‘Biodiversity’ was the theme for the May meeting of the Southern Dioceses Environment Network on Monday 9th May 2022.
John Paul de Quay
Guest speaker John Paul de Quay from the Journey to 2030 project spoke on the need to safeguard nature to ensure the future and diversity of all life on earth which is essential for the health, wellbeing and prosperity of humanity.
What is biodiversity? It is the diversity of all living things which includes genetic diversity within and between species, and of ecosystems. This ensures the stability of the natural world.
Evidence shows that there has been on average 68% decrease in wildlife population sizes between 1970-2016 with some areas such as South America being affected more. Why is this happening? Changes in land due to farming, over-fishing, pollution and climate change. Loss of biodiversity happens due to these constraints on species.
Laudato Si’ states that we are dust of the Earth, as we breathe air and need water, nothing is indifferent to us. In Acts 6:26 it shows that nature provides everything we need to survive, not only healthy air and water, but our happiness and wellbeing. Throughout scripture nature is continually mentioned showing God’s immense care for biodiversity. If we hold the attitude that we are more important than nature, we have forgotten that we are ‘dust of the earth’. This connection with faith is essential and it is important to spread this knowledge especially in schools to give confidence that we can do something to change the situation.
We were also very fortunate to be joined by the environmentalist, Mary Colwell. Mary has been campaigning for 11 years for a UK GCSE in natural history which has now been agreed upon and is set to take effect in 2025. This is essential so children are able to learn about how wildlife relates to us, to fall in love with nature again, to encourage them to make the right decisions in the future.
She runs a charity called Curlew Action which aims to help protect the curlew population, which is a flagship species for conservation.
The annual Mass for Migrants, on the Feast of St Joseph the Worker, took place in Westminster Cathedral on Bank Holiday Monday, 2nd May 2022, in celebration of the significant contribution made by migrants to the life of the Dioceses of Brentwood, Southwark and Westminster.
Ahead of the Mass, members of Ethnic Chaplaincies from all three dioceses took part in a vibrant, colourful banner procession, leading into the Cathedral.
Bishop Michael Campbell OSA was the principal celebrant, along with around 30 Ethnic Chaplains and other priests. Ecumenical guests included the Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, Bishop of Chelmsford and Dr Ric Thorpe, Bishop of Islington, for the Church of England.
As is customary, there were testimonies from a couple of guests about some of the issues that affect refugees and migrants. This year, there was also a testimony from Fr Andriy Tsyaputa from the Ukrainian community who spoke about the situation in Ukrainian Churches, saying that they ‘are still open and launching large-scale humanitarian help during the war.’
‘While others are fleeing, local churches are engaging. They’re bravely rushing to help those in need right now. They’re unstoppable in the face of this crisis. Local believers are visiting those who are fleeing, and sharing God’s love with them.’
‘And we all understand that the church in Ukraine is still standing, because of your help. Thank you for praying for Ukraine. Thank you for helping us.’
Music was led by Ss Michael & Martin, Hounslow, Youth and Caribbean Music Ministry under the direction of Mary Pierre-Harvey. The choir from the Ukrainian Catholic Church added to the commemoration with several post-Communion hymns. Members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church were warmly welcomed by the congregation.
The Mass was organised by the Caritas and Justice and Peace agencies of the three Dioceses, with participation from Ethnic Chaplaincies and London Citizens.
The Migrants Mass has been celebrated every year since 2006, when it was initiated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, then-Archbishop of Westminster, at the suggestion of London Citizens. The Cardinal called for a more just treatment of migrant workers at that first Mass, an important act of witness. The Mass is held annually, hosted in turn by one of the three Dioceses of Brentwood, Southwark and Westminster for the feast of St Joseph the Worker as a celebration of the valuable contributions made by so many migrants to the life and economy of London and the surrounding counties.
The Mass is also a sign of the Catholic community’s solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers.
Dear Priests, brothers and sisters in Christ. First of all, I want to apologise for my accent and English language, I am still learning.
I would like to tell you about the situation in our Ukrainian churches, I came from Ukraine recently. Churches in Ukraine are still open and launching a large-scale humanitarian help during the war. Christians are delivering aid to everybody who needs help. Supported by your prayers and donations, every catholic church in Ukraine providing food, clothes, medicines and all required equipment for thousands of people. Many Ukrainians have no place where to live, because war erupts around them. So they live in churches, in monasteries or seminaries. Thousands of displaced people are housed safely in church buildings every night.
Churches across Ukraine continue to provide spiritual and material support to war victims even in areas under heavy attack or already overrun by Russian forces. The Catholic Church continues to be active in all regions, even in those that are under occupation. They gather for services and prayer and organize help for all they can.
While others are fleeing, local churches are engaging. They’re bravely rushing to help those who are in need right now. They’re unstoppable in the face of this crisis. Local believers are visiting those who are fleeing, and sharing God’s love with them.
And we all understand, that the church in Ukraine is still standing, because of your help. Thank you for praying for Ukraine. Thank you for helping us. Thank you for supporting Ukraine. I know that the United Kingdom is helping more than other countries. God bless you. God bless the United Kingdom.
Campaigners gathered outside the Home Office in London yesterday for their monthly Prayer Vigil for “those who died trying to reach the UK, those who are still trying, and those who still have no safe haven.”
Organised by London Catholic Worker and Westminster Justice and Peace, there were prayers, hymns and the recitation of a list of names or descriptions of individuals who died in a single month attempting to reach Europe. While more and more people have been displaced by war, famine and climate change, harsh immigration rules make it impossible to apply for asylum in the UK – unless an individual is already in the country – forcing people to make the perilous channel crossing.
An excerpt from Archbishop Justin Welby’s Easter sermon was read out, in which he said:
“The resurrection of Jesus is not a magic wand that makes the world perfect. But the resurrection of Christ is the tectonic shift in the way the cosmos works. It is the conquest of death and the opening of eternal life, through Jesus a gift offered to every human being who reaches out to him. Not just for individuals, but setting a benchmark for every society because God is Lord of every society and nation.”
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Reflection by Rev Chris Brice
Rev Chris Brice, Chair of London Churches Refugee Fund gave the following reflection:
“Meeting today in the shadow of the horrors of the war in Ukraine brings home all too starkly the burden of sin and evil under which our world labours, and has laboured, for millennia.
Our Judaeo-Christian story almost from its opening chapters, shows human beings, made in God’s loving and creative image, all too quickly falling into deceit, selfishness, resentment, murder, and disobedience to God’s Moral laws – seduced by the wiles of the “enemy” who is intent on destroying God’s beautiful new creation out of jealousy, bitter rage, and spite. From this follows all war and hatred, and the desire to exercise tyrannical power, that we see demonstrated so tragically today in Syria, in Ukraine, in Myanmar, in Yemen, in Eritrea, in Afghanistan, and even in the UK’s latest asylum legislation.
It was from such oppression, enslavement, and genocide that God called and rescued the children of Israel, enabling them to escape from the hell on earth that was the rule of the Pharaohs and to flee across the sea to a place of safety and security, flowing with milk and honey.
And still today this Exodus is enacted again and again as our persecuted, oppressed, and traumatised sisters and brothers flee in fear of their lives from war-torn countries across the world in search of safety. 28,000 of them last year crossed, not the Red Sea, but the English Channel, pursued by their nightmares of torture, death, rape, and imprisonment.
