Thank You to Maria Elena Arana

Maria Elena Arana

Westminster Justice and Peace would like to add our own note of thanks to Maria Elena Arana on the occasion of her retirement as CAFOD’s Campaign Coordinator. Maria Elena has been a good friend of the Diocese especially in her capacity as liaison with the National Justice and Peace Network, most recently in helping us to establish the Care of Creation London and South-East Weekly Briefings, which is shortly to re-launch as the Southern Dioceses Environment Network. We are grateful for her endless encouragement, support, advice and warm friendship. She will be greatly missed. We look forward to working with her successor and continuing to build on her legacy.

Source: Ellen Teague, Independent Catholic News

Maria Elena Arana, Campaign Coordinator at CAFOD for 30 years, was given a warm and loving send-off today to mark her retirement before Christmas. Around 50 people attended a party at CAFOD’s London offices and another 50 by zoom. They included current and past staff, Justice and Peace workers, and representatives of groups she has engaged with over three decades.

Bishop Arnold of Salford, Chair of CAFOD trustees was the first speaker to thank Maria Elena for her dedication to CAFOD. “You’ve achieved a great deal and we are sad to see you go” he said. He spoke about her commitment to networking, particularly with the National Justice and Peace Network and the National Board of Catholic Women, nurturing their engagement with CAFOD.

Christine Allen, CAFOD’s Director highlighted Maria Elena’s “amazing energy and drive over those 30 years.” She described her as “a campaigning force to be reckoned with and a lovely person whose loving nature warms all of our hearts and embodies what CAFOD is about.” She singled out Maria Elena’s “tireless work in supporting parishes doing the Livesimply programme and now more and more schools are coming on board.” 110 awards have been given, with Maria Elena helping people “put their faith into practice.” Christine also expressed appreciation for Maria Elena’s hospitality to CAFOD partners and her “embodiment of solidarity, fostering so many people”. Christine concluded with, “thankyou for all you have been and what you have brought to CAFOD.”

Fr Rob Esdaile of Thames Ditton parish in Arundel and Brighton Diocese has been on the CAFOD campaign working group, chaired by Maria Elena, for nearly three decades, joining CAFOD’s mission around the time she did. He recalled her effectiveness as a campaigner – “she knows how to recruit people” – and when his parish earned the Livesimply award she delivered it herself on a Saturday in time for parishioners to see it that weekend. “She goes the extra mile” he added. He recalled his CAFOD teeshirts for various campaigns over the years which she organised – ‘Drop the Debt’, ‘Unearth Justice’ and ‘Just One World’. Fr Rob remembered her as an organiser of the ‘Hands around Birmingham’ in 1998, calling for jubilee debt cancellation, being a welcome face at the Emmanuel Centre for CAFOD events, and even putting MPs in rickshaws to meet constituents during a justice lobby at Westminster. Just a few weeks ago, on 6 November, she marched in Glasgow for climate justice, as he was supporting a similar march in London. And he spoke about her kindness – “gently keeping events running smoothly and keeping people involved, always being a great influencer, networker and coordinator”.

Julian Filochowski, CAFOD’s former Director, interviewed Maria Elena for the post of Campaign Coordinator in 1991. He felt that in CAFOD’s 60th anniversary year in 2022 – the diamond anniversary – CAFOD women who have been influential should be treasured like “an array of precious diamonds”. He said, “Maria Elena is one of the many fine, strong women who have shaped the CAFOD journey.” She “exudes hope, energy, positivity, and has been the face of CAFOD to J&P activists for many years”. He felt she has enriched CAFOD’s outreach work with her Mexican/American background. “She communicates passion and has always paid attention to people at the grassroots, jollying people along whether at liturgies or protests,” he said. Maria Elena “is always there, marshalling the pilgrim campaigners”. He thanked her for her commitment to the Archbishop Romero Trust, which he chairs. Also, for her work as a shop steward at CAFOD. “Pope Francis would recognise Maria Elena as the missionary disciple he wants us all to be. Viva Maria Elena!”

And Julian recognised the support of her family – husband Robert, children and grandchildren – who were with her at the event. He described them as a “political” family. In fact, she met her English husband Robert on a demonstration in front of the White House, saying herself that “Justice, Peace and Politics have always been part of our life”.

Barbara Crowther of the Fairtrade Foundation, who worked alongside Maria Elena at CAFOD in the 1990s, highlighted the joy that Maria Elena brought into CAFOD campaigning. “Her hospitality to partners and work colleagues underlined CAFOD as family, embracing life in all its fullness,” she said.

Among the presents given to Maria Elena was a collage of CAFOD Campaigns she has organised – ‘Eyes of the World’ was among the most recent.

And Maria Elena herself highlighted the campaigns that she first organised without computers or zoom. She recalled placing anti-landmine cards around churches, travelling to Cologne to highlight the ‘chains of debt’ when the G7 met there in 1999, and arranging for inspirational CAFOD partners to meet supporters throughout England and Wales. She singled out in particular Bishop Taban Paride, Bishop Emeritus of Torit in South Sudan; Fr Edu Garigues, former General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference in the Philippines; Lemlem Berha Tsegay from Ethiopia who came to Britain in 2012 to address meetings of CAFOD supporters about her work as a water engineer in irrigation and sewerage projects in drought-prone northern Ethiopia. Just weeks ago, Maria Elena was lobbying the UN Climate talks in Glasgow alongside Claudelice Silva dos Santos, a land defender from Pará, in the Brazilian Amazon, who has braved death threats to challenge illegal logging.

Maria Elena described CAFOD partners, staff and volunteers as “wonderful”, adding that “I will miss you all so much!” And she joked that her husband Robert has described himself as being “married to CAFOD”. She concluded with, “I’m sorry to leave such an inspiring organisation…. but I know you will all carry on.” Yes indeed, but she was left in no doubt of the importance of her legacy.


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