Sister Imelda Poole calls for unity & action to tackle child trafficking


The anti-slavery network RENATE has hosted a parliamentary reception in the House of Commons to launch its new mapping exercise on child trafficking.

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Hogan-Howe, sponsored the event, with contributions from Iain Duncan-Smith MP, Commons sponsor of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill and Maria Miller MP, co-chair of the Independent Review into the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.


There were two purposes to the reception. First, to help close the gap between frontline anti- slavery groups throughout Europe and lawmakers by bringing the two together. Second, to launch new research commissioned by RENATE Europe, undertaken by Revd Dr Carrie Pemberton Ford, Director, Cambridge Centre for Applied Research in Human Trafficking (CCARHT) and Research Associate with the Centre for Global Migration (Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge), with assistance from desk-researchers and RENATE members in the field.


The researchers behind the report undertook painstaking work in seven European countries (Albania, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Slovakia, The Netherlands and Ukraine), setting out to document and analyse responses to the problem of child trafficking. Its findings are a wake- up call. The report authors conclude:

“ none of the countries studied were the measures of protection comprehensively adequate to the special needs of unaccompanied minor migrants.’’

Lord Hogan-Howe, trustee of anti-slavery charity and co-sponsor of the event, the Arise Foundation said:

“I am delighted to play a part in bringing the voice of frontline anti-slavery activists to parliament. Westminster can be a bubble, and this often brings about a disconnect between what is happening on the ground and what policy-makers are discussing. Modern slave-traders are organised criminals. They quickly and cleverly adapt their methods. We need frontline intelligence on the true picture of what slavery looks like, not just for our benefit, but to raise awareness among the general public who often feel far removed from the world of slavery, but in reality, are not. I commend the superb work of RENATE in bringing this invaluable knowledge to the fore.”

Sr Imelda Poole IBVM MBE

Sr Imelda Poole IBVM MBE

Sr Imelda Poole, IBVM, MBE, founder of RENATE said “The next step is to translate the findings from the report into concrete policy recommendations. It is hoped that this mapping of child trafficking will lead to more action on the part of all the specialists in the field. RENATE calls on them to work more closely together and to heed the advice given in the many reports quoted in this document and in the research conducted in the field, over the last year. The aim of RENATE, as with the SDGs and Pope Francis in Rome, is to ‘Rid the World of Human Trafficking by 2030’. Let us unite to achieve this goal.’’

Further information:

Two Sisters reflect on years of campaigning against human trafficking

By Sister Marie Power HFB:

The campaigning group that I am a part of, TRAC (Trafficking, Raising Awareness and Campaigning),  for me,  “does what it says on the tin.”

Although I was not in at the founding of TRAC, I very quickly joined enthusiastically when I returned to live in London. At that time it was chaired by a dynamic and wonderful woman, Theresa Helm, who sadly died about two years ago. I began to chair the meetings while Theresa was ill and I am still in this role.

The work of TRAC is fundamental to fighting trafficking because it addresses the causes, namely demand. While it is necessary, of course, to help the victims it is also necessary to try to prevent them becoming victims in the first place. I began work in anti-trafficking in the mid 1990s and working all over Europe,  it became clear to us at that time that the demand for sexual services in the West of Europe fuelled the rise of trafficking of women and children from Eastern Europe;  it is this that TRAC is still trying to raise awareness about - although we now know that trafficking is worldwide and is internal as well as external to most countries.

While we in TRAC are mainly concerned with the exploitation of women and children in prostitution there is now growing awareness of the labour exploitation of men and women. However we are now concentrating on the abolition of prostitution in the UK. This is an enormous task but we are committed to establishing the “Nordic Model” here, which criminalises the buyers of sex and decriminalises  the women in prostitution.  This must come with realistic exit strategies for those who depend on prostitution for their living.

This is a complex and difficult task but it has now become law in many countries including Ireland and Northern Ireland  - and we have many allies so we are not working alone.

By Sister Isabel C Kelly FMSJ:

Most people on approaching their 70s are winding down but I was just about four months off 72 when I was asked to be the Justice & Peace Co-Ordinator for the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph with a focus on human trafficking!

I had no idea what the two words meant but when we voted on this appointment, I had no doubt that the Sister who had met the Franciscan International leader on human trafficking would be chosen to do this work. So I got the shock of my life when I received the letter asking ME to do it. I had a very good look at the letter, read it several times, and decided that there was nothing in it that could inspire me to refuse!

A few days after saying YES, I received the minutes of the first meeting of religious before the Medaille Trust was initiated. Nobody knew me at that meeting, none of our Sisters were there, so to get those minutes, for me, was a miracle in itself. I wrote for permission to be an observer at the next meeting in Southampton and everything blossomed from then.

Before that meeting, which was in February 2006, I had booked myself into a two-and-a-half day workshop/conference with Franciscans International in New York at the beginning of March plus a week with another organisation in New York. I stayed with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Manhatten and travelled on two tubes to the venue – starting at 0730 and returning around 2030. I went to all the workshops which mentioned prostitution, human trafficking, paedophiles etc,. We had no break for lunch or coffee so I just went from one workshop to another sipping a cold drink and nibbling at a sandwich while I waited for the workshops to begin.

All I have done ever since is mention human trafficking to anyone I meet – on train platforms, at bus stops, on the bus and even to my hospital patients in my chaplaincy work. In fact, one patient told me her son had mentioned that there would be a lap dancing club opening at a location near to where I live. I went to the police station to ask if they knew about it, if police would be there, in uniform or in civvies? They knew about it, police would be around both in uniform and in civvies!  The lap dancing club was closed within three weeks.