And it is these very people, when they arrive exhausted, alone, destitute, and distraught on the streets of London, with no means of support or shelter, that 100’s of “front line” refugee projects across London are there to help. To name just a few from the Projects supported by the London Churches Refugee Fund in 2020, are:
Action for Refugees in Lewisham. African Refugee Community. All People All Places, Article 1 Charitable Trust, Asylum from Rape, Barnet Refugee Service, C4WS Homeless Project, Citizens of the World Choir, Cotton Tree, Croydon Refugee Day Centre, Freedom from Torture, Hackney Migrant Centre, Happy Baby Community, Housing Justice, Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants, Jesuit Refugee Service, Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE), Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network, London Catholic Worker Refugee Shelter, London Jesus Centre, Migrants Organise, Migrateful, New North London Synagogue Destitute Asylum Seekers Drop-In, Notre Dame Refugee Centre, Refugee Council, Room to Heal, Samphire, Streatham Drop-In Centre, and West London Welcome.
All of them based here in London – not in Rwanda!
These, and scores of other refugee projects across London, and the people who support them, are lights shining in the darkness of war and suffering … and thanks to their work and generosity… the darkness will not overcome that light. Not even the current darkness of the asylum legislation being conceived in the building behind us.
To give just one example, amongst thousands, of someone whom one of these projects have helped in London, I now quote from a London Churches Refugee Fund Lent resource written by Trustee Robina Rafferty.
Consider Ms Z, aged 20, from Somalia, who was trafficked in the UK as an unaccompanied minor aged 16 and kept in isolation for many years in the UK. She was raped and forced into prostitution by her agents, and advised not to try to escape otherwise her family in Somalia would be in trouble. She was fearful, and suffering in silence, until one day she managed to run away. She made an application for UK asylum, but when that was refused, she lost her emergency accommodation and financial support in London. When she came to the African Refugee Community (ARC) in North London she was homeless, disoriented and suffering from severe depression. ARC supported her financially with food vouchers, transport costs, hygiene packs and phone cards using their London Churches Refugee Fund Grant. She also received advocacy, and is now in contact with a GP, mental health counsellor and a solicitor to help with her Fresh asylum application. She now feels happy when she comes to the ARC office to collect her hardship payment, and her mental, social, and physical well-being is improving gradually because of the support she receives here in the UK.
How would we cope if trafficked far away from our family and friends, our homeland? A teenager raped and forced into prostitution for years, ashamed, degraded, always afraid. No-one to turn to. Utter desperation. Even when she escaped from her captors, the UK authorities she turned to for protection let her down. But she has found support, kindness and comfort with people who respect her, treat her as a human being, responding to her needs here in London – not Rwanda.
Jesus always respected the dignity of every individual he met, however much they might be condemned or rejected by society. The lives of the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well, the man born blind, are all transformed by their encounter with Jesus. And He never stopped to ask them if they got to Him through official government channels, or were smuggled into His presence on a boat that had crossed the Sea of Galilee, or in a donkey cart hidden under straw and sacking. Nor did He insist on sending them on a one-way ticket to Rwanda to have their credentials checked and verified before He would agree to help them. No – He recognised their desperate need, accepted them; doing all in His power to help, heal and restore them to full dignity as fellow citizens of God’s Kingdom here on earth
As a postscript, and in the light of this reflection, I would like to sow a seed today that I trust might bear fruit. It is the seed of the intention for Christians like us to pray about, and to compose, a short, accessible, Theological Declaration about the treatment of asylum seekers, here in the UK, comparable to the Barmen Declaration that the Confessing Churches of Germany composed in the face of Nazism and Hitler’s rise to power. A Declaration rooted in Prayer, in Scripture, and in Faith in the power of God’s Word. It would consist of a series of short sharp paragraphs each of which would highlight a relevant scripture verse pertinent to the asylum crisis we now face, and a short exposition as to how this should govern and guide our asylum legislation and the treatment of asylum-seekers.
For instance: Scripture forbids us to mistreat or oppress the aliens or foreigners because we were once foreigners, and “know the heart of an alien”. In Leviticus, we are reminded even more strongly, “the land is mine” says God, “for you are strangers and live as foreigners in this land with me.” It reminds us that we are ALL sharing GOD’S world. We are ALL here through God’s grace and mercy. Treating aliens as less worthy to be here ignores the fact that we have all been given a gift from God – we have not and could not have deserved it. It is through God’s grace alone that we have the privileges we have, and knowing that grace, we are called to share it.
To Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – the answer very clearly is YES – YOU ARE! And your sisters too! – for their blood cries out to God from the earth, and the sea..
In the end, the only way to understand and overcome the principalities and powers of wickedness in high places that we face is the power and the wisdom of GOD operating through the prayer, the actions, and the fasting of people like us. A truth that this gathering month by month so faithfully upholds & demonstrates.
For the battle is Spiritual as well as political. In the end, it is only susceptible to action rooted in a Judaeo Christian analysis of the depth and the perversity of the ungodly powers that seek to confound and destroy God’s good purposes. That’s why Jesus came to witness, to suffer, to die, and to rise again, precisely to overcome the wiles of the evil one and the powers of all forms of death: Including all spiritual – physical- and political- death dealing.
“Truly I tell you”, said Jesus to the helpless disciples, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this ungodly mountain of asylum legislation, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move, right off the Statute book. And nothing will be impossible for you!”. And later translations add that Jesus also insisted that to be effective the disciple’s action must be strengthened by, and grounded in, prayer and fasting. As is so admirably demonstrated in these monthly events organised by the London Catholic Worker which must surely inspire, encourage and guide us individually day by day as now seek to sustain our own life of prayer, of action and of fasting to defeat this legislation and to end the wars in Ukraine and across the world.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, who came to bring good news to the poor, give us the courage to reach out to those who are neglected and abandoned, to see you in everyone we meet, regardless of their country of origin, and no matter how they might have reached the UK. And help us to play our part, through prayer, action and fasting in the coming of your kingdom of love and justice in the Home Office, the Ukraine and across the UK, as it is in Heaven.
The Prayer Vigil takes place outside the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF, on the third Monday of each month from 12.30-1.30pm. For more information contact Barbara Kentish: email@example.com
Prior to the service, Cardinal Vincent Nichols was interviewed for Sky News
Interviewer: Why did the Church leaders decide it was important to have this hour of prayer?
Cardinal Vincent: Well it’s important to understand that we’re meeting in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, and this is an important centre here, right in the middle of London, where they’re trying to become a focus for the those in need and those who are arriving here. So the place of prayer is important, the prayer itself is important and the wide range of Christian leadership that will be present here this morning is also significant. We are very united in this determination to support the people of Ukraine as they face this terrible evil onslaught.
Interviewer: And this hour of prayer, is it open to the public? Can anyone walk in and join?
Cardinal Vincent: Certainly it’s open to the public and it’s placed now at midday hopefully that some people in their lunch break will come in. There’s been some publicity for it, and this church is always open, and it’s a Catholic Church but it’s a Ukrainian Rite Catholic Church. So the pattern of prayer here is a bit different and that for some people will be a good experience as well. But it’s the fervour, it’s the intensity of the prayer that reflects the horror and intensity of the challenge that we all face.
Interviewer: Have you had any word on how the Catholic community in Ukraine is faring?
Cardinal Vincent: Well that is exactly what Bishop Kenneth here and his staff are very, very much in touch with. And it depends obviously on the different parts of the country in Ukraine. I’m not familiar with the details of every place, but I know that there is a great affinity always between Catholics across the world and we along with everybody else are responding as generously and as rapidly as we can to the appeals for finance, for practical assistance, and for a welcome here. Despite the difficulties involved in getting Ukrainian refugees here that you have been talking about earlier in the programme.
