Justice and Peace fieldworkers and activists from dioceses including Arundel and Brighton, Birmingham, Clifton, Hallam, Liverpool, Lancaster, Nottingham, Southwark and Westminster gathered in London on Saturday for the AGM of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales (NJPN). They were joined by religious, such as the Columbans, and organisations including the Archbishop Romero Trust, Pax Christi and Green Christian. Proceedings were halted twice by two severe hailstorms that loudly battered the glass roof overhead!
They heard a report from Chair Anne Peacey, whose term as NJPN chair has come to an end. She was warmly thanked for her support of the work of NJPN and her activism in Hallam Diocese, including a recent diocesan day there on Laudato Si'. This year's national conference at Swanwick in July, 'Forgotten People, Forgotten Places' is expected to be the latest in this successful annual gathering. Support of the Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool last Autumn and a number of diocesan days pushing Environmental Policies were highlighted. The regular NJPN newsletter, Universe column and good links with the Independent Catholic News website were mentioned, and the work of NJPN's working groups. Ann Kelly, who retired this year as NJPN administrator was thanked, and all funding partners who support NJPN, including religious orders and individuals who have signed up as members, paying an annual fee.
Barbara Kentish, who is stepping down as the fieldworker for Westminster Justice and Peace after 12 years, provided a gripping account of her work over this time. A dynamic working relationship with the Chair of the J&P Commission, Fr Joe Ryan, and their shared vision of what Justice and Peace embodies, raised the profile of J&P in the diocese. She lamented that Fr Joe has often "ploughed a lone furrow among the clergy" but fondly remembered the late Bishop James O'Brien who publicly urged every parish to have a J&P group.
Over the years, Westminster J&P's 'annual days' have become a mainstay and, recently, these have included a focus on climate change, fair trade and migration among others. Eco-theologian Sean McDonagh has led several days on themes in Laudato Si'. The Commission supports Pax Christi, particularly the annual Ash Wednesday Service of Repentance at the Ministry of Defence, and the Advent Carol Service. Just last week the Commission supported peace campaigners at Westminster Abbey holding a peaceful protest outside a service celebrating Britain's nuclear weapons. There is a hope to have an annual day on the eradication of nuclear weapons at some point in the future.
Barbara fondly recounted the Cycle Ride to Paris in the lead up to the United Nations Climate talks in Paris in 2015. The group were most inspiring people to pilgrim with, and a crescendo being taking part in the ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral to lobby the international delegates to come up with a Climate Agreement, which they did, and speak to delegates directly. There is a forthcoming day at Dover on 20 June to express solidarity with migrants, particularly those living in squalid camps in the Calais area. Barbara has been a keen supporter of CAFOD's Live simply campaign and is delighted that the Westminster Diocese has six Live simply parishes.
Barbara introduced her successor as Westminster J&P worker, Martha Behan. She has been working with Caritas and the Communications office in the diocese and is looking forward to taking up the appointment and is very enthusiastic about the challenge. She was warmly welcomed by all. Barbara hoped more J&P groups would be formed in parishes and that Fairtrade would be embraced by all parishes.
Other issues raised and discussed included NJPN's relationship with Caritas, which is perceived as being well resourced and supported by the bishops, and clericalism which hinders support for lay-led initiatives such as NJPN. Peace campaigner Bruce Kent lamented the silence from bishops regarding huge government spending on nuclear weapons. Paul Bodenham of Green Christian felt energy should go towards nourishing J&P opportunities that are apparent everywhere and to work ecumenically where possible, perhaps with Together for the Common Good on formation work. Flagged up were Pax Christi's AGM in London next Saturday, the 26 June political lobby at Westminster on the Climate Crisis, and November's visit to El Salvador, organised by the Archbishop Romero Trust.
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