Source: Ellen Teague, Independent Catholic News
About 160 people gathered from across the country for the 44th Annual Conference of the National Justice and Peace Network at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire. There were 12 representatives from the Diocese of Westminster. Particular thanks go to Assumption Volunteers Angel, Chris, Amy and Tra-My who ran the Just Fair stall for Westminster Justice and Peace this year. Over the course of the weekend they collected answers to synod-style questions on the environment and racial justice (two priority areas for Westminster Justice and Peace) which we hope to collate and publish soon.
Keynote speakers throughout the weekend explored the conference theme of ‘Hope’.
Irish diplomat Philip McDonagh explored the meaning of hope, drawing on Pope Benedict’s encyclical Spe Salvi, especially the statement that “all serious and upright conduct is hope in action.” He felt “we should ‘image’ or visualise peace as the rightful possession of the human community as a whole,” despite current global conflicts. He felt that, “through developing a culture of dialogue or encounter in national, regional, and global politics we can transform our understanding of effective action and create the conditions for a different kind of civilisation.” He felt, “the National Peace and Justice Network is living proof that individual interventions in the name of justice and mercy reinforce one another and can support wider social objectives as well.” He pointed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as already providing a medium-term common plan for humanity and called for consultative processes to include representatives of religion to underpin their implementation. “In this moment of fractured politics and dissolving ethics, renewed attention to religion as a source of unity is a bold and much-needed initiative,” he suggested.
Rev Dr Patrick Devine SMA spoke of his peace-building work in East Africa as chairman of the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. Shalom seeks to identify, understand and address the underlying causes of conflict rather than just address the symptoms. Fr Devine spoke of dramatic, life-changing results in the areas of conflict transformation, peace education and poverty alleviation. Shalom researches root causes of inter-ethnic conflicts, trains local peace-builders, organises workshops to facilitate resolution and reconciliation processes between factions, and develops inter-ethnic and inter-religious schools. “Theory without practice is empty and practice without theory is blind,” he said.
‘Getting beyond Optimism to Hope: demonstrating or building the Kingdom in the world of politics,’ was the title of a presentation by Andy Flanagan of Christians in Politics and a singer-songwriter. He spoke of leading parliamentarians in singing about integrity, truth and justice at a parliamentary prayer breakfast in early July and a spate of government ministerial resignations which took place hours later! Christians believe that, “integrity is leadership is really important.” A firm believer in tackling the causes of injustice, he praised NJPN for its campaigning work over the years to promote justice and compassion. His music provided the Saturday evening entertainment.
Liturgies were organised by the Lay Community of St Benedict and both Catholic and ecumenical worship was offered. Conference planning partners included ACTA, Christians Aware, Joint Public Issues Team, and Stella Maris. Rev Ruth Gee, a Methodist pastor and patron of NJPN who led a service on Saturday afternoon, spoke of “being united by concern and passion for justice and peace and by a shared faith.”
Workshops included issues of domestic poverty and universal credit, Salford’s ‘Guardians of Creation’ project, restoring dignity to prisoners and their families, Church Action for Tax Justice and Interfaith work on Justice and Peace.
A preview of the film, ‘Finite: The Climate of Change’, which looks at non-violent direct action in Germany and UK to protect ancient forests from coal mines, attracted an audience of 60. https://www.finite-film.com/
A Just Fair hosted 25 stalls, including Together for the Common Good, Green Christian, Christian Climate Action, Columbans, Missio, World Community for Christian Meditation, Fairtrade, Palestinian Goods and Global Justice Now.
Food at the conference was guided by LOAF principles (Local, Organic, Animal Friendly, Fairly Traded).