Interviewer: Were you surprised when the Pope himself on Sunday, called for an Easter truce in Ukraine? That he so publicly came out and gave his voice?
Cardinal Vincent: No, I was not at all surprised and I think it’s very important that what he asked for was a truce not a ceasefire. He said we don’t need a ceasefire in which people re-arm themselves, we want a genuine truce, an end to these hostilities so that there’s space for humanity’s needs to come to the fore. And that means people giving way on the stands they might have taken initially, for the good of humanity, for the good of the people of Ukraine, who in some places are suffering the most appalling atrocities as we know day by day.
Interviewer: Exactly, the picture, the footage, the stories they’re so horrific. What would you say to the people who hear you’re holding an hour of prayer and say, well that is a lovely gesture but you need to do more, the Catholic community needs to do more, the global community needs to do more?
Cardinal Vincent: Please don’t misunderstand, that prayer doesn’t excuse us from every other effort. But prayer adds dimensions to these struggles. It gives an inner strength and it opens up a wider horizon. It tells us that the immediate moment and how we respond to it, is not the whole story. It’s a very important part of the story, but prayer generates hope and prayer generates courage and prayer generates solidarity. And those three things hope, courage and solidarity are needed in every practical effort as well.
Interviewer: Cardinal, just before we spoke to you we played a package about refugees trying to get to the UK and some statistics: nearly 80,000 people have applied but only 12,000 have got here. Do you think we as the United Kingdom could and should do more and should have done more?
Cardinal Vincent: I think that’s perfectly clear, that the process is overcomplicated. I know friends of mine have applied and they are experts at filling in forms, and they are very, very frustrated that somehow the promises that were made a couple of weeks ago are not being worked out. Now, I don’t know whether this is to do with incompetence or whether it’s to do with fear and excessive caution. But I think the heart of most people in this country is to say let them come, just let them come. We are ready to receive and welcome and do our best. Of course there has to be prudent caution but that should not be obstructive and this is a time I think, when this system really ought to be reviewed and put into working order.
Prayer for Ukraine
Almighty and Great God, accept our gratitude for your boundless mercy towards us. Hear the supplication of our afflicted hearts for the land and people of Ukraine, as they confront foreign aggression and invasion. Open the eyes of those who have been overtaken by a spirit of deception and violence, that they be horrified by their works. Grant victory over the powers of evil that have arisen and bless Ukraine with your gifts of liberty, peace, tranquillity and good fortune.
We implore you, O Merciful God, look with grace upon those who courageously defend their land. Remember the mothers and fathers, the innocent children, widows and orphans, the disabled and helpless, those seeking shelter and refuge, who reach out to you and to their fellow human beings looking for mercy and compassion. Bless the hearts of those who have already shown great generosity and solidarity, and those who prepare to receive their Ukrainian brothers and sisters in Ukraine’s greatest time of need. Bring us together as your children, your creation, and instil in us your strength, wisdom and understanding. May you be praised and glorified, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
By Maggie Beirne, West London Justice and Peace Network Co-ordinator
We have all watched our TV screens with horror since the 24th February when Ukraine was invaded. Russia’s unprovoked attack, and the nature of its assault – indiscriminate bombing and killing of civilians leading to the internal displacement and mass exodus of refugees, and the apparent threat to use biological/chemical and even nuclear weapons – has left most of us shocked. And who has not felt a strong sense of solidarity with the plight of the Ukrainians? We empathise with their plight; we pray as individuals or in community for their survival; and we try to help practically with financial or other donations. We feel one with their cause.
The West London Justice and Peace Network reflected at a recent meeting on the challenge of pacifism in times like this. How would we as individuals respond in similar circumstances? Would we start training to use Kalashnikovs or insist on suing for peace at whatever cost? When we experience a sense almost of pride in seeing these ‘plucky’ Ukrainians giving their all to defend their freedom, do we become part of the problem; and what is the Christian response to these challenges?
Martin Birdseye, member of the Network and long-time peace activist, helped us reflect on some of the difficult issues involved.
We were reminded of the fact that history is full of examples where in time of conflict, pacifism gets swept away on a tide of solidarity. We have certainly seen our own elected politicians rush to bolster arms supplies, talking up the importance of ‘hard power’’ and the strength of our military alliances, while unsaid but very apparent, is the increased risk of nuclear war. Our very human instinct for personal and human security can lead us into an aggressive response, but is this so different from the desire of Russians for security following their terrible experience of WW2 and their fears of NATO ‘expansionism’?
In Britain, our taxes are spent on maintaining a nuclear arsenal, supposedly for our defence. But is this arsenal keeping us safe, or does it not lend a false justification for both NATO and Russia to vie for control of their respective ‘spheres of influence’? Instead of nuclear weapons strengthening our security, have they rendered the world a more unsafe place? Would our taxes have been much better spent on tackling injustices in our own society and actively building peace globally – via aid, tackling government corruption, support for refugees, or fighting climate insecurity.
In the longer term, we also need as Christian peacemakers to examine the role of Britain as probably the world’s second largest arms exporter. Arms companies and suppliers may be the only ones to gain from the current tragedy in Ukraine. Most local West London residents were unaware of the international arms fair that was recently held this year in Twickenham, yet such gatherings feed and fuel the violence that we then subsequently deplore around the world (whether in Ukraine, Yemen, or the Horn of Africa). This trade is taking place in our name as the UK government provides export licenses for ‘suitable’ arms manufacturers but claims to bear no responsibility for the resultant human rights abuses.
The network noted that the Ukrainians, like all of us, have a right to self-defence and that pacifism is not ‘passivity’. But nor can we ignore the fact that the violence perpetrated by one side tends only to beget violence from the opposition, in a never-ending cycle of retribution. Or, as better said by Mahatma Gandhi, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. So, the real challenge is to find out how we can turn to God and help others do so in these times of turmoil.
In our discussion, the network noted that concepts such as ‘justice’ and ‘peace’ can at times like this appear to be in tension but are instead totally inter-dependent. “No justice, no peace”, albeit a slogan, is accurate. As Christians we have to be active peace makers. Peace groups have organised zoom prayer meetings; had a spontaneous turn-out of people on the day of the invasion to a prayer gathering; and Religions for Peace UK have submitted a letter to the Chiswick-based Bishop of the Russian Orthodox church, to be sent to the Moscow Patriarch asking him directly to appeal to Putin. What should we be doing practically all year around to promote the educational efforts of groups such as Pax Christi and the Christian Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament?
When time permits, events in Ukraine may also encourage more reflection on the Catholic teaching around the ‘just war theory’. This theory sets out some of the principles that will determine if the cause of any war be ‘just’, and if the tactics used in warfare can also be considered ‘just’. But there is now much debate as to whether the idea of a ‘just war’ has become an obsolete concept given that the massive predominance of civilian casualties in modern warfare undercuts the moral ground for conceiving of almost any war as just.
So, whilst we need to focus over the longer term on eliminating the underlying causes of violence and war and re-introduce the power of non-violent action, what can be done in the short term? Right now, Ukraine is being destroyed and its people scattered. Alongside all the practicalities (of sending humanitarian assistance and being welcoming to refugees), Pope Francis, pleaded: “Let the weapons fall silent. God is with those who seek peace, not those resorting to violence.”
As Christians, we have to join him in condemning those who “trust in the diabolic and perverse logic of weapons” and pray for guidance on how to engage ever more effectively in the search for peace.
