Justice and Peace activists from at least 14 dioceses, plus representatives of Catholic agencies and religious orders gathered at CAFOD's London office last Saturday to celebrate the 40th anniversary celebration of the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN).
The day involved looking back at highlights over four decades, planning for the future and sharing a cake with the J&P logo in icing. It also celebrated the likely canonisation of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a patron of NJPN, in October.
Phil Kerton of Southwark J&P, and a former national chair, gave a presentation on the history of NJPN. In 1970 the Synod of Bishops on 'Justice in the World' stated that, "Justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel" and underlined that that education for Justice was important. Leeds was the first diocese to form a J&P Commission and others had followed by the time the diocesan groups were brought together by the Bishops Conference of England and Wales for the first time. This was done through the Commission for International Justice and Peace (CIJP) in liaison with individual dioceses. The National Pastoral Congress of 1980 recommended the employment of diocesan J&P workers. In 1981, diocesan representatives set up what became the "National Standing Conference of Diocesan J&P Groups", later the National Liaison Committee of diocesan J&P groups.
Now called the National Justice and Peace Network it brings 300-400 people together every July for a national conference. Quarterly meetings, a website and a regular newsletter are organised. The last is sent out with the Justice and Peace mailing of the Columban missionaries to around 8,000 people. It raises awareness of J&P as central to the life of the Church, inspired by the Gospels, Church's Social Teaching and the signs of the times.
The current chair is Anne Peacey, who said on Saturday that, "many wonderful individuals and groups are part of the NJPN story". In a three-year programme leading up to the Millennium and based on the Pope's 'The Coming of the Third Millennium' Cardinal Roger Etchegaray came from Rome and spoke about the Vatican's call, in the Jubilee tradition, for the cancellation of international debt for countries of the global south and this inspired us to join the international collaboration to make it happen. Amongst Saturday's participants were long-time J&P activists, including Pat Gaffney and Bruce Kent of Pax Christi, Julian Filochowski of the Archbishop Romero Trust, Maria Elena Arana of CAFOD, Bernard Shaw of East Anglia Diocese, Phil Kerton of Southwark Diocese and Barbara Kentish of Westminster. Religious orders were thanked for their support over the decades, especially the Columbans and Mill Hill Fathers. Members of the Africa Faith and Justice Network and JPIC-LINKS, representing 120 religious orders, are involved today.
Eco-theologian Sean McDonagh was a speaker in 2005, when the conference focused on Creation for the first time and brought in the theme of justice for future generations. It followed on closely from 'Make Poverty History' in Edinburgh, which many NJPN people also attended. 'Our Daily Bread - Food Security, People and Planet' in 2010 attracted 400 people. Last year's conference focused on 'A Sabbath for the Earth and the Poor' picking up on Laudato Si's environmental theme. Pope Francis' theme of "ecological conversion" has been picked up by J&P people.
Excellent work is underway at grassroots level by Justice and Peace activists, although few dioceses have paid workers. Diocesan J&P people can be found writing Diocesan Environmental Policies, highlighting the dangers of nuclear weapons, challenging fracking and supporting migrants. NJPN members support CAFOD Campaigns, Pax Christi's Peace Sunday work, Operation Noah's campaign to encourage disinvestment from fossil fuels, and many other initiatives. Joan Sharples, a former J&P worker in Shrewsbury Diocese, facilitated a session looking to the future where ideas included education work on the UN Charter and using new media more effectively. All wanted more resources and support to be given to J&P work at national and diocesan level.
Anna and Eleanor Marshall from Chesterfield, who are still at school, spoke about making 'pockets for peace' after meeting Pat Gaffney and deciding to raise money for Pax Christi. They have enjoyed their involvement with NJPN conferences and said at one of them they learnt about toilet twinning, a charity that twins toilets and teaches about the importance of sanitation. The initiative was brought back to their school. They said that as young people, "we feel appreciated and appreciate everyone in the NJPN and we've been given so many opportunities - one year, we were invited to speak at the conference".
This year's NJPN conference 20-22 July takes as its theme, "In the shelter of each other the people live" and bookings are being taken at the moment. Speakers include Sarah Teather, Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service and David McLoughlin, Senior lecturer in Theology at Newman University.
For more information see: www.justice-and-peace.org.uk/conference/
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