healthy, free and fraternal closeness between the children of God and all our brothers and sisters in the one human family.”

A Redemptorist, Fr Biju Madathikunnel, CSsR, recently offered a reflection on the significance of digital communication for religious: “As we know the culture of our time is digital and religious life must deal with this reality, to take advantage of the good it bears and to learn how to manage the risks and challenges that it poses……There is no doubt that the great changes that we witness today are reshaping our religious life. We are being changed sometimes even without our conscious knowledge. The way we live our religious life, the way we express our faith, the way we engage in ministry, the way we interact with each other etc., are all changed in a couple of decades.”

Referring to the generational gap within the use of technology, he says this can impact on religious life, for example, between formators and students: “Very often young people are smarter than their parents and mentors, because of their skill to adapt to new technology.”

Noting that Pope Francis has said the internet can be used to reach the “peripheries of human existence, ”  Fr Biju says religious should think seriously about this reality of digital culture and how it can enhance mission: “It is the responsibility of the Church to reflect together how we can use the media to reach out to the most abandoned and poor. We the Redemptorists have a specific mission to reach out to the peripheries of the world. However, more than ever we need to think about it in a different way in the context of the technological developments and new means of communication.”

At a recent gathering of Redemptorists in Rome,  a talk on ‘the Church in Digital Culture’ was given by Bishop Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.  Bishop Tighe was involved in the launch of the @pontifex twitter handle that was created for Pope Benedict and subsequently used so successfully by Pope Francis; he argues strongly that it is important for people in the Church to recognise how the digital environment functions and to see it as a new continent for evangelisation: “The Church, Institutes of the Church and individual believers have complete entitlement to be part of the digital environment. If we’re there, we should be there in the first place as good citizens, as people who see the potential in social media to actually build up the sense of the unity of the human family; who see the potential in social media to create good conversations across distances and across times and across cultures. We need to be first and foremost people who are able to be there credibly and with a certain respect for other people and only then will there be a credibility about our presence as believers.”

Arguing that those of faith need to have a “thoughtful presence” on the internet, he said there were challenges and opportunities for religious congregations: “One of the things some religious orders are looking at, in terms of their own particular charism -  for instance if they have a charism towards education, is : how do we educate online? How do we actually, faithfully continue what were our priorities in education, or in healthcare or in social services, through an online presence. How do we support people, how do we advise, how do we care in a ‘different’ environment?”

Addressing the challenge for formation, Bishop Tighe reflected on his previous experience of teaching in seminary, when new candidates were “walled in” and separated off from society and how that is now gone: “People who are coming in to formation nowadays are thoroughly digitalised….people will continue to be connected to previous lives, previous work, previous ideas. We shouldn’t fight that, we should embrace that. We need to talk to people about their use of and engagement with social media, to understand how they’re developing at the human level.”

He added that spiritual formation can also flourish with the aid of the internet: “To be spiritual does not necessarily mean to have to come offline. There are resources that build peoples’ spirituality through an online presence.”

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