I went to the bi-centenary of the Abolition of Slavery in Hull and as I sat at my table for lunch, I heard someone say, “I got into this because of a nun!”  It was a policeman I had spoken to in 2006 after my short spell in New York, to ask if they knew anything about human trafficking and if they were doing anything about it!!

I have raised awareness of human trafficking to a number of groups – all by word of mouth! I have never advertised myself. It has just happened. Maybe not everyone can raise awareness through talks but we can tell others the little we know and pray. Never say “ I am too old” to do that!

Just do it!

“Please do whatever you can to raise awareness on this worldwide evil and pray for those who are trying to eradicate it.”

Sister Marie, far left & Sister Isabel, far right at a TRAC meeting

Sister Marie, far left & Sister Isabel, far right at a TRAC meeting


Blessing by Papal Nuncio of ‘Homeless Jesus’ aims to raise awareness of and support for destitute people in London


An open invitation is extended to the formal blessing of the new statue ‘Homeless Jesus’ at Farm Street Church of the Immaculate Conception,  London, on Tuesday January 15th 2019.   

The sculpture, by Canadian Timothy Schmalz, represents Jesus lying on a park bench with all but his feet with crucifixion wounds obscured.  It has been installed in various locations in North America and the UK and, through the support of Pope Francis, at the Vatican. This is the first Homeless Jesus in London.   

The evening begins at 6pm with the celebration of Mass presided over by Archbishop Edward Adams, Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, including the blessing of the statue.  The homily will be given by Rev Dr Paul O’Reilly SJ, a GP at the medical practice for street homeless people at the Cardinal Hume Centre.

The service will be followed by short presentations from the sculptor Timothy Schmalz, George O’Neill, CEO of the Cardinal Hume Centre and Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Light refreshments will be served in the church hall from 7.45pm. There will be a collection in aid of Jesuit Refugee Service and the Cardinal Hume Centre.

RSVP by 2nd January 2019 to Scott McCombe, Farm Street Parish Administrator, on 020-7529-4829

HOMELESS JESUS by Timothy Schmalz depicts Jesus as a homeless person, sleeping on a park bench. His face and hands are obscured by a blanket, but crucifixion wounds on his feet reveal his identity.  The statue, which has been described as a visual translation of Jesus’ admonition, “as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, so you did it to me,” can now be found in Farm Street Jesuit Church.

This central London base aims to challenge perceptions and spur people to put faith into action for the most vulnerable. The statue is located inside the church before the altar in the side chapel of Our Lady of the Seven Dolours.

Parish priest Fr Dominic Robinson SJ said, "It is fitting to place the Son under the protection of His mother depicted in grief where the crucifixion wounds and Mary’s pierced heart are so close together. The permanent home here for Homeless Jesus allows its message to ring true and reflect the core beliefs of the congregation and may inspire all those who see it to thoughtful consideration and action in the community."

The church has a footfall of between 2000 and 3000 per week, representing a very broad and transient mix of people with a stable and lively faith community at its heart. People come for private prayer, public worship and also for its beautiful art and architecture. It is one of the few central London churches which stays open all day. It is accessible and welcome to all who treat it with quiet respect.

Fr Dominic added, "Jesuit commitment to faith and justice in action finds expression here as a sign of welcome to all, a challenge to a culture of exclusion and judgement."

Homeless outreach at Farm Street

Farm Street Church is the perfect location in the centre of London for Homeless Jesus because the parish has ministered to homeless people in a very practical way for the last four years as an active member of a consortium of faith organisations who provide food and accommodation to street homeless people for eight months of the year.  Parish administrator and project co-ordinator Scott McCombe explains: “Here at Farm Street we host fifteen homeless people on Monday nights during four months of the year.  Volunteers from the parish have organised a rota for setting up the church hall, welcoming the guests, eating a hot meal with them, tidying up and setting up the hall as a dormitory.”

The guests are referred by the West London Day Centre, a charity which supports homeless people from a base in Marble Arch; and food is donated by a range of Mayfair businesses.  Contributing local businesses include:

·         The Connaught

·         The Stafford

·         Claridges

·         Delfino’s

·         Fortnum and Mason

·         Daylesford Organic

·         Hoares Bank Catering

“Most of the businesses we ask respond positively and are very generous,” Scott commented, “and we are lucky in our very enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers.  We all get great satisfaction, not just from putting our faith into action in this practical way, but also when we hear about how people have managed to turn around their lives, secure permanent accommodation and find work.”

Sculpture and sculptor

The Homeless Jesus project originated with the Jesuits in Canada: the first cast of the statue is located at Regis College in Toronto. The most famous is outside the Vatican’s charity offices in Rome, blessed by Pope Francis on its installation in 2016.

Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz describes his purpose, “I am devoted to creating artwork that glorifies Christ, because, apart from my Christian belief, an artist needs an epic subject to create epic art. Christian sculptures are like visual sermons 24 hours a day.  Creating art that has the power to convert, creating sculpture that deepens our spirituality, this is my purpose as an artist.”

There are now at least a dozen casts in the United States, as well as in Dublin, Glasgow and Manchester. Westminster City Council turned down an application to install a cast outside Methodist Central Hall in Westminster.  

An appeal to members of Religious Congregations to come together in the battle against modern slavery


Members of religious congregations in England & Wales are being invited to join a new network that is being set up to strengthen the fight against human trafficking.  Two meetings are being held in January – one in London and one in Manchester – to lay the foundations of the network.

Organised by the Conference of Religious (the umbrella organisation for congregational leaders), the network aims to draw together the many members of religious institutes who are engaged in anti-trafficking work, as well as others who’d like to offer support & increase their understanding. 