An estimated 2,000 people, gathered in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, 5 March, for a peace rally organised by the main Ukrainian community groups in the UK.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, told those gathered: “Today we are all Ukrainian.” He brought a message from Pope Francis assuring everyone present and all those who have family and friends in Ukraine that the Holy Father is remembering them in his prayers.
Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, Bishop for Ukrainian, Belarusian and Slovak Eastern Catholics in Great Britain also attended with Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Anba Angaelos, the Archbishop of Birmingham, Most Rev Bernard Longley, Mgr Keith Newton from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, head of Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission, who represented Cardinal Vincent Nichols and a group of priests and seminarians from the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family.
There were calls from several speakers for the EU to provide a ‘no fly zone’ over Ukraine.
In a speech, journalist and author Paul Mason appealed for the British parliament to pass emergency legislation confiscating property and fortunes of the billionaire Russian oligarchs living in the UK. “They made their fortunes by stealing from the Russian people” he said. Mason proposed that this money could be used to help provide medical care, food and shelter for the more than one million refugees who have been forced to flee their homes by invading Russian forces.
A Russian couple attending the rally, Anna and George from Moscow, told ICN: “We came here to show our support for the Ukrainian people. Our family and friends do not support Putin. We feel this invasion was a savage act. We are concerned for the safety of our own families and very worried about the situation in Ukraine. This is a tragedy.” Anna said: “I have hardly slept since this began..”
Two Ukrainian sisters from a town near Lviv who are working as nurses here, said: “We have family near the Russian border. On the first day of the invasion we were able to speak with our parents. Our mother has diabetes so she needs regular medication. They said if things looked dangerous they would go to another place but since then we have heard nothing. We are desperately worried and praying for their safety.”
The day was organised by Euro-Maidan, The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, the Ukrainian Women’s Organisations in Great Britain, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches in Great Britain, among others.
On a windy Saturday 19th February nearly 200 people from more than 90 parishes and 20 schools, as well as representatives from other communities braved the weather to gather in Westminster Cathedral to hear the summary of findings from the listening events that took place all around the diocese in November and December that launched the synodal pathway. Many could not be present on the day as transport was disrupted in the aftermath of Storm Eunice.
Bishop Nicholas Hudson opened proceedings by explaining that ‘although a great deal has been achieved already, it really is only a beginning’ and that ‘the work we’ve done up to this point will now move forward in two directions’.
The diocesan report would be sent to the Bishops’ Conference, who will collect the findings from all dioceses in England and Wales. This report would in turn contribute to the submission to be prepared by the Bishops of Europe, which in turn will form part of the discussion at the World Synod in Rome in 2023.
Additionally, he added, ‘we shall seek to capture for ourselves what the Spirit is saying to us as a diocese, by coming together at the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023 for a diocesan gathering where we will review our priorities for evangelization, informed by all that we have collected from the synodal process thus far.’
The report dealt with responses by the faithful in a number of areas, which included the response to synodality and what it means to be asked to contribute to the life of the Church in this way. There were positive experiences of life in the Church, as well as sadness about those who were missing from the Church.
The responses emphasised the importance of accompanying each other and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit, so as to accompany one another as we journey together.
The presentation of the findings was followed by small group discussions, whose responses were shared with the wider assembly.
The first was a golden thread that has emerged from this process of a deep love for the Church. ‘It is utterly central to how we go forward together,’ he said. ‘Only this love of the Lord and of the Church can keep us together and responsive to each other, and to the Holy Spirit.’
The second theme was the ‘great sensitivity towards those people and ventures who are “missing”, who feel left out or distanced’. He acknowledged that ‘these aspects of our life together are not well-known and they are certainly not embedded in the entire life of the diocese,’ that ‘there is much to do,’ and, ‘there is experience and achievements to help us to do so.’
He spoke of the desire to listen to each other, but that there are ‘many other voices that we hear and listen to’, that there is an opportunity to learn from these voices, but that ‘we want to do it in a way that points to the person of Jesus as our model and our grace.’
And, finally, he pointed to the day’s Gospel reading about the Transfiguration, which teaches us that Jesus is the source of all we are and do.
The day concluded with a Liturgy of the Word. Preaching on the the Gospel Reading of the feeding of the multitude, the Cardinal noted that St John ‘addresses the seeming impossibility of the mission given to the Church by Jesus.’ Like the small boy whose resources are sufficient to feed a great multitude, ‘this great sign and demonstration of God’s faithfulness’ shows that, while we have so little, ‘we are granted so much!’ This, he said, enables us to resolve to be as faithful as possible to that invitation, to that mission.’
In autumn 2021, parishes, schools and communities in the diocese took part in listening events to listen to each other and to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to the faithful, in the first phase of the synodal pathway initiated at the request of Pope Francis. The following is the report of the findings, which was presented at a pre-synodal gathering in Westminster Cathedral on 19th February 2022.
There is an audible relief, thanks, an immense gratitude in the voices of the people of our diocese during the synodal journey. We heard people say:
‘I’m 77 and no one has ever asked me about this.’
‘Children loved their voices being heard; they felt passionate about having their say in the future of the Church.’
The listening and sharing within synodal conversations, one-to-one and in groups, was, for many, a rich experience. Many particularly noted the richness of the sharing between those who took part in synodal conversations. The conversation was described as
‘A wonderful experience’ and ‘heart-warming’
Listening to others has had a positive and humbling effect on me and has strengthened my faith as a result.
We’ve been learning to listen more to others and realising the Holy Spirit is speaking through them.
But there was sadness and disappointment too, that more people did not engage. And some were doubtful that it would achieve anything. One person shared an appeal to Pope Francis, asking that now expectations have been raised to ‘please fulfil on the promise of listening’. And others appealed to priests and our bishops to ensure that this synodal journey continues.
There are many thousands of adults and young people in parishes, communities and schools that did engage. People came together in person as well as sharing in writing.
For many this experience is already having an impact on their community life. One parish shared:
This synodal process has drawn us closer together and closer to God. Spiritual conversations are continuing regularly after Mass. More opportunities to pray together are being established.
Cardinal Vincent invited us to begin this process by reflecting on our experiences of journeying together during the pandemic.
The experience of the pandemic was incredibly hard, but people shared how they have discovered things about our faith and about our life as members of the Church. Some spoke of the synodal process as almost like a catharsis, a contribution to the recovery needed after lockdown:
Sharing experiences of pandemic in the synodal sessions was very moving and heart breaking. Tears were shed but talking about experiences brought a measure of healing.
For many this was a time of heightened awareness of the gift of faith, of the Church community, and particularly of the celebration of the Eucharist, and the richness of our worship and prayer. Of course, at first, this was a realisation born out of not being able to access much of what we had previously taken for granted. But through this experience, the joy of the faith was entered into more deeply.
One person shared that it was like preparing for First Holy Communion again: a rejuvenated faith.
There was a sense that things were being stripped back to the essentials: to spirituality, simplicity and service of others.
That renewed engagement with spirituality came through the Church entering people’s homes and families, through online Masses. People spoke of a sense of unity with the whole family of the Church, a feeling of being part of something bigger.
But also, there was discovering, rediscovering, of other aspects of faith: in shared family prayer time, saying grace before meals, in the support of an online prayer group, WhatsApp groups, the rosary, reading and praying with scripture. People shared:
I went to stay with my brother for three months in the early days. We prayed the Mass text together. We would very seldom have prayed together otherwise.
My faith grew by being able to regularly attend Mass via livestream. After my sister died of Covid, I know God’s grace touched me.
