Rt Rev Terence Drainey, Bishop of Middlesbrough and Chair of Caritas Social Action Network, launched a major new report: Abide in Me yesterday, at the Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) annual reception in the Houses of Parliament yesterday, hosted by Lord Browne.
Among the attendees was the Archbishop of Southwark Most Rev Peter Smith, the Bishop of Salford Rt Rev John Arnold, together with MPs and representatives from many organisations and dioceses that are part of CSAN.
The report is the result of a pioneering collaboration between the national team of CSAN and the ecumenical Centre for Theology and Community, with its strong local connections in East London. Abide in Me addresses the underlying causes of the crisis, through fresh theological reflection, and in conversation with people living in different housing situations, charities and experts in various fields. Among the causes of the current crisis highlighted are the common treatment of housing and land as financial assets, and strong links between modern housing development and increased social isolation. The report emphasises the need for the Government and all citizens to address the concentration of the power for change in the state and markets. A more sustainable approach would favour more authentic community participation in decisions that affect the shape of the places we live in.
The report urges co-ordinated action on housing challenges in England and Wales from 2018-30, at local, regional and national levels in the social mission of the Church. The twelve-year timescale is aligned with international Catholic Church engagement on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It reflects the need for a long-term approach to deep social and economic roots of the crisis.
In his address, Bishop Drainey said: "For Christians, a crisis is an opportunity. It nudges us to renew our mission in our own time and place, to be confident in entering on what might be a long haul, and to learn to love with fewer conditions. In that light, we are compelled to ask ourselves: 'What more can Catholic social thought and action contribute on housing?' With the bishops' support, CSAN's national team and the ecumenical Centre for Theology and Community (CTC) have been addressing that question together in some depth.
Bishop Drainey called on politicians to use their influence in reforming housing, planning and land regulation, to be at the service of promoting human dignity, participation and solidarity in communities, for the long term. He encouraged politicians to give greater preference to housing developments that are community-owned and led, and to tackle practices in public sector contracting that were reducing the agency of local people:
"Charities that have deep social connections in local neighbourhoods have been increasingly forced to compete for public funds, often for short-term payments with more strings attached, and against larger, remote organisations. This further erodes trust and participation in communities, and the priority of labour over capital. I encourage you to take further measures that support local enterprise and the long-term future of local amenities."
Canon Dr Angus Ritchie from the CTC said usually it is people with a voice that speak up for the homeless. Too often poor people have no voice. But this new project is giving homeless people a chance to speak. Dr Ritchie pointed out that Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have both said on many many occasions that is in our encounters with the poor that we meet God.
Maria Nyman, incoming CEO of Caritas Europa also welcomed the report.Praising the work of CSAN she said she hoped all the dioceses of England and Wales would join in the next few years.
In conjunction with the report, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have issued an open letter to senior leaders in Catholic charities and related institutions. The bishops encourage these leaders to work together, making renewed action on the housing crisis in these parts of the UK a shared priority within the Church's social mission.
While there have been earlier reports on homelessness from the Bishops' Conference, Abide in Me is believed to be the first dedicated mainly to housing, planning and land.
A second report was also launched yesterday. Realities are Greater than Ideas is a new CTC report on Evangelisation, Catholicism and Community Organising. Written by Dunstan Rodrigues, with essays by Prof Anna Rowlands and CTC Director Angus Ritchie, it combines stories from churches and chaplaincies with reflection on Catholic social teaching.
The report was funded by CSAN and the Catholic Diocese of Brentwood. CSAN Chief Executive Phil McCarthy welcomed the report as "a timely contribution to national debates on what it means to be a 'Church of the poor', and how Catholics can best address powerful systems that can increase or reduce division in our society." He said that CSAN "have been pleased to support CTC in reflecting on how a process of community organising, in this case with Citizens UK, can shape Christians who, as Pope Francis yearns, are on the streets and not clinging to their own security."
Steve Webb, Development Director in the Diocese of Brentwood said: "The Church sets before the world the ideal of a civilisation of love and this report will help many to turn the ideal into a local reality. Working together as a Catholic community in the wider community will achieve more than acting alone. As we seek to discover new ways to evangelise our diocese, we express our gratitude to the authors for providing materials that will foster (one to one) conversation and lead to action for the common good."
Abide in Me can be downloaded from CSAN's website - www.csan.org.uk
Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) - www.csan.org.uk/about-csan/
Centre for Theology and Community (CTC) - www.theology-centre.org
Realities are Greater than Ideas can be downloaded from - www.theology-centre.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Realities-are-Greater-than-Ideas.pdf
See more pictures from the reception, taken by Marcin Mazur from the Bishops Conference: www.flickr.com/photos/catholicism/44158470950/in/photostream/
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