Informal annual report – 2016 – from West London Justice and Peace network

Membership: The network now has some 50 people on its mailing list, approximately 10 to 15 parish groups that regularly attend its meetings (three a year), and routinely contacts all West London parishes to encourage the appointment of a J&P contact person.

Meetings: In 2016, we had our regular meetings in Hayes (January) and Chiswick (June). As usual, the meeting format involved a two-hour meeting in a parish hall in West London with an invited speaker and an exchange of news on parish or diocesan activities. The meetings predominantly involve parish J&P representatives, but there are also regular Anglican and Methodist participants and, depending on the venue, from local Quakers. Our third such meeting of the year in September (normally in Osterley) was devoted solely to Laudato Si.

Network Speakers/Topics in 2016: At the first meeting of the year there was an excellent presentation by a volunteer with Mary’s Meals, an international relief charity that has been going for 10 years based on the simple idea of giving every child a meal in their place of education to encourage prioritising school attendance. The second presentation in June was given by Fr Eamonn Mulcahy from Manchester and all left the session with even greater commitment to justice and peace efforts in West London (rough synopsis available on request). The final meeting of the year was devoted solely to the topic of Laudato Si and was opened up to participation beyond the west London network with speakers from CAFOD, Caritas and the Westminster J&P. Ellen Teague of the Columbans prepared a short note on the meeting which was carried in the Independent Catholic News soon after.

Summary of J&P activities across the parishes in 2016

Local: Several parishes work in either night shelter initiatives, or local foodbanks (often both). One parish reported working one night each week during the winter at the ecumenical Hounslow Homeless Night Shelter project, providing a hot meal and a bed in the parish centre. Others support local homeless charities and they make contributions of food supplies and volunteers to foodbanks in Hammersmith, Hanwell and elsewhere. One regular network participant contributes the musical entertainment for those sharing in the community meal offered weekly by his congregation in Acton. Another parish invited a speaker from the Catholic Workers Movement and raised £800 for their work. Yet another parish devotes a certain percentage of its annual income to good local causes.

National: One parish group is very active on the issue of nuclear weapons and organised a briefing in Westminster on the ethics of such weapons in advance of the Trident vote. Other parishes were encouraged to write to their MPs asking them to attend and sending on detailed briefings. Another group of parishioners are active in Citizens UK and attended their Mayoral Accountability event in advance of the mayoral elections. In addition to the two main candidates (Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan), there were some 6000 people representing a marvellous array of young and old, Jew/Muslim/Christian, and commitments were made by both candidates regarding social justice and inclusion in London.

International: Much J&P work is focused on our responsibilities as members of the worldwide human family. Some parishes have specific projects to support – for example, a seven bridges walk and cake sales were organised for a project in north west Kenya which trains nurses in nutritional care, tackling infant mortality and combatting child marriage; another has regular fundraising efforts for Haiti; and yet another parish has a “twinning” relationship with projects in Nigeria and Tanzania.

Much of the work is however undertaken as part of larger campaigns rather than because of direct parish-to-parish “twinning”. For example, most groups worked on CAFOD fundraising and campaigns (the Lenten and Harvest collections, climate change campaign etc) and one raised funds for a CAFOD El Salvador project with parish garden produce. For others, Christian Aid Week is actively promoted to all parishioners, and some undertook work on behalf of Mary’s Meals (fundraising, clothing collections etc). This year, several parishes undertook a variety of actions on behalf of refugees – having a sew-in where they made blankets for use in the ‘jungle’, joining in protest marches, collecting and delivering goods for onward transmission to Calais, and supporting local campaigns to host new arrivals.

Many, if not all, members of the network are engaged in Fairtrade work and for one or two groups this is their one most active contribution to a fairer world. Most engage in Fairtrade Fortnight and one parish organised a series of afternoon talks in this period; some regularly sell Fairtrade items from the repository; and one parish chose to replace the usual Fairtrade stall in the church porch with Fairtrade ‘tastings’ which went down very well, particularly with the children who brought their parents along.

Miscellaneous: Several of the network engaged in the diocesan consultation about synergies between the work of CARITAS and J&P (see note attached). At the local level, a parish organised a meeting for all those engaged in social action of any kind to try and better co-ordinate the kinds of work undertaken by CAFOD, SVP, Africa projects, Food Bank and Mary’s Meals as well as Fair Trade and other campaigning issues around refugees and climate change. Yet others promote Catholic Social Teaching by way of regular items in the parish newsletter, but there are challenges – one CAFOD rep on his Parish Council reported his surprise at learning his colleagues thought that such work was too ‘political’. Many used the Year of Mercy context to promote their efforts to others in the parish, and the multi-cultural nature of most parishes has been turned to positive effect, thus Peace and Racial Justice Sundays were used by one group to invite parishioners to write a short prayer in their “language of origin” together with a translation for display. Much J&P work is also done on an ecumenical basis, especially when marking the festivities around Easter and Christmas, or by way of jointly organised events. One parish organised a series of commemorations of WW1 with Chiswick Churches for Justice and Peace (CCJP). Fundraising and consciousness-raising is often deliberately tied into liturgical dates or events by the different groups – eg Lenten projects, Stations of the Cross, Advent services etc. The network meetings themselves provide opportunities for the sharing of information and resources to provide helpful ideas to those just starting out; opportunities to hear from invited speakers (see above); and the notes of the meetings record important dates, websites, and other resources which help us maintain our morale in face of the big challenges facing us all in terms of justice and peace locally, nationally or internationally.