Contemplatives digest new Vatican rules governing their existence


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.”



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


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


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.

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.

Paul Hackwood (002).JPG

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


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.


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


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:


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.”


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.”


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:

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

Adlimina .jpg

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


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.


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: 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.”



Invitation to a day devoted to the challenge of tackling poverty


‘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


 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:


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


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.”


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


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.” 


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


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.”


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.”

Conference of Religious on Twitter:  @OfReligious

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Poor Clares on the move – along with their deceased Sisters

Photo: Beth Hughes

Photo: Beth Hughes

A community of nuns in rural Wales have just held a public  auction of many of their monastery’s belongings as they await an imminent move which will see them exchange a rural lifestyle for city living. The Poor Clare Colettine  Community has been in Hawarden for ninety years but in the face of mounting bills to restore and maintain their property they have discerned that the time is right to move to a Poor Clare community attached to a parish in Nottingham. The sale of their belongings, in June, was billed as a “unique, unrepeatable, amateur auction of ancient furniture, doubtful works of art, nunny junk, cloistered clutter, flotsam, jetsam, slightly off-white elephants and really useful odds and ends."

Flyer for "unique, unrepeatable" auction

Flyer for "unique, unrepeatable" auction

Thirteen sisters will be setting off from Wales over the summer to join four sisters in Nottingham. An extraordinary aspect of the move is that they are also planning to disinter the 18 sisters in their cemetery for reburial in Nottingham.  Speaking from the convent in Hawarden, Mother Damian was adamant that had to happen: “As a community we asked, ‘will we take the cemetery with us?’ Of course we will, we wouldn’t dream of leaving them here was the reply!”   They have applied to the Home Office to get a license and are awaiting the disinterment, which will involve the convent’s cemetery being cordoned off and the remains being moved by hearse. Mother Damian explains: “Our cemetery is very special; they were the founding Sisters of this house. The cemetery is very much part of our lives. Many young sisters, when they first come here, walk into the gardens and then to the cemetery and spend a long time there in prayer.” 

There is sadness at their departure from Hawarden and Mother Damian acknowledges that many local people have wondered why it has to happen. “We’ve had a wonderful life in Hawarden but we’ve come to realise that we can’t cope with the size of the property. The grounds are big but the infirmary is too small. Our boiler needs to be replaced and there is other major structural work to be tackled. The house is also full of stairs; we can see it will be harder for us here in five years, so we are looking to the future.”  

They initially contacted the local bishop to see if he could assist in helping them find a new property.  But then, after a visit to the community in Nottingham, the idea of moving suddenly took root. “We’d had contact with the Poor Clares in Nottingham for many years but it never entered my head that we would ever go there!” Mother Damian said. After praying about it, she offered the idea to her community in a vote and everyone said yes.  She now has a “sense of peace” about the relocation and describes the move as like two hands joining: “We’ve never all lived together before. Like any merger, it’s bound to have its teething problems. But both parties are looking forward to the challenge. This is a new adventure, a new pilgrimage. God is setting us out to do something different. Each day we pray that God will bless this venture. But it’s not easy. I’m sure there will be many tears before it’s over!”

Mother Damian has lived in Hawarden since 1982 and believes the fact that the community never intended to go to Nottingham means that the sudden opportunity that has arisen is a gift from God. Alterations are being made to the property in Nottingham and the minute the builder gives the green light, the thirteen Sisters will be off: “God has given us an invitation and we have accepted.”

The deceased sisters will be reburied in the grounds of the Nottingham monastery. “They are a part of our community. They’re our roots; if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have been here in Hawarden all these years.”

Sudan project offers model of collaboration for Congregations

Solidarity with South Sudan    Fr Paul Smyth, back row, centre

Solidarity with South Sudan

Fr Paul Smyth, back row, centre

The President of the Conference of Religious of England and Wales,  Fr Paul Smyth, who is also President of the project ‘Solidarity with South Sudan’ - which has communities based in South Sudan made up of members from 19 different Congregations -  has called on religious communities in the UK to copy this model of collaboration, in the face of emerging problems.

Fr Paul, a Claretian missionary,  speaking just after returning from a two week visit to South Sudan, said the sharing of resources and personnel has allowed institutes and responses to be created that no single congregation would be in a position to provide – which can benefit those most in need and enhance the work of religious communities in alleviating suffering. He’s been involved in the South Sudan initiative since 2009.  It was set up in response to an invitation from the Catholic Bishops of Southern Sudan and inspired by the 2004 Rome Congress on Consecrated Life, ‘Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity.’

Solidarity with South Sudan’ has the objective of helping this  country established in 2011,  to rebuild after years of civil war. Its mission is empowerment and sustainability. It trains local people to become teachers, nurses & midwives as well as pastoral workers and catechists to support those traumatised by the conflict. In addition, there’s an agricultural project to produce food and  re-introduce farming skills that have been lost due to people being displaced from their land and homes.


Thirty-two members of Religious Congregations from 18 countries and a diverse range of cultures live and work together: “The project is a sign of the work all religious are being called upon to do – to work together to respond to new needs coming up in our world and to share our resources” said Fr Paul. “It’s about allowing the differences we have to strengthen us. That should be a feature of all of us. For instance in the big multicultural parish I run in London we have to see how the mix can enrich us. The South Sudan project is one aspect of a pattern of other parts of my life.”  He draws a parallel with the Conference of Religious, which draws together the Major Superiors of more than four hundred Congregations in England and Wales: “COR acts to foster collaboration amongst a large range of individuals and to encourage networking and shared responses.”