Those already involved are active in a plethora of ways, from preventative efforts to  awareness raising, protection and assistance of victims. Some congregations have opened their homes to victims and a number of Religious work closely with the police, including Sisters who tip police off and also go out on raids to properties to help support those who are rescued; the help is immediate on the day with the most basic of requirements – clothing, food and accommodation - and can often continue for a lengthy period afterwards as the person attempts to rebuild their life.   

The January meetings follow on from the recent major research conducted by the Arise Foundation which revealed the scale of the contribution, by Religious, to anti slavery. Arise sent a questionnaire to  all Congregations in England and Wales, in the first ever attempt to map the work that is taking place.   The report was launched, to much acclaim, at a well attended event in November.   The Prime Minister sent a message to the Arise Foundation, praising  the “extraordinary global contribution of Religious Sisters to the anti-slavery movement.”

Sr Jane Maltby RSCJ addressing the audience at the launch of the Arise report

Sr Jane Maltby RSCJ addressing the audience at the launch of the Arise report

The Vice President of the Conference of Religious, Sr Jane Maltby RSCJ explained how this area of apostolic work has grown: “The development into anti-trafficking work of sisters and brothers in the UK has been influenced by pastoral needs on the ground which members of religious institutes were encountering in their ministries. 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. An important section in the report 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 take time to build and to make manifest. It is the core strength of the work of Religious in this area.“

The research revealed that 172 members of Religious Institutes  – 144 women and 28 men  - are providing frontline services to people who have fallen prey to traffickers. There has also been a huge contribution to the struggle in the very tangible contribution of properties and money. Sixteen  Congregations have provided 29 properties at a book price of nearly sixteen-point-four million pounds- which 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. In addition, Congregations  have donated more than £10 million pounds to anti-trafficking in the last five years.

Twenty-two 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.

Image from a property donated to the Medaille Trust by the RSCJ Congregation

Image from a property donated to the Medaille Trust by the RSCJ Congregation

Sr Jane Maltby added: “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.”


The new network will be affiliated to similar international groupings like Talitha Kum  - a network which facilitates collaboration and the interchange of information between consecrated men and women in 76 countries. Founded nearly a decade ago, it arose from the shared desire to coordinate and strengthen the already existing activities against trafficking undertaken by consecrated persons in the five continents.

Many respondents to the Arise research said that they would like the Conference of Religious to play a role in assisting Religious engaged in anti-slavery work. The new network aims  to give support, resources & training, better communications and a stronger voice.  

A key principle is that the network will be by Religious, for Religious.

Details of the two meetings:

LONDON MEETING: JANUARY 19th 2019, 10.30-16:00. Holy Apostles Church, Pimlico (47 Cumberland St, Pimlico, London SW1V 4LY, [Church Hall]).

 MANCHESTER MEETING: JANUARY 26th 2019, 10.30-16:00. Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy (Avila House, 335-337 Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PG).

 Those wishing to attend are asked to register their interest at this link by the 10th January 2019.    There is no charge to attend. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

NB!     Please note that each individual needs to register.  (Those unable to fill out the link are asked to contact Sr. Dominica Popach O.P. directly on: 07880 771 707 or send an email to :

Formal launch in Ireland of a new group to advance the mission of Women Religious


Sisters in Ireland are celebrating becoming an established regional group of  ‘Communicators for Women Religious’ – an international network offering professional support and resources for outreach and engagement with the media. CWR, which originated in the US a quarter of a century ago, now boasts more than 200 members in numerous countries.

The launch of the Irish branch took place at the headquarters of the Religious Sisters of Charity at Sandymount in Dublin with Sisters from several Congregations having travelled across Ireland to be there; Sisters from other countries took part in the launch via an internet link up.  The Irish group has already secured charitable funding for media training and the members are enthusiastic about engaging more pro-actively to tell their story and having a framework for greater collaboration.

A pilot group has been meeting in Dublin for over two years to plot the way forward;  participants have been mandated by a variety of Congregations to be communicators of the religious life stories of their institutes. Several are also lay women already working in communications for Congregations or in vocations promotion.  In October the Executive Director of CWR,  Nicholas Schafer, travelled from Chicago to join the pilot group for a two day conference in Dublin. An invitation was extended to other Religious to find out more about CWR.  Sr Thomasina Finn RSM observed:  “The negative story in Ireland started 20 years ago and has prevailed now for at least nine years as the established narrative. There is still no countervailing public voice. The positive stories are told only in private.”

Sr Patricia Lenihan RSC talking to the Sisters who participated from other countries in the Zoom link up

Sr Patricia Lenihan RSC talking to the Sisters who participated from other countries in the Zoom link up

Sr Patricia Lenihan is on the Board of CWR, having been involved with the network for eight years:   “I am very happy that we have reached this stage. It has been wonderful to have such a committed and enthusiastic core group who have been a source of energy and support to each other since we began. My hopes for the group are that it will develop and grow and be a resource for the women’s religious congregations in Ireland. A place where sisters/communicators can go to get help with media training, whilst supporting each other and helping with issues that are particular to the way women religious are portrayed in the national media.”

CWR holds an annual conference in the United States with a broad range of speakers and workshops. Members of CWR, internationally, represent over 150 congregations and individually serve in communication ministry, leadership teams, mission advancement (fund raising) and vocation ministries.

