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Justice and Peace Conference 21st-23 July 2017 by Sister Bridgetta Rooney, CSJP

 

Two hundred seventy peace activists attended the weekend at the Swanwick Conference Centre, including Bridgetta and Sue Sanderson, CSJP-A. The three major speakers took Laudato Si’ as their theme.

Ruth Valerio, a university professor, lives with her family in a poor area of Chichester. She did not set out to build community but has achieved community cohesion by a radical appraisal of consumer culture, lifestyle and inner ecological conversion. The community where she lives has taught her to be grateful for little, to change her habits by disciplining herself, and through conversion of heart, to connect with the natural world as Jesus did. Building community, she experienced, demands deliberate action, time and commitment. 

Father Peter Hughes is a Columban Father and an activist against strip mining and logging in the Amazon basin. He described extractive industries as “weapons of mass destruction” and the three million indigenous people there as “today’s lepers, reduced to nothingness.” He said he was not against mining but it must be done in a respectful way keeping to international law. He warned that the planet’s fresh air, water and biodiversity are being undermined with consequences for the whole of Earth’s population. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus talks about Eyes, Feet and Arms so we have to see with the heart and have no prejudice. Laudato Si’ gives us the lens to see the world and how everything is connected. Jesus came to destroy paralysis and immobility and we must walk forward like Him to bring about transformation wherever we are.

Jesus always touched people like the lepers whom He wished to make whole. The indigenous people of the Amazon are a sign of the sacredness of their habitat with which they are in harmony, and we must speak up for them as they try to keep their environment healthy for the whole planet.

The third speaker, Kathy Galloway has been a leader in Church Action on Poverty, Christian Aid and a leader of the Iona community. Laudato Si’, for her, was a conversation to which all were invited by its language of hope and hospitality and opposition to the globalisation of indifference. In our society, the poor are often stigmatised as being useless and their voices silenced. It took a terrible event like the fire in Grenfell Tower to give the poor of North Kensington a voice to tell of the belittlement of their environment. Theirs is now the slogan “Nothing that’s for us, without us”. We, like Jesus, have to challenge the religious elite and structures which take power away from the poor.

We are at an Exodus moment; we have to risk our faith. We have to rely on manna with no surplus.  Women, especially poor women, bear the brunt of the effects of this is a time of austerity—the cuts in public spending, wage freezes and sanctions and cuts in benefits as well as the effects of climate change.

Kathy used poetry and song throughout her presentation and exhorted us like Duns Scotus to look for the wonder of ordinary things and to love what is plentiful when we have it as much as what is scarce.

Three people from the Leeds Poverty Truth Commission spoke from their own experience of poverty, mental health issues and the stigma of coming from South Leeds. Through one-to-one conversations and small working groups they tackled the issues, so that mental health is now treated locally, and local councillors are taking notice of their concerns. It was a powerful witness to all that we had heard during the presentations beforehand.

Workshops and a festival of outdoor activities were also part of the weekend and a theatre group of three actors called Rise performed a play called “Romero: Heartbeat of El Salvador”.  It was a most powerful drama of the life and death of Archbishop Romero, who was actually nominated, at the close of the weekend, the patron saint of the National Justice and Peace Conference – a fitting climax to a superb weekend.

 

 

Justice and Peace Conference 21st-23 July 2017 by Sister Bridgetta Rooney, CSJP

"We are consciously choosing to shape the future rather than allowing the future to shape us."

Sheila Lemieux, CSJP