‘Visiting’ churches online for Mass and hearing other homilies stirred up a desire for more understanding of scriptures.
And the simplicity, people realising what was important. The sacraments, yes, ‘many shared the sheer joy in returning to Mass after lockdown’, but also the community, the need to know we belong and the simplicity of knowing God’s presence:
Introduction of stewards had the additional benefit of making church more welcoming, creating an enhanced sense of Church being family.
God remained present … God was with me when I was doing home schooling.
We heard of rediscovering the aspect of service, too. The outreach to those in need was a central focus for many parishes: recognising the isolation and needs of others, and responding. Thousands of young people, too, identified this in their synodal conversations in schools. As one school shared:
The pandemic has taught us the importance of others, of their company, compassion and love.
One headteacher reflected on the role of Catholic schools: The Holy Spirit was present in how we lived out the mission, in the way we pulled together during the early stages of the pandemic.
Our diocesan communities reaching out to those isolated, too. Like St Joseph’s working with those with learning disabilities:
We endeavoured to keep in touch with all students throughout the lockdown and take into account each individual’s likes/dislikes and hobbies … some beautiful work was created. Some partnerships beyond the Church were developed with ‘technology charities’ in order to keep those vital links open with students.
You can see some of that work in the Cathedral Hall today.
The pandemic also has highlighted areas of sadness, and for some, experiences of hurt and pain:
For many, being cut off from the physical celebration and reception of the Eucharist was very hard. Some admitted envy they developed for priests who were still able to be physically present at Mass.
Some parishes were well connected and people felt supported. Several parishes shared how they had reached out through email and digital means, a huge step forward for them. But other parishes spoke of data protection laws as a significant barrier during the pandemic, preventing parishioners from helping the most vulnerable.
Others felt their parish closed; it seemed that the priest withdrew and no support was offered. And there was sadness shared for those people who felt isolated, cut off from their community through ‘oversight’, digital disadvantage, age, or worry about returning during the early easing of restrictions. Some of the voices shared were heart-wrenchingly honest:
In true London style we tended to leave each other alone.
I have no access to anything via TV or computer. I used to say the rosary to go to sleep.
There was sadness, born from the concern of the people, for their priests, knowing they were alone, perhaps without any support. Yes, throughout the synodal conversation there were times when people shared frustrations, even pain caused by priests. It’s still clear that there is also a deep love for priests (and deacons and religious) in our diocese.
Young people shared their sadness too. Some of them felt ‘forgotten about’ by their parishes during lockdown:
I was very, very alone as an only child when my school and church were closed.
Some students have still not returned to regular church attendance and mentioned how they miss this sense of community.
Some children have had their First Communions delayed or were saddened that this important Sacrament lacked the sense of celebration they had imagined.
Some of the sadness and pain encountered during the height of the pandemic remains. Some people have not returned. And there is a deep desire from others to see them come back. Some people, even, blaming themselves:
I took it personally that people didn’t come back. What am I not doing well?
There’s a deep longing for social activities in the parish to resume and for opportunities to pray and to do good together.
Others remain very disappointed that the churches were closed at all and that the Sunday obligation was not upheld, that in some way Church leaders gave in to politicians. Perhaps this is an expression of the sense of loss they experienced at being separated from the Eucharist, and some spoke of blaming the Church leadership.
Others experienced the lack of Sunday obligation as an opportunity to reflect. In some way, they feel, ‘going to church on Sunday’ has been made the ‘marker’ of being a good Catholic. Is this an opportunity to reflect on how we live our faith more actively in the world?
Within the synodal sharing is a call to recognise the experience that many people went through, losing family members and prohibited from being with dying family members. Some people will have felt very acutely the ‘absence’ of God in their lives. Reconnecting with these people may be a great challenge.
As we end this section, we can note how reflecting on the pandemic during the synodal process has inspired people to realise some encouraging insights:
Before the pandemic I’d just come to Mass, not talk to anyone and leave quickly. Now I talk to everyone.
We still care. We want to be connected. We want the Church to thrive.
The synodal conversations led us to share about our wider experience of journeying together in the Church.
We reflected on three aspects:
Our communion, or community with one another, in union with God; Our participation in the life of the Church; And our experience of the Church’s mission, proclaiming and living the Gospel.
There are parishes and communities celebrating a real sense of belonging, with opportunities for people to participate and engage in living their faith with a wider community.
We heard of the importance of the spiritual life of Catholic communities. The Eucharist, prayer, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a means of healing. Key moments were often talked about. Both the times of joy, baptisms and weddings, and also times of sadness, funerals in particular. These are key moments when faith nurtures, bringing strength and love.
We heard of the love of worship and music, from all across the Church’s tradition:
Great joy from heartfelt worship of God with all the beauty our frail humanity can muster
Attending the Traditional Latin Mass means I have never been more engaged with my faith.
The Praise Group we founded is uplifting, joy obviously present, as people spontaneously lift their arms.
There was also heartache and disappointment shared about aspects of community, participation and worship. In particular, sadness at our lack of making a real effort to ensure children and young people can participate in the Mass.
There were people who were deeply saddened in their experience of being restricted from the celebration of the Old Rite. And those who shared experiences of tension between preferences for traditional versus more contemporary worship.
It was also striking to hear from those who said they do not feel welcome. One parish summary shared how the Church can feel like a ‘closed shop’ to many. This was reflected elsewhere:
I feel very disconnected from the Church, but I still go every week to pray.
‘As new arrivals, we went to the more “local” church and were told that if we lived in our postal area we needed to go to another church.’
I didn’t feel included. I came from another faith and got baptised, but only three or four people welcomed me. I thought I wasn’t welcome, or that I had done something wrong.
This sadness was shared more generally. Many felt that somehow we have seemingly reduced our participation in the church community to going to Sunday Mass and home again. As one parishioner reflected, perhaps it is in fact us, the ones who are going to Mass, who are missing from the wider life of the Church.
There was much shared about the wider life of the Church, in particular the Church as a force for good in the world. There were many examples of reaching out to the homeless, those in food poverty, and to the world in need overseas. And stories of our own parishes, schools and communities reaching out to one another:
Our parish community is well served: the sick, the housebound, when someone is in crisis.
There was one lady who was repeatedly mentioned by the students at St Joseph’s. The students shared memories of praying with her at the Saturday clubs and doing jigsaw puzzles, meeting friends, singing songs.
There is a sense of joy from those sharing in the ministry of the Church, such as the Eucharistic minister bringing Eucharist to the sick and housebound. And people shared their appreciation of the pastoral support they gain from the Church and from their faith, especially strength and peace drawn from faith when in need.
‘A parishioner expressed deep appreciation for the prayer and support they had experienced when their marriage partner was taken sick. When their own faith wobbled, the community helped them hold on.’
For many, faith provides a foundation of guidance, of steadfastness, a moral compass. There is joy discovered in times of sharing faith and building relationships with others, including though our ecumenical friendships.
People express joy in the diversity seen in our parishes and schools, with different nationalities, cultures and different ways of celebrating faith and living Church. The experience of being able to attend Mass in their own native language, or feeling welcome as an immigrant into our churches was appreciated. Many did share that feeling of oneness, of unity and community, of belonging.
But many others do not see themselves valued or represented in their churches. For some, that’s because the leadership seems disconnected from them, or the liturgy is not inclusive, or the art, architecture and culture is unreflective of them:
The Year 6 pupil who shared ‘whenever I go to church no one looks like me, and the images on the walls and windows, there’s no one who looks like me.’
