Parishes are "schools of formation" to educate Catholics to be missionary disciples in the world, according to a Columban priest speaking at last weekend's annual assembly of the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN). Fr Ed O'Connell, who returned from parish work in Peru to address the conference, urged British Christians to be active in civil society, bringing life and hope to a world plagued by injustice and violence. He stressed the importance of the Justice and Peace networks at national and diocesan level in Britain for building caring parish communities, dialoguing with other denominations and tackling issues such as Trade, Peacemaking, Ecology, Impact of HIV, Racism and Migration. His own parish, amidst the shanty towns of Lima, has 50,000 parishioners, organised into local Christian communities which run social justice, health and youth programmes. The parishioners reflect on the Scriptures and life of Jesus and then apply the values they find to the struggles experienced and witnessed in their everyday lives. The role of the church in tackling injustice and violence in the world today was the theme of the 26th annual gathering of more than 350 Justice and Peace activists from the 22 Catholic dioceses of England and Wales, 16-18 July. The Conference, organised by the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton in collaboration with the NJPN, took place at Swanwick in Derbyshire under the title: "Bringing forth the Kingdom: Love and Justice in a Broken World". Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton accompanied the participants from his diocese. Fr John Fuellenbach, a Divine Word priest who lectures at the Gregorian University in Rome, was another speaker suggesting that the theological concept of 'Kingdom of God' refers to the world and not just the church. He described Jesus as "a man of the market place" and called for Christians "to make sure you catch the allergy of Jesus to any kind of discrimination". He said any Christian community must demonstrate compassion and a thirst for justice, suggesting that the sacrament of Baptism "is no ticket to heaven" but a "sacrament of mission". This was echoed by Bishop Kieran Conry who described the conference was "a useful reminder that although we have focused traditionally on sacramental life and put the emphasis on personal salvation the fundamental mission of the church is to go out and preach". The message is "that God loves all of us equally". Balloons of prejudice were burst and skittles of "Poverty", "Homelessness" and "War" knocked down in a "Global Village Fete. Workshops ranged from exploring the conditions of workers in export processing zones in Mexico to hearing the unhappy experiences of asylum seekers in Britain and finding out about the Living Wage campaign of Church Action on Poverty. The NJPN is developing a strategic plan over the year ahead to secure adequate funds to improve its structures and outreach at national and diocesan level. A presentation of a cloth made by a womens' cooperative in Peru was made during the weekend to Rosemary Read, the former National Fieldworker, whose post was recently discontinued due to lack of funding.
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