Monday, 13 February 2012

Congratulations to CAFOD on 50 years but don't lose the prophetic voice

CAFOD recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a mass at Westminster Cathedral.
It is a truly great achievement to have built such an effective aid agency right up from grass roots action.
It was back in the early 1960s that four women, Jacquie Stuyt, Elspeth Orchard, Evelyn White and Nora Warmington came together around the idea of family fast. Then general secretary of the Catholic Institute for International Relations Margaret Feeny, as part of her work for the Freedom from Hunger campaign, called together the Catholic agencies to look at what could be done. It was from these initiatives that CAFOD was formed.
Today the organisation has grown to the point where it has an income of £55 million a year (£37.5 million from supporters and £17.8 million from institutions) and employs more than 200 people.
The high regard with which CAFOD is held was reflected a couple of days after the anniversary mass when the Department for International Development (DFID) appointed it as one of the agencies prequalified to receive international funds when an humanitarian crisis strikes. “I was particularly impressed by your organisation’s ability to respond to a whole range of humanitarian emergencies, save lives and alleviate suffering of affected people through a team of dedicated professionals often working in dangerous or high risk environments,” said Andrew Mitchell, the secretary of state for international development.
CAFOD also has a high reputation internationally in the Church and beyond as part of the Caritas network. It is a hugely successful Church organisation from which many others could learn.
CAFOD has largely been the guiding star for those involved in social justice work in England and Wales. There were so many people present at the anniversary mass who recalled being brought into the work of social justice as a result of their initial involvement with CAFOD.
In the 1980s, under the visionary leadership of then director Julian Filochowski, the organisation expanded significantly not only providing funds to support overseas projects but also playing a prophetic role at home and abroad. It was particularly inspired by the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador in 1980 and worked with liberation theologians in Latin America. Dom Helder Camara was a key partner. In South Africa, that stalwart opponent of apartheid Archbishop Denis Hurley was another close confidante. So the organisation was directly involved in the liberation struggles.
At home this activism was fired by a growing justice and peace network directly supported and funded by CAFOD. The aid agency part-funded workers and commissions in many dioceses as well as the National Justice and Peace Network.
From the late 1970s CAFOD put huge resources into development education and the processes of formation across the diocese of England and Wales. This investment in people paid dividends creating a network of committed campaigners following gospel values in working for social justice.
So where is the organisation today? It has grown yes, it is respected by government and people across the globe. This increases the opportunity to put the side of the poor at the top tables. It is a trailblazer in many ways, Take for example the new building next to Southwark Cathedral that has been designed for its environmental sustainability - a real case of not just talking the talk but walking the walk.
But is it as prophetic an organisation as it once was? There is no doubt much work going on around the world. There has been good interfaith work but could CAFOD be said to have become more an organisation of maintenance than mission?
There has been a perception amongst some that CAFOD has become too much to resemble a small to medium term business, focused on growing the brand with fundraising taking precedence over all else.
What of the formation work? CAFOD still does great education work with schools and youth. It also has an effective campaigning arm but it doesn’t do the formation work with adults that it used to do.
CAFOD managers would no doubt claim the world has changed and rightly so. There is the internet, email campaigns etc but there may also be a certain complacency. The grassroots network that makes CAFOD such an effective campaigning organisation did not happen by accident. It largely came about due to the formation processes of past years, through the work of development education and the justice and peace networks. It should not be taken for granted. It is a network that if not nurtured and encouraged with new blood could eventually wither and die. Without this network, CAFOD and the Church as a whole will lose a vital resource.
It is this root in the Church communities that means it is able to retain an independent voice to government and beyond (67% of funding comes from supporters). Losing that base would threaten the very ethos of CAFOD threatening to make it just another charity dependent on highly paid fundraisers and public relations staff deploying mail shots.
So congratulations to CAFOD on its 50th anniversary and good luck for the coming years. Long may your excellent work continue, just be sure though not to head so far down the corporate path. CAFOD is always best when prophetic, fulfilling the role of mission rather than maintenance in the world

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