There is great sadness, too, in recognising who is missing, or those who experience themselves undervalued or unwelcome. Whilst diversity may exist in our communities, people shared that not everyone is properly included and valued.
It’s hard not to listen to the thousands of voices across the diocese without hearing that a significant area of concern shared here is the experience of the role and place of women in the Church. This was shared by women and men, young and old, from within and beyond the Catholic community.
People experience how women do a huge amount of work in and for the Church but they go unrecognised. School students across all ages shared sadness, disappointment and even anger about the Church’s attitude to women, saying ‘women are suffering in the Church’. It was poignant to hear how women and girls do not feel included:
‘I have a tension in me, as a faithful Catholic, every time I go to Church, as I don’t feel included.’
‘A girl in Year 7 shared that she had to move parishes as her priest does not allow female altar servers.’
Our children were brought up Catholic but now do not practise, because of the attitude of the Church towards women.
Why is it that women are still so unimportant, yet make up the vast majority of your congregation?
Throughout the diocese there is also another area of significant sadness: questioning how welcoming we are as Church to LGBT people, or those in different types of relationships … people who are divorced and remarried, and single parents:
‘The Church’s stance on sex and sexuality is alienating, is given disproportionate weight, and does not reflect core Gospel values of love, forgiveness, compassion, mercy and care for the poor and sick, and social justice.’
‘Every single student [in one school] mentioned LGBTQ+, women, divorced, single parents.’
Some young people spoke of family members who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and who they worried would not be loved by God or accepted by the Church.
Those sharing as part of the LGBT+ Catholics ministry in the diocese appreciated being embedded in diocesan and parish communities and recognised the welcome that is given at the start of their twice-monthly Mass. But beyond this it can still feel that they ‘are rendered invisible’.
Sadness too is in the constantly repeated cry for our youth to belong and be included and reached out to. And a feeling that anyone who is different, with different life experiences, mental health issues, disabilities, may not feel included. Our churches in particular are not accessible to those who are deaf, those with intellectual disabilities, and perhaps even those who experience financial poverty. We are not seen as a Church of the poor, but rather a Church of material wealth.
Our schools were perhaps prophetic on who else is missing from our communities. Students across our diocese reflected on how sinners may not be being made to feel welcome. Almost every school shared this. One school shared it this way:
‘Lost Sheep’, criminals or people who have sinned and avoided church may not feel comfortable if others know what they are like.
Prisoners, in particular, were spoken of many times by schools and by some of our parishes, a sense that they are not extended a welcome from the Catholic community. And prisoners themselves, sharing their experience in a synodal conversation in Wormwood Scrubs with Cardinal Vincent, asked that the wider Church does not forget them;
One inmate spoke of the regular letters he had received, throughout his nine-year sentence, from a parishioner of his home parish. He was much strengthened by a card he had received at this time, signed by 40 parishioners, most of whom he did not know, assuring him of a welcome back.
We heard many times from those who feel saddened that individuals from other Christian faiths feel unwelcome, as they are not able to participate in Communion at a Catholic Mass. Some people find this divisive, as one person shared:
I don’t feel the Catholic Church is very welcoming to outsiders. I get the impression you would only visit the church if you were a Catholic. As a Christian I would like to feel more welcome.
Disappointment also surfaced when considering people’s experience of participating, or not, in how the Church makes decisions. Although some told of efforts in collaboration, this was not embedded, and sometimes likely to be ineffective. Weak parish councils were cited as examples of how we’ve not achieved meaningful co-responsibility yet. Priests acting outside of parish council structures, rendering the lay people feeling nominal at best, or even hurt and overlooked.
And more generally there are voices sharing how there is a lack of authenticity and transparency at local level:
We are excluded from decision making. Many good lay initiatives come to nothing.
I’m afraid our parish feels fake most of the time. I’m sorry to say this but it’s been like this for 30 years plus.
Church leaders are like untouchables. They are cut off from the laity.
Our priest is constricted by Church leadership.
There is a lack of transparency in the finances of the Church.
The lack of authenticity and transparency is heard most starkly with the deep pain, hurt and shame caused by sexual abuse by clergy and Church leaders, and the cover-ups which followed. We heard of that pain, disappointment and blame often:
Church image became more important than integrity.
I have lost trust.
For me the hardest thing to fathom is how anyone called to live a religious life could ever justify the cruelty that took place.
The woundedness of the people in parishes and communities impacted by the knowledge that priests have abused was clear in the synodal conversations. But more profound was the plea for the Church to listen to survivors of abuse and to respond.
Another area is a tension between the longing for the Church to be pure and not dilute its teaching, and others sharing sadness that that the Church appears not to move with the times. First, there is first a deep love and longing for something:
‘The Church is the mother of all her children and children should respect and obey their mother.’
The pressures of ‘commercialism’ and ‘received wisdom’ from social media channels need to be counteracted with a stronger reiteration of Christian values.
But there are also voices which share an experience of stuckness which even extends to a tempering of the Church’s mission:
There is a sense of conservatism within the Church which resists any change.
There is too often a sense of comfort in familiar settings that can lead to a disregard for those on the margins who are truly in need.
Reflecting on participation also led to a recognition that so much is undertaken by so few. There is usually a small group of people doing most things in our communities. It was felt that the commitment of volunteers is sometimes taken for granted or they are undervalued by the leaders. And yet there was a deep recognition that priests and deacons are burdened so much.
The love for priests and desire to have more connection with them was shared by schools, too. School leaders noted that priests are less visible, less connected, now than in years past. Previously it ‘felt that the priest cared to be in school, but now asking, Why don’t the priests come in anymore?’
Finally in this section, there is, however, an appreciation of priests, and concern for their wellbeing:
I honestly think that priests are in a position where too much is demanded of them. Like any caring profession – dealing with the community is time consuming and mentally and physically demanding
In this final section we will draw together some of the insights which people shared about what is the Holy Spirit might be saying to our parishes and communities and to the Church in Westminster.
This was a synodal journey of people who loved the Church, who wished and wanted good things for the Church, the people, its leaders, the mission, and for the Church to be seen and known as a sign of hope, faith and love in the world.
It is worth noting that there was some focus on Church doctrine, sometimes separate from the ‘synodal’ focus of sharing our experience of journeying together. And sometimes very directive statements of what the Pope, the bishops, priests or people need to do: how we should be stricter, or not; how children should be taught particular aspects of the faith; or which teachings should be changed. All of this has clearly still come from a place of love for the Church. Whilst we cannot always capture the elements which fall beyond the scope of the synod, we have tried to listen to these in the context of the wider experiences which were shared.
As we said at the beginning, there was an appreciation of the synodal process, and a surprise at the fruits which have already flowed from it.
And within this sharing people have moved towards gathering the fruits and discerning what the Spirit might be saying.
As we reflect on this, we will group them into several areas. They are not perfect but they may help:
1. Participation and synodality
People felt that the Holy Spirit is prompting us to ensure that listening and sharing continues. One parishioner reflected that they realised they had always experienced participation in Church, as if being treated like a child, directed what to think, and opinions never sought. But this, they felt, was different.
The positive experience of the synodal events has led to a desire for increased connection and participation: encountering one another, listening and sharing in the journey of the faith community.
This synodal process has revealed that when we listen in silence the Spirit works wonders. We desire to continue ‘journeying together’ seeking the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to make use of all the gifts and talents of the community.
The synodal path was a great experience of touching unknown realities within our parish and seeing how God can make us one though so different.