Group facilitator Sr Marie Stuart RSM said the October conference was a key step in the development of the Irish group: “Nick Schafer listened as the story of CWR in Ireland unfolded through the voices of those who had been present from the beginning, two and a half years ago and from new voices interested in being a part of the venture. He gave the assurance that CWR is committed to the empowerment of its members and how funding could be made available for CWR training projects.”

l to r: Srs Una Agnew, Suzanne Ryder, Attracta Tighe, Catherine Lennon, Patricia Lenihan & Margaret Cartwright (Vocations Director), Sr Marie Stuart, Sr Marie Dunne, Michelle Robertson (Communications Officer, Srs of Our Lady of Apostles)

l to r: Srs Una Agnew, Suzanne Ryder, Attracta Tighe, Catherine Lennon, Patricia Lenihan & Margaret Cartwright (Vocations Director), Sr Marie Stuart, Sr Marie Dunne, Michelle Robertson (Communications Officer, Srs of Our Lady of Apostles)

Sr Una Agnew SSL, another group member, recently experienced media engagement, having responded to an article in The Irish Times which posed the question: “Just what is the nuns’ side of the story?” In the wake of the distressing revelations of recent years about mother and baby homes,  the author of the newspaper article – Professor of History at University College Dublin, Diarmaid Ferriter, argued that Congregations need to be much more open about the past, but also that “we have not got enough sense of the perspective of the religious sisters involved in running institutions” and “we certainly need more balance and the avoidance of cartoon depictions of any Congregation.” 

The article also referred to a recent edition of the Jesuit quarterly ‘Studies’ which reported on a conference last year on the history of women involved in religious life – emphasising the need to establish “foundations for a fuller narration” of the nuns’ stories: “The terrible damage that was done by some nuns purporting to act in the name of the gospel is acknowledged, but it is argued that those failings have been “allowed to become the whole story” and UCD’s Deirdre Rafferty, a historian of education, highlights a “vast, and largely undocumented legacy” in the fields of healthcare, education and the missions.”

Sr Una Agnew SSL

Sr Una Agnew SSL

Sr Una, who is Professor Emerita of Spirituality at the Milltown Institute in Dublin and also an expert on the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh, felt a gauntlet had been thrown down. She responded with an immediate letter to The Irish Times in November:  “Damage done by a few must be acknowledged and repented but cannot be allowed to become the whole story. It’s already a hopeful sign when Dr Ferriter’s female academic colleague from UCD, with her positive story about women religious, is given prominence in the press and that Studies dedicates a full edition to “the nuns’ story”. It is also healthy for the reputation of all academic work that “fuller narration” is requested so that bias might be challenged.”

“It is important too that changing “contexts” might be considered essential to research. The contexts of our lives as religious over the years have changed enormously, a fact not easily grasped even in the academic sphere, where context is crucial to authentic research. “

Sr Una added: “Many religious today are witnesses to many different contexts, political, social and religious, that could scarcely be fully understood by modern generations…..If history is to be written correctly, it must embrace all narratives and contexts which will allow posterity to make a fair assessment of the services religious and their lay colleagues have given, (with many happy memories), to shape the heart and soul of our country.”

 CWR website :

To contact the Irish group, email:



Sisters versus human traffickers

Religious Sisters from rural Assam: long-term, community-based work

Religious Sisters from rural Assam: long-term, community-based work

By Sr Lynda Dearlove RSM and Luke de Pulford

Here’s an interesting experiment: next time you are in a group of people – Catholic or not – ask them to name two anti-slavery organisations. Chances are that they won’t be able to think of any. But if they can, you can be pretty sure that the work of Religious Sisters won’t come up. It’s a scandal, really. Sisters (and it is overwhelmingly Sisters as opposed to male Religious or secular clergy) are doing this work in at least 80 countries – including all the areas most plagued by modern slavery. If they were united in a single NGO, they would be by far the world’s largest.

Yet they remain the best-kept secret of the anti-slavery movement. The reason? In short, Sisters don’t boast, as anyone who has worked on the front line of the Church’s poverty relief, education or HIV prevention efforts will confirm. As wave after wave of abuse scandals dominate the headlines, it is all too easy to forget that the Catholic Church has hundreds of thousands of women Religious devoting their lives to serving those on the margins in every part of the globe. Rarely, if ever, have they gone in search of recognition.

So it is not surprising that when Prime Minister Theresa May paid tribute to the “extraordinary global contribution” of Religious Sisters to anti-slavery work recently, it wasn’t the result of a lobbying campaign run by Religious, but in a letter to John Studzinski, Chairman of the Arise Foundation, a charity based in London and New York working to end slavery and human trafficking.

In the fiercely competitive world of international NGOs, the Sisters’ humility is extremely unusual. It is both their strength and their weakness. It is their strength because their low profile means that they are less reliant on Western organisations for funding. This means that they are less tethered to the heavy bureaucracy associated with keeping funders happy, leaving them more free to focus on the individual dignity and complex needs of the person in front of them. It is their weakness because reluctance to crow about their achievements makes their work almost invisible to the funding and policy communities.

But so what? Why should these communities listen to Sisters? What, if anything, makes their work distinctive? If they were heard, what difference would it make? It might be better to attempt to answer through a story. Recently we were in India visiting members of Amrat, the huge anti-slavery network of Sisters covering the entire country. About 100 had turned up for their annual meeting. The gathering was held in a well-maintained but sparse seminary building hidden in a vast leafy plantation on the outskirts of Pune, near Mumbai. It was a sweltering day. The meeting gave occasion for many jaw-dropping conversations about the sheer depravity Sisters were having to confront on a daily basis.

One such conversation was with two Sisters from rural Assam (pictured). They were candid about their work. They told us how hard it was to get the indigenous children to stay in school because the attraction of smartphones and other modern luxuries offered by traffickers were a greater lure than the help they could afford to provide. They told us about how it would often take a decade to see any marked improvement in a traumatised survivor to whom they were offering loving accompaniment (together with the necessary services such as shelter, counselling and skills training). They told us about the physically punishing journeys they had to undertake on a daily basis to get to the most vulnerable villages, where the poverty is so crushing that some parents will sell their children to escape it.

