The National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales held its 22nd Annual Conference at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire on 28-30 July. With representation from all 22 Catholic dioceses of England and Wales and Catholic agencies involved in social justice work, it was attended by 290 adults and 65 children. It was organised by the Shrewsbury Diocese Justice and Peace Commission. The title was 'Sharing the Feast of Life'. The conference marked the final stage in the Network's five year Millennium journey, exploring the themes in the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, 'The Coming of the Third Millennium'. Since the year 2000 is the year of the International Eucharistic Congress and the celebration of the Great Jubilee, participants explored the implications of the concept of the Eucharist, not merely for Catholics or Christians but for the whole of humanity as part of God's creation. Joseph (Sjef) Donders, a Dutch priest of the Missionaries of Africa, who worked for many years at the University of Nairobi and is currently a professor at the Washington Theological Union, described the Eucharist as a point of arrival and also a point of departure; that people should leave the Church after the Eucharist on a mission to the world. The workshops at the conference examined the issues dominating that mission. A workshop titled 'The Jubilee Summit and Debt Cancellation', run by CAFOD staff and Fr Joe Komakoma from Zambia, examined the failure of G8 leaders in Okinawa the previous weekend to cancel the 100 billion dollars worth of debt promised at the G8 meeting in Cologne in 1999. It was suggested that campaigners contact their MPs and the Prime Minister Tony Blair to register disappointment and continue the call for cancellation so that poor people have the chance to begin again, as demanded by Jubilee legislation in the bible. A workshop on arms led by staff of Campaign Against Arms Trade suggested that God's 'feast' was replaced by bloodshed as arms are distributed to poor countries instead of food. An Anglican priest, Tim Gorringe, who has taught theology in India for seven years, and is the author of numerous books including 'The Sign of Love: Reflections on the Eucharist', focussed on social and ecological justice. He suggested that highly industrialised countries such as Britain are "wedded" to a global economy which idolises growth and the heavy consumption of resources. The increasing pressure worldwide on reserves of fresh water, the depletion of fish stocks and deforestation linked to international debt should challenge people to work towards an "economy of sharing". He warned western societies that "if we pursue a consumer economy then ecological forces will dismantle it savagely". Pauline Chakkalakal, a religious sister and member of the Daughters of St Paul based in Bangalore, India, examined the Eucharist from an Asian perspective. She said that "where Church doctrine divides us, Jesus Christ unites us" and called for the Eucharistic community to be more inclusive. Rosemary Read, the national Jubilee justice and peace worker, said that good practice would involve reaching out to marginalised groups such as asylum seekers and considering ways of being more inclusive to disabled people in our parishes. The main celebrant in the final Mass was Jesuit priest Frank Turner, assistant general secretary of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. He too felt that the sharing of a meal at Eucharistic celebrations challenges all Christians to work towards a just distribution of the world's resources. This will involve prayer, a just lifestyle and action to identify and combat injustice. The National Justice and Peace Network can be contacted through Maureen Matthews on 0161 449 8907.
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