Discernment must lead to decision, action and implementation.
2. Liturgy, prayer and formation
As we’ve said, the pandemic has particularly led to a realization of the riches within our liturgical and spiritual tradition. There is a sense that the Spirit is leading us to rediscover these and share them. Some people spoke of the capability of the Church to offer a wide range of ways for people to engage with worship, prayer and liturgy.
Some reflected that the Synod sessions have increased their hunger to understand scriptures and to apply them to everyday life. There was a beginning of discerning how to do this, as well as creating more opportunities for formation in faith, prayer and how to share faith:
A palpable sense Jesus is calling us to ‘Come and drink deeply’ from him;
A desire for workshops to teach prayer and exploring the gospels and other areas of Catholic teaching;
Could the Holy Spirit be encouraging us to look to him to show us a way where the beauty of tradition can merge with the creativity of the modern for the praise and glory of God?
3. Diversity and inclusion
There is an overwhelming sense that people feel the Spirit of God is calling us to be more welcoming and inclusive, valuing all:
‘The Holy Spirit is promoting a sense of gratitude in us for all people.’
‘The Church must not just be welcoming but truly valuing.’
‘We dream of a Church which welcomes everyone and does not discriminate… a Church where everyone can use their particular gifts and talents…a Church which helps those who are marginalised.
As we have said, several aspects emerged, not least the role and place of women. Whilst there was sharing about consideration of women priests, and perhaps more so about women deacons, most discernment about the valuing of women was not solely focused on ordination:
‘We dream that women may be more trusted, and their charisms used.’
‘We need to reflect on the power and gifts of women in the Church better.’
Unsurprisingly there was also some reflection on allowing married priests, developing in part out of the experience of seeing the overburdened nature of priests and the loneliness that people perceive. And whilst, potentially, that is shifting beyond the scope of our synodal conversations, it undoubtedly leads us to ask about what the Holy Spirit might be saying to support our priests?
LGBT people were also a focus as people discerned what the Spirit might be saying.
Overwhelmingly people of all ages shared of the dream of creating a Church where people feel genuinely included and valued whatever their sexual orientation.
Others went further and felt the Spirit of God might be moving us to explore a developed theology rooted in pastoral realities and recognising that LGBT+ people are a gift to the community, shifting Church language and making positive restoration for some of the hurt caused to LGBT+ people from discriminatory attitudes within the Church.
And also a recognition that we need to follow the Spirit’s prompting to ensure no one is left on the margins. This will mean practical solutions. As one school put it:
‘More accessible Masses to those who are deaf and visually impaired using sign language and screens; more forgiving, less judgemental; more home Masses; parish priest phoning people.’
4. Outreach and encounter
One parish discerned the need to move beyond the organised outreach that the Church is used to, outreach to the homeless, those in food poverty etc, to also consider how to reach out, include and value everyone in the midst of their lives:
How do we reach out to others, e.g. single mothers, those who struggle in daily life or those disaffected by the Church, ‘shy’ parishioners?
Inclusion and outreach to young people was also a stand-out area of discernment. There were some reflections on the need for professional youth workers and deacons to be paid to help, more youth socials, and more youth-friendly liturgies:
How can the parish create a framework to help young people to have an active role in the parish after Confirmation, so they don’t feel left out?
And also from our schools, reflecting on how, for them, the social teaching of the Church is a ‘hidden gem’ when working with young people. How could this be shared more?
Whilst our relationships with other Christian traditions and other faiths were celebrated in some synodal conversations, there is a clear desire for further growth in our collaboration, and in particular our responsibility to work for all Christians from all denominations to be united together:
Are we reaching out effectively to other local churches? Past and present efforts, including foodbanks, are fine, but what more could be done? Could we organise more inter-faith prayer groups, learn more about their outreach efforts, mirror more of their evangelisation?
And there was a sense that there is so much more possibility to extend the Church’s communion, participation and mission in our work for justice and social outreach:
The Holy Spirit is calling the Church to loudly, clearly, emphatically and repeatedly state that refugees are welcome in our parishes.
How do we engage with climate change and justice? How do we deal with the challenge that most people don’t know the rich moral resource of Catholic social teaching?
Pupils mentioned the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’ and said how they would like for the Pope to write more letters, particularly about the environment.
In summary, it might be useful to note how the word accompaniment and the image of walking together arose in the synodal sharing:
Be outward looking, accompanying those in difficulty with love but always bringing to them the joy and truth of our faith.
One way to summarise the discernment is to see how there were dreams of accompanying people in four different ways:
Accompanying people in life
The Church needs to be ‘walking with the people in the messiness of life’. Trusting in and knowing the presence of the Spirit in everyone, and valuing everyone without exception. Bringing people into a relationship with God … helping people discover how ‘God wants to be involved in every facet of their lives, wants them to be happy’.
Accompanying the parish community
To build a place of belonging, a home, with formation, education and accompaniment in developing co-responsibility for our common mission.
Accompanying the world in outreach
A Church which is poor and loves and ministers on the margins, ‘known, loved and perhaps hated for prioritising the poor and marginalised Church should be more prominent [in its] values and beliefs’.
Accompanying one another, continuing the synodal journey of encounter, listening and sharing
Building on this pathway and continuing to discern together the presence of the Spirit of God in our experience of journeying in the Church. And encountering others: other Christians, other faiths and the wider community, cultures, learning from others, and encountering God in one another.
The Southern Dioceses Environment Network were pleased to welcome Dr David Ko and Richard Busellato to our first online evening event, discussing their recently published book, ‘The Unsustainable Truth’, how investing for the future is destroying the planet.
Arising from over thirty years’ personal experience of the investment industry, Richard and David’s presentation forms a powerful contribution to the debate surrounding the ethics of investment and sustainability.
They demonstrate how, by seeking comfort and security, we end up with an economic system that exhausts our resources. Instead they propose a model of ‘Transformational Ownership’ to safely steward harmful resources to their end of life.
Their book has featured in The Tablet (22 January 2022) with a review by Sr Margaret Atkins and a feature article by Richard and David:
The event was hosted by Westminster Justice and Peace on behalf of the Southern Dioceses Environment Network, which meets monthly on Monday lunchtimes on the second Monday of the month for prayer, input, sharing and discussion, with occasional evening events on specialist topics.
The next meeting is:
Monday, 14th March 2022, 12.45-2.00pm: Nourishment for Lent
Huge concern over the loss of Biodiversity in the natural world and a call for Churches to engage with the issue was explored at an online talk on 17 February. It was organised by the Livesimply group of St John Vianney parish in West Green, Westminster Diocese, a Livesimply award-winning parish.
The speaker was eco-theologian Fr Sean McDonagh, who is now based in Ireland, but worked in the Philippines for two decades, particularly with the T’boli tribal people. His 2004 book, ‘The Death of Life,’ gave a prophetic warning about diminishing Biodiversity. Around 70 participants included parish priest Fr Joe Ryan and parishioners, representatives of the National Justice and Peace Network from other dioceses – including Clifton, Hexham and Newcastle, and Leeds – and some international friends from as far afield as Taiwan, Australia and the United States.
Fr Sean spoke of the international meeting in Kunming, China, in a few months’ time. This Conference of Parties (COP15) offers opportunities to make links between Biodiversity and issues raised in the Climate Change talks in Glasgow in November 2021 and with Pope Francis’ Encyclical entitled ‘Laudato Si – On Care for our Common Home’. It is hoped that strategies to stem the crisis of extinction will be devised.