The work they described was thankless, self-emptying and demoralising. But it was also full of hope, purpose and even progress. Their story would be typical of the work of any abolitionist Sister anywhere in the world. But it is also helpful to highlight the distinctive character of Sisters’ anti-slavery work. These two Sisters were engaged in work that was very rural, long-term and directed by a spirit of loving accompaniment. In these three respects, at least, Sisters are different.

International NGOs tend, for the most part, to be concentrated around major cities. It is simply too expensive to attempt to maintain offices in rural areas, especially in a country the size of India. Sisters, by contrast, have community houses and anti-slavery projects throughout the country.

This year, Sister Annie Jesus spoke on this subject as Arise’s guest at the United Nations. She said: “I work in a very rural area of India, Chhattisgarh, among tribal people who are very vulnerable to this exploitation. My location, and so many other rural locations like it, are the origins of the sex trade supply chain. The people I serve have very little. They have very little money. The standard of education is very poor. Access to sanitation and healthcare is sparse. They are hundreds of miles from the nearest city. There are no NGOs in
the vicinity.”

The Assamese Sisters also spoke of working for decades, often feeling as if their uphill battle didn’t yield much of a reward. Those considering investing in anti-slavery work don’t want to hear this kind of thing, and so they don’t donate to it. They want to hear about how many thousands can be saved, and about the high ideals of “systemic change” and slavery abolition. Fair enough. But once someone has been raped, they are never “un-raped”. They have to learn to live with the trauma, and some cope better than others.

The Sisters do not make their help for such people contingent on whether they check the right boxes. They will stick with them, through thick and thin, for as long as it takes. In short, they make a priority of accompaniment – being with those who have suffered. They won’t allow their work to be subverted by the economics of maintaining a successful charity.

So the Sisters are more rural, their commitment is longer-term, and they are often from the communities that they serve with love and faithfulness. On top of this, their standing in the community often means that they are trusted more readily. Still now, in an India increasingly defined by Hindu nationalism, the police ask Sisters to accompany them on anti-slavery raids because their testimonies are considered more credible in court and are more likely to secure a conviction.

These are precious jewels to be coveted and preserved at all costs. They are the fruit of generations of service and give Sisters a unique perspective which deserves to be heard and appreciated.

This isn’t to canonise the Sisters. They make mistakes. Some of their work could be more strategic. But for anyone who is serious about sustainable development there is simply no comparison between the grassroots, vocationally driven, long-term, community-based work of Sisters and that of so many of their secular counterparts.

So what difference would it make if Sisters were more a part of the policy conversation around modern slavery? It would bring the voice of long-term, self-sacrificial accompaniment to the table – a voice insistent that almost all meaningful anti-slavery work relies upon love and trust, however difficult it might be to measure.

And when future generations look back upon the abolition of modern slavery, maybe, just maybe, the names of the Sisters will be remembered in the tradition of William Wilberforce, with the reverence their sacrifice deserves.

Sister Lynda Dearlove RSM is CEO of women@thewell and Luke de Pulford is the co-founder and director of the Arise Foundation

This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald and is reproduced with kind permission

Religious Sister calls on government to devote more overseas aid money to healthcare


By Sister Gillian Price FC,  on Universal Health Coverage Day (12/12/18)

Harry Leslie Smith (who died 28 November, aged 95) often spoke of his childhood. Born in 1923 he said: "My childhood, like so many others from that era, was not an episode from Downton Abbey.

"Instead, it was a barbarous time. It was a bleak time. It was an uncivilized time because public healthcare didn't exist.… No one in our community was safe from poor health, sickness and disease. In our home, TB came for my oldest sister, Marion, who was the apple of my dad's eye. Her sickness and his inability to pay for medicine broke his heart."

Marion died in the workhouse infirmary and was buried nameless in a pauper's grave.

Harry said: "My family's story isn't unique. Rampant poverty and no health care were the norm for the Britain of my youth….Today my heart is with all of those people from my generation who didn't make it past childhood, didn't get an education, didn't grow as individuals, didn't marry, didn't raise a family and didn't enjoy the fruits of retirement. They died needlessly and too early."

This year the UK celebrated 70 years of the NHS. Today we benefit from the decision of the government of the post war generation to provide a National Health Service which provides healthcare to all permanent residents of the United Kingdom that is free at the point of use and paid for from general taxation.

Essential health services encompass everything from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care throughout the course of a lifetime. The sad reality of the present time is that at least half of the world's population does not have full coverage of essential health services, and each year about 100 million people are pushed into "extreme poverty" (defined as living on US $1.90 or less a day) because they have to pay for health care. Fragile and conflict-affected states have seen the resurgence of diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Struggling health systems, insufficient progress on malnutrition, and high disease burdens remain serious challenges, and many of the most marginalised and remote communities are still denied effective health services.

5.6 million children still die before reaching their fifth birthday.

The international community has set itself ambitious targets to ensure healthy lives for all, aiming for 'Universal Health Coverage' (UHC) by 2030, and to deliver the promise of the Global Goals to 'leave no one behind'. Wednesday 12th December is Universal Health Coverage day. Universal health coverage is defined as where 'every person, no matter who they are, where they live or how much money they have should be able to access quality health services without suffering financial hardship.'

On May 23rd 2018 Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the Vatican observer to the United Nation agencies in Geneva spoke at a meeting of the member states of the World Health Organisation gathered to set WHO policies and programmes. The need for universal health care coverage was a major topic at the May 21-26 meeting, and Abp Jurkovic thanked the UN leadership "for keeping it as a top priority on the agenda of the World Health Organization." "For many poor communities, families and individuals, access to the much-needed health care services remains an unachieved objective" he said, adding that, "Progress on universal health coverage requires a strong political will and a commitment to concrete steps that improve health for all people." 

