Many Catholics have wondered in the weeks running up to the Pope's visit whether they live in a foreign land. The negative tone in much of the media, seeking to put all Catholics under one easy to fit label as at best strange and worst deranged has caused much discomfort.
The constant highlighting of the cost of the state visit - Catholics do pay taxes too by the way - has been blown up out of all proportion. There are millions of Catholics who do contribute quite a lot to the welfare of this society.
Take the case of Kerry Norridge who will speak at the vigil in Hyde Park with the Pope. Brought up in a stable family in Oxford, he fell into the drug culture during his teenage years and was a heroine addict by the age of 20.
Kerry cut off from his family and did various jobs, like selling the Big Issue, just to pay for the drugs. “I was running away, never dealing with> the issue. It got dark and lonely and I felt very isolated,” said Kerry.
A fellow hostel dweller encouraged him to go to Narcotics Anonymous and it was from there that the long road to recovery began.
Following rehabilitation he went to the Cardinal Hume Centre (CHC), where he stayed in one of the hostels and got help with employment and life skills. “This was a fantastic move for me, they are positively focused at getting people into a meaningful life,” said Kerry, who is now living independently in a flat in north London and doing a drama course to become an actor.
It is this type of work done by the CHC that is the kind of Catholic social action that the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens never mention when attacking the Church.
The work that goes on quietely in the back streets, based on the Benedictine ethos that all are welcome and no one will be judged. The CHC give their help unconditionally so as to get people back on their feet and back into mainstream society.
As well as homeless hostels the centre has an employment team, family centre, immigration advice service, English classes and adult education.
There are many Catholic orientated organisations doing the work of social justice across Britain. In the area of homelessness there is Housing Justice and the De Paul Trust.
Both work with the homeless and advocate for this group of vulnerable people. Alison Gelder, chief executive at Housing Justice, and Cathy Corcoran, her counterpart at the CHC, both warned recently of the level of suffering that will be caused by the Coalition Government’s plans to cut housing benefit.
The De Paul Trust is also involved in work with prisoners, where the Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) also fulfil an important advocacy role.
PACT have developed a mentoring system that helps prisoners to have a better chance of not re-offending when they get out of prison. The support of family and friends has proved crucial in keeping prisoners away from crime once released.
Overseas there is the work of CAFOD and Progressio. CAFOD has become one of the most effective humanitarian agencies in the land, responding quickly to disasters like the Pakistan floods and Tsunami in South East Asia. The success of CAFOD comes from its ability to plug in directly to the generosity of the Catholic community, with most of its funding coming from that source.
CAFOD also run excellent projects across the world giving people and communities the chance to live dignified lives. Many of these projects> follow a similar ethos to CHC, only in an overseas context.
Progressio has been a visionery organisation over the years, often reading the signs of the times well ahead of others, who boast far greater resources. Most recently this has involved pointing out the injustices of some of the actions taken by big corporations seeking to get control of seed> stocks and the food chain via GM production.
Then there are the faith schools. Whilst fundamentalist secularists campaign> against these institutions many non-believers in the real world clamour to get their children in due to the ethos and good academic records.
These are just a few examples of the Catholic Church engaged and involved in a very practical way at home and abroad. It is a massive contribution to the> welfare of society. It is important that this work is recognised and not lost amid the desire of some fundamentalist secularists to portray the Church as sex obsessed and irrelevant