This approach is exemplified in the existence of the Medaille Trust, which was  formed out of a conversation some 12 years ago at the annual general meeting of the Conference of Religious.  Provincial Sr. Jane Maltby whose Congregation the Society of the Sacred Heart has gifted a large house in west London to the Medaille Trust recalls the origins:  “Congregations came together over their concern about women and men who have been trafficked to England, and how to support them after they have been released. The Medaille Trust was a direct outcome of this and is supported financially by a large number of Congregations, some of whom have gifted a property to the Trust. The Medaille is now one of the single biggest providers of care for individuals who have been trafficked into the UK.”

Fr Paul adds:  “Because of the Trust’s inclusivity of people of all or no faith, many whose lives are touched by its work may well be unaware of its origins. As a religious myself and the President of the Conference of Religious, the fruits of that meeting all those years ago is a living parable. A parable of what can happen when people of faith take the time to come together and support each other in looking at issues whose complexity tends to leave us individually feeling overwhelmed.”

The building of bridges is exemplified, he says, in the two Institutes that are being developed in South Sudan, for education and healthcare; a governance structure is being developed that builds on differences: “Both Institutes have people from the different states and tribes studying together. One of the country’s problems is the lack of social cohesion so the fact that we can show people working together is a sign of hope. People have expressed gratitude for that.”

Tributes pour in for British Loreto nun on being awarded MBE

Sr Imelda is President of RENATE

Sr Imelda Poole IBVM has described receiving  her award in the Queen’s Birthday Honours as a “really great recognition” of the work being done by Religious in the field of anti-trafficking and an acknowledgement of the challenging work many “humble and hidden” people are involved in. Speaking from her base in Albania, Sr Imelda said becoming MBE still hasn’t hit home and she has been flooded by countless emails and by people constantly talking about it – “but I’m just ordinary me, getting on with a job!” 

The award was given for her achievements and services to end modern slavery.  Sr Imelda heads up a network of European Religious fighting trafficking and exploitation -  RENATE.  She became President of RENATE after more than 11 years working in Albania where the IBVM founded an NGO called Mary Ward Loreto.

Sr Imelda has been overwhelmed by the response from Religious involved in anti-trafficking globally and said that the award actually honours all the people involved in this work, noting that Sisters around the globe are involved in the struggle to fight traffickers: “despite the difficulty, they carry on as each human being is worth a lifetime’s work.”  

Tributes have poured in following the announcement of the award. The British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sally Axworthy, expressed delight: “It is well-deserved recognition of Sr Imelda’s outstanding service in combatting human trafficking and modern slavery, through the European religious sisters’ anti-trafficking network RENATE which she leads, and through Talitha Kum, the religious sisters’ worldwide anti-trafficking network. Sister Imelda is a key ally in Her Majesty’s Government’s campaign to eradicate modern slavery. It is wonderful to see such a distinguished friend of this Embassy honoured in this way.”

On Twitter, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who is president of the Santa Marta Group which works to prevent human trafficking and modern slavery, offered congratulations:  “Sister Imelda, and her many colleagues in other religious Congregations, have long been champions in this important work. Her hard work, determination and her compelling advocacy constantly bring support and encouragement to all involved in this struggle, myself included."

The Mary Ward Loreto NGO in Albania has led to numerous projects being set up. One of these is called Mary Ward Loreto Women in which six Mary Ward centres have been established to work on prevention, advocacy, awareness, and rescuing of women. The centres have worked with 3,000 women, and set up 16 economic empowerment businesses. They also have a project for men  aimed at changing patriarchal culture and promoting gender equality. The work with men is to address depression, anger and fear, drug and alcohol addictions related to unemployment and their changing role in society. Mary Ward Loreto is also promoting ethical and democratic best practice in Albanian schools and in all of the projects.

Sr Imelda recalled how it all started through a conversation with the Bishop of Tirana who pointed out that speedboats were being used to smuggle teenage girls into Italy.  Years later, the work in Albania is still growing – a new shelter is about to be opened in the north of the country and Sister Imelda is still very active in the field;  the conversation for this article had to wait until she had returned from a trip into the mountains.  

Three different organisations in Britain have asked Mary Ward Loreto for assistance in helping women trafficked from Albania. One of the staff members based in Albania is currently working online to help Albanian women in the UK who can’t speak English.  Also in the UK, a project is currently underway to survey Religious Congregations in order to map the work they are engaged with in the field of anti-trafficking.  The Arise Foundation will be collating the results to produce a report in a few months time. Sr Imelda stresses the importance of building networks for collaboration and in receiving the MBE, paid tribute to other Religious:   “In anti-trafficking, no one can work in isolation. This award is recognition of all of those we are working with. We rely on a massive number of networks.” 

Reflecting on her many years in Albania, starting up the work from scratch, Sr Imelda says it’s been tough work, but also joyful and enriching: “We’ve taken many risks but I do feel it’s been step by step. There’s a sense of being led, of being nudged. As Hildegard of Bingen wrote, it feels like being a feather on the breath of God.”