The UK has long been a leader on global health, for example, as a leading donor to organisations such as Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. It funds extensive nutrition and food security programmes around the world. And Dfid's support helps countries to strengthen and increasingly take ownership of their own health services.

However, UK aid priorities appear to be changing to focus more on security and economic development, creating a real risk that human development programmes - such as those that fund health and education - will be reduced. In August the Prime Minister, Theresa May said that aid must be in the UK's national interest, helping countries grow their economies, create jobs and fight insecurity. She called these new priorities "a fundamental strategic shift in the way we use our aid programme".

While economic development has been a major factor in more than halving poverty rates since the 1990s, evidence shows that countries that provide health and education services improve their economic development. When people are healthy families, communities and economies can reach their full potential.

It is essential that the British government’s Department for International Development’s spending on global health is increased as a proportion of its overall budget, with UK spending on global health rising to 0.1% of Gross National Income (GNI). The stakes are high for the world's poorest. Failure to focus UK aid spending sufficiently on global health risks a reversal of the progress that has been made.

"Justice requires guaranteed universal access to health care," said Pope Benedict while Pope Francis has said that 'health care is denied to too many people" in too many places "it is not a right for all, but rather still a privilege for those who can afford it".

The theme for the 2018 Universal Health Coverage day is: 'Unite for International Health coverage day: Now is the time for collective action'. Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic put it another way when he said: "Since everyone should have the possibility of benefiting from necessary health services without falling into poverty, the virtue of solidarity urges us to work toward this goal."

Sr Gillian Price tweets : @GillianFC


Religious across the UK invited to join a network for anti-trafficking

l to r: Sr Arpan Carvalho BS, John Studzinski CBE, Sr Cecilia Espenilla OP and Cardinal Turkson

l to r: Sr Arpan Carvalho BS, John Studzinski CBE, Sr Cecilia Espenilla OP and Cardinal Turkson

An open invitation is being extended to Religious to attend a meeting in January -  being held both in London and Manchester  - to lay the foundations for a network of those involved in or supportive of anti-trafficking work. The meetings follow on from the recent major research conducted by the Arise Foundation, in which all Congregations in England and Wales received a questionnaire, probing the scale of involvement in this field.  The report was launched, to much acclaim, at a well attended event in November:   Threads of Solidarity: The Anti-Slavery Commitment of the Conference of Religious of England and Wales

Many respondents to the questionnaire that was sent out said that they would like CoREW to play a role in assisting Religious engaged in anti-slavery work.


The CoREW Executive is mindful of the excellent, long-running initiatives in this area founded by, or involving, Religious. It is important that any CoREW activity complements work already underway, rather than duplicating it. Equally, for this endeavour to be successful, a sense of common ownership is necessary. For these reasons, we would like to bring together stakeholders for a facilitated meeting to listen and determine together what CoREW can do to support Religious engaged in this work. The Arise research revealed the huge scale of anti-trafficking work that is conducted by Religious, but also its autonomy. The reason for developing a network is to give support, resources & training, better communications and a stronger voice.

 A key principle is that the network will be by Religious, for Religious.


Two meetings have therefore been organised for January: people are invited to go to one in London or another one that is taking place the following week, in Manchester. We would like to welcome to these meetings not only the representatives and members of religious institutes who are already involved in anti-slavery work but all those who in any way contribute to this work, or would like to become more involved.  

LONDON MEETING: JANUARY 19th 2019, 10.30-16:00

Holy Apostles Church, Pimlico (47 Cumberland St, Pimlico, London SW1V 4LY, [Church Hall]) MAP.

MANCHESTER MEETING: JANUARY 26th 2019, 10.30-16:00

Manchester Universities’ Catholic Chaplaincy (Avila House, 335-337 Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PG) MAP.

Those wishing to attend are asked to register their interest at this link by the 10th January 2019.    There is no charge to attend. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

NB!     Please note that each individual needs to register, or someone on their behalf - this will help us to plan catering, prevent waste, and send out preparatory materials.

(Those unable to fill out the link are asked to contact Sr. Dominica Popach O.P. directly on: 07880 771 707 or send an email to :

Image from a safe house for trafficked women. The property was given by a Congregation.

Image from a safe house for trafficked women. The property was given by a Congregation.

Lay woman takes over as new General Secretary of Conference of Religious

Valerie Nazareth

Valerie Nazareth

The former Head of Editorial Legal Services at the BBC, Valerie Nazareth, has this week started work as the new General Secretary of CoR, replacing Br James Boner, OFM, who stood down in August.

Valerie on the front row at the General Meeting in November

Valerie on the front row at the General Meeting in November

Valerie attended the general meeting in early November and is looking forward to making contact with many other members of CoR in the coming weeks: “I hope to be able to meet many of you soon and to introduce myself in person. In the meantime, I would like to ask anyone who is organising a meeting, such as one of the regional meetings of CoR, if you would be kind enough to let me have the details, as attending such meetings is one of the ways I will be able to meet members and better understand how CoR can best serve your needs. Please do get in touch, I am looking forward to getting to know you.”

Valerie is a lawyer who spent over 25 years at the BBC and was introduced to CoR by one of the members: “Two years ago I decided it was time for new challenges and I left the BBC to study for an MA at Heythrop.  I was lucky to be one of the last students admitted before their doors closed. After that I spent a few months in Rwanda, volunteering courtesy of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre. This summer I visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh as part of a small research project. Now, after what feels like a gap year, I am refreshed and ready to start work here at CoR.” 

Valerie was born in Kenya and educated at Island School in Hong Kong before coming to England to read law at University College London, qualifying as a solicitor in 1987. She has two grown up children.