Some countries which are poor economically and very susceptible to severe climate impacts are rich in species, such as the Philippines. Sean reported that Kew Gardens has information on 1.8 million species – but there could be 10 or 100 times that number, particularly in the world’s hotspots for diversity. Species are becoming extinct, largely because of habitat destruction, before they can be discovered. “We are living through the greatest extinction since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago,” he warned, “and the cause is human activity.” Sean presented chilling statistics: 24% of large animals currently face extinction and 30% of birds. Water ecosystems are threatened and oceans increasingly polluted. He highlighted how important biodiversity is to human food security and health, quite apart from the right of other species to survive, which is a concern highlighted in the latest statement of the Filipino bishops on Ecology two weeks ago.
Sean hoped COP15 would get the same publicity and support as the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow last November. He himself has engaged with the Irish government over its COP15 delegation and urged participants to dialogue with their own country representatives. Columban JPIC internationally is in talks with the UN coordinators and seeking accreditation to the meeting.
Sean called for Christian Churches to be sensitive to the challenge of mass extinction of species and to justice for future generations. Good stewardship is central to Christian tradition. “We need a pro-life theology” said Sean. He quoted the patron of the Columban missionaries, St Columban, who said, “if you wish to know the Creator, learn about Creation.” Laudato Si’ underlined this issue and its inclusion in Catholic Social Teaching in 2015. “The Church should be part of the debate,” he said.
Sean invited participants to look at issue of Biodiversity in the vicinity of their parishes and support environment and justice groups such as the RSPB and Birdwatch Ireland, which are protecting birds. On advocacy, he suggested challenging chemical agriculture. He also asked, “how can we live more simply?” and “how can we build a better understanding of the Seasons and Earth systems?” All this should link in with prayer and liturgy. He called on parishes and Catholic organisations to work though the Laudato Si’ encyclical and consider responses.
In the discussion, Colette Joyce of Westminster J&P reported that “for those who live in the South of England we have a Southern Dioceses Environment Network which meets monthly for prayer, input from speakers on a range of topics related to the care of creation, discussion and mutual support, with an accompanying monthly newsletter.” It is open to anyone and includes Diocesan and CAFOD staff as well as parishioners and clergy.
There was a general feeling that system change is needed in the area of economics and it would be great to see Church leaders speak out about this, as Pope Francis has done. Such structural change is needed to address both Biodiversity and the Climate Crisis. “We need to challenge an economic model based on relentless growth, consumption and profit” was one comment in the chat.
Daniel St Guillaume, Chair of the Livesimply group at West Green, chaired the meeting and reflected afterwards that the presentation, “reached an audience which may not have heard about Biodiversity and how it affects our daily lives.” He added that, “Fr Sean has encouraged us to go out and spread the word in our parishes.”
The Archbishop of Southwark, Most Rev John Wilson gave the following homily in St George’s Cathedral, Southwark during the Racial Justice Sunday Mass on 13 February 2022.
Dear brothers and sisters, I don’t know who is more excited about today – me or Father Victor. I hope we’re all a little bit excited about this great celebration of the Holy Mass, but also with a focus today on our unity in Christ, our oneness in Christ.
It is an absolute joy to be able to welcome you to our cathedral today. our cathedral. It belongs to all of us.
We are people of different nationalities, people of different heritage together and only together we form parts of that wonderful mosaic that God has created, which we call humanity, which in the church we call the body of Christ.
We are one in Christ and one with each other.
You are my brother and my sister. We are brothers and sisters of each other.
And so on this Sunday when we focus especially on racial justice, we give thanks first to Almighty God for the rich and beautiful diversity of peoples and cultures which make up our world which make up our communities which make up this Archdiocese. I am proud to be the Bishop of a diocese that is so diverse and so rich.
Today, we affirm and celebrate the gift of every human life. Every human life, from its first moment in conception to its natural end at death. When the Lord Jesus commanded us to love one another he made no exceptions.
And neither can we. Neither should we.
When the Lord Jesus speaks about God’s kingdom in the Gospel we heard today, he announces a radical inversion of values.
Those who are poor, hungry, sorrowful, those oppressed. Those who so often in our world, have no value and no voice. These are the ones who are great in the kingdom of God.
What an important lesson this is for us to learn and to keep learning for how we live, the weakest, the poorest, those the world thinks as nothing. These are the ones who are great in the kingdom.
Our archdiocese is marvellously diverse. People in our parishes and schools represent a rich variety of culture of ethnic and racial backgrounds, from every country across the world.
There is a place for everyone in our church. And if you don’t like that, there’s the door.
You might think I’m joking. I’m not – there is a place for everyone in our church.
The diversity that we are is a gift.
The Catechism teaches us every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language or religion must be eradicated as incompatible with God’s design, to put it straightforwardly racism is incompatible with our faith.
There is and they can not be any place for racism, no place. But our faith does more than this. Our faith calls it calls us to be prophetic in our world.
To speak out with the values of God’s Kingdom to challenge racism, to eliminate its causes to heal the wounds it brings. And we each of us my brothers and sisters have a place to play in this, by making sure we think of every other person as someone worthy of respect by holding the rights and the equality and the sanctity of every human life and it is with great joy that in our diocese, we established our commission for promoting racial and cultural inclusion with Father Victor as its Episcopal vicar and it’s already working. It’s already making a difference to our parishes and our schools to challenge racism in all its forms.
Dear friends, if we think that racism is a thing of the past, then suddenly we need to think again.
It’s a present reality in our communities.
I was shocked the year before last I met with a group of young women young students from a school in our diocese, and I was shocked to listen to their experience of racism.
Through comments through insults through slurs through discrimination, alive and present today.
Racism is not a thing of the past, and therefore we cannot be silent about it. We cannot be silent about its existence, and we cannot be silent about its causes.
We must unite in Christ with other people of goodwill. We must unite in Christ, to work for justice. To speak out for equality for every person no matter what the colour of their skin is, no matter what language they speak. No matter where they come from, no matter what they look like.
My friends, it is our mission to continue to make our parishes and schools places where the gifts and the skills and the experience and the heritage of all people of every background honoured and valued and cherished and celebrated.
We will work to make our parishes and communities places where everyone is welcome where everyone is affirmed where everyone is encouraged. Where everyone is respected for the person God has created them to be and the person God is calling them to be.
We have in our church some inspiring examples of people who have spoken out, spoken out against slavery and work to overcome the sufferings of those enslaved. I want to name just two today. There are many others we need to learn of them because they’re truly inspirational.
The first is perhaps more familiar to us.
Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese woman sold into slavery and eventually brought to Rome where she was cared for by a community of religious sisters.
And she developed her own Christian faith and joined a religious community. She was such an outstanding example of what it means to live the values of the kingdom that in the year 2000 She was made a saint – Saint Josephine Bakhita.
I think of someone perhaps very few of us maybe only one other in this church today will know the name of Sister Dorothy Stang.
An American Sister of Notre Dame, who was martyred 17 years ago yesterday, the 12th of February 2005.
Why was she martyred? Because she upheld the rights and the dignity of indigenous peoples in Brazil.
The voices of all those in our church who have defended and protected people of different racial and cultural backgrounds, those voices must be alive in us. They must be.
Are we one in Christ? nGive me some nodding heads please.
Are we one in Christ? We are one in Christ who is risen. Christ who is risen, who has overcome death, who has conquered sin and therefore we are people of hope. Are we not – people of hope? And as people as hope, one in Christ, we are committed to working side by side to consign racism to history.
And so, we pledge today, to continue journeying together into the future.