The CoR President, Fr Paul Smyth CMF, said he was delighted Valerie had chosen to share her expertise to serve the Religious of England & Wales: “Valerie will bring her experience and many skills to the role and she is keen to get to know the members and to listen and learn from them what they would find helpful from CoR. She has excellent legal and media knowledge and will be able to provide advice and support to Congregations from within the CoR office. “

Fr Paul added: “Our hope as an Executive is that the new team that has been created will be able to serve as an instrument to help Religious in England and Wales to create spaces where we can come together, and through sharing of ideas and resources find ways to better respond to the challenges that face us. To be able to achieve this we need to be able to network with others who share our concerns and interests.”

Charity founded by Sisters appeals for funds as it takes part in #Giving Tuesday

Emily Johnson is taking essential items to homeless women on the streets of Birmingham

Emily Johnson is taking essential items to homeless women on the streets of Birmingham

A charity founded in Birmingham by Religious Sisters took an active part on the streets of the city on ‘#Giving Tuesday’ – a movement to create an international day of charitable giving at the beginning of the Christmas and holiday season.  

Anawim is a women's centre that provides a holistic service to women across Birmingham. Volunteers from Anawim delivered toiletries, sleeping bags, hot drinks and warm clothes to women in need on November 27th. "We see Giving Tuesday as the perfect opportunity to raise funds and community awareness for us to help support even more women and their children in distress," said fundraising officer, Emily Johnson.

Anawim is also hoping to attract urgent donations to keep its drop-in centre going -  as funding is currently running out.  The drop-in centre supports over 700 women every year struggling with issues such as homelessness, domestic violence and sexual exploitation.  

Sr Enda

Sr Enda

Sisters of Our Lady of Charity started Anawim  back in 1986 with two Religious beginning the work, reaching out to the sex workers on the streets of the Balsall Heath area. The Congregation still provides a full time worker, Sister Enda, who heads up the counselling service and street outreach work and has devoted more than a quarter of a century to the project: “It has been a privilege to work with Anawim over the last 26 years, watching the organisation blossom and grow into a brilliant centre for so many women who have benefited greatly from the service. I am pleased to see more outreach work taking place in the local community, there are still so many women out there in need and Anawim has always known the best way to engage with these women by offering the right support and friendship.”

Another Our Lady of Charity Sister, who spent four years with the project in the early 1990s, Sr Jenny, recalls taking part in the outreach work on the streets at night to help women,  as well as making contact with women in prison and the establishment of a safe house, thanks to the first ever slice of lottery funding. Sr Jenny, who is now nearly ninety, has watched with joy over the years as Anawim has gone from strength to strength: “I always call it a little bit of a miracle!” she said.

 Several  sisters from other Congregations also volunteer regularly at the project.

Anawim became an independent charity three years ago, but the Congregation retains three Sisters on the Board of Trustees and still offers central support with budgets and accounts. The project has grown hugely over the three decades since it started and now has a team of around 30 staff including specialists in prison work and mental health as well as many volunteers.

Anawim comes from the Aramaic word meaning the poorest, the outcast, the persecuted - those with no voice. 

The charity adds: “We are asking supporters to sponsor us on our mission, through online donations made on #Givingtuesday.  All funds raised on Giving Tuesday will help us to save our drop-in service, which is free for any woman in crisis to come in and receive free, non-judgemental advice and support. Your donations will make it possible to continue our vital work supporting Birmingham’s women and their children in crisis, through the drop-in centre. Thank you for taking the time to visit our webpage and donate - For updates regarding our Giving Tuesday campaign, follow us on Facebook @anawim.wwt or Twitter @Anawim_WWT. “



Dr Simone & Sr Simone: Two identities, two missions


Patients who are treated at a busy London Accident and Emergency department would be surprised to learn that the emergency doctor in front of them is also a Religious Sister. But Sr Simone Herrmann MMS combines the two roles after feeling called to join the Medical Mission Sisters while studying medicine in Germany fifteen years ago.


During her novitiate she trained in general surgery and worked in Ethiopia.  Her plan was to return to Africa after final vows in 2012,  but was instead sent to London to found an international community of younger Sisters.

Sr Simone dedicates her time working to improve the care of the homeless; the two London boroughs adjacent to her hospital host half of the city’s rough sleepers: “The A&E department is already under pressure which often makes it even more difficult for these vulnerable patients to access appropriate care. They may be struggling with acute problems such as addictions, mental health and other problems arising from living on the streets. I try to build up a network with surrounding day centres so these patients can access support.”

So what prompted a young German woman, a medicine undergraduate from the Black Forest, to consider religious life? “As I was studying medicine, I got this ‘strange’ idea about becoming a Sister.  My studies were obviously very scientific and we learned how to fix broken bones, but not about how to make things heal.  I found myself reflecting on the healing process at a deeper level than just the physical and this led me to the Medical Mission Sisters.”

Frankfurt street surgery

Frankfurt street surgery

Sr Simone has worked in a couple of London hospitals: “I’ve always told my bosses I’m a Religious. I talk to my colleagues in quiet moments. In the first hospital I worked in here, before my arrival, an announcement was made: “There’s a nun coming, who doesn’t wear a habit!” Three months later colleagues said I puzzled them ‘because you’re young, you don’t wear a habit and seem to be quite nice’!” But, says Sr Simone, holding down a job in a secular workplace has been a very positive experience and colleagues do recognise her as doing the same work, but with an added dimension. This often translates into being the person called upon to offer extra pastoral help. She recalls one doctor saying: “This next patient is difficult  - that’s one for you!”

But Sr Simone is guarded about patients knowing her status: “Because in an emergency, it’s about the person in front of me. The priority is to deal with the physical or mental health emergency. If they knew I was a Religious they’d be distracted by that.” But, she adds, the idea of being anonymous in this way goes back to the founding of her Order in northwest India, in a predominantly Muslim area: “Our Sisters were not allowed to talk about God. Our Foundress simply said:  let your light shine.”


Sr Simone works the full range of day and night shifts as well as weekends and concedes it has a knock on effect on community life – the Sisters have to get their diaries out to arrange to be at home together at any given time. They attend Mass weekly in the local parish or else go to a young adult Mass at a central London church.

l to r: Sr Jyoti, Sr Simone, Sr Linda

l to r: Sr Jyoti, Sr Simone, Sr Linda

The international flavour of the community feeds directly into the pastoral work that the Sisters are involved with.  Sr Jyoti Kujur, from India, is an outreach worker for street homeless in Southall, supporting them with solicitor or GP appointments.  She holds a BA in classical Indian music and plays Tabhla; as a native Hindi/Punjabi speaker and with her musical skills she bridges the cultural gap for the many uprooted Indian homeless in Southall and helps them to build up confidence and regain their cultural identity.

Detention outreach worker with the JRS, Sr Linda Maog is from the Philippines and offers practical help for refugees, forced migrants and asylum seekers finding themselves destitute or detained under immigration law. She advocates for their rights and raises awareness of policy issues that shape refugees’ lives.

Sr Jayshree, from India, volunteers with the homeless charity St Mungo’s - going out for early morning or night shifts into the parks and derelict houses to look for rough sleepers and helping with Hindi/Punjabi translation. She also works with trafficked women. 


Sr Simone says that people assume all Sisters are in a convent praying all day, but the reality is that she and her fellow Sisters are fully immersed in daily work. They try to come together in the evening for prayer and reflection.  Combining a career in medicine with community life as a Sister “feels like living in two different worlds”  she says. However, in dealing with emergency situations, the question of life and death is obviously ever present.  “If a patient comes out with a question about faith then yes I will talk with them in this language. ‘Spiritual’ care is quite important for people; certain existential questions arise around bereavement, the loss of a loved one. I view it as important for patients to see there is a spiritual power. It’s about taking the time to listen to the questions a patient has, or a relative caring for a sick patient.”

A poem written by Fr Thomas Merton “At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness…” is what I regard as a foundation - and not only for my work. Listening and being with my patients in A&E is important. But it is only the surface and opens the space for this deeper dimension, the existence of this inner core that can be found in each of us -  name it God’s presence or sparkle or life giving power or simply human dignity. And especially with my favourite patients, the homeless, who find it so hard to believe this for themselves, it is my job as a Religious to believe it for them.”

An added dimension is the multicultural aspect of London life which she says can lead to interesting discussions about faith and values: “In a Catholic setting, almost everyone will know what a Religious is. But when people are from a different background, or indifferent, they know how to ask questions that touch on the fundamentals, such as questions about community life or obedience. These conversations affect my understanding of how I want to live; I am asked questions and I have to find a language that makes it understandable.

In essence, it’s a missionary’s life. It’s the way I want to live out religious life……..








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


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.


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:


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. “


The Director of the Arise Foundation, Luke de Pulford added:   “Women religious are the unsung 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.”


Sr Patricia Mulhall CSB:

“The moment I stepped into Bakhita House, I felt the atmosphere of a home. Along with being a safe environment, there is genuine caring and welcoming. The administration provides stability and - from what I observe -  a ‘light touch’ to the rules of the house. The fact that the women take turns to cook their ‘home’ dishes for all to enjoy each evening is indicative of that ‘home’ atmosphere. All credit to the management team and support workers for creating and providing a place of companionship for vulnerable women (and babies)! Of course there is much more by way of support, guidance and rehabilitation that is provided so that the women can live a full and ‘normal’ life. None of this happens without the love, skills and expertise of the team who work for and on behalf of them.  I enjoy my visits to Bakhita.”

Anna Ringler, a member of a Religious Austrian Institute:

In my role as House Manager at Caritas Bakhita House I look after the wellbeing of our guests more from the background, be it the shopping or maintaining the house in a good standard or coordinating the guests’ activities. There are some more obvious tasks such as sharing lunch with volunteers or baking a cake for a birthday or looking after visitors coming from a wide range within the antitrafficking network.  

Apart from widening my knowledge about Modern Day Slavery through each individual story and the tailored support our key workers offer, it is something very simple I draw meaning from: the daily presence. In sharing the space, the dinner table, fears and joys I allow guests to become part of my life and in this I become part of theirs. Seeing the women grow and unfolding their inner beauty is the most rewarding aspect of working at Caritas Bakhita House.”

Karen Anstiss, Service Manager:

“Working at Caritas Bakhita House has personally been a massive learning curve for me in so many different ways. The two things that have touched my heart the most are seeing the guests overcoming their previous neglect and abuse and so beginning their new lives and the power of the work by our many communities of Sisters.

Simply put, they make a difference - by bringing  love, knowledge and respect. All of which are delivered in a very unassuming way so from the outside you can’t see it happening but it is. Languages, therapies, skills, all shared with guests - giving a new sense of hope, physically and mentally, preparing them for a better life. 

They give each guest individual time, something that is often short in today’s very busy society, but is the most important thing you can give anyone who is trying to recover from a trauma. They make guests feel wanted for themselves as a person not as a commodity.

Our  sisters with  all their varying missions come together at Caritas Bakhita House  and help our guests to grow enough to not only want a new life but to be able to function in a new life. They are quiet and  unassuming but they are the foundation upon which lives here are changed.”

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

A joyful reunion for Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa with Cardinal Turkson whom 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.



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 :


Ditching the 9-5: Life as a twentysomething monk

Screenshot (17).png

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.


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.


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:   


Called to global leadership


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:


 “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.


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. 


“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


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.”