Thursday, 16 June 2016

Tribute to Theresa Helm - a valiant fighter for justice and peace

The news of the death of Theresa Helm will have saddened the many people who have known her over the years.

I have known Theresa for almost 20 years, though saw less of her in recent times. She was part of a group of people who came together and energised the mission of justice and peace in the Brentwood diocese and nationally during the 1990s and noughties.

Theresa was active in her justice and peace group in Hornchurch parish, together with Fran Marshall. Both then became more involved when they helped launch the justice and peace centre at Chigwell.

Fran left Chigwell but Theresa continued the valuable work there keeping the flame of justice and peace burning, long after others in the Brentwood diocese had packed up.

The Chigwell J&P centre became a hub of justice and peace work, hosting workshops and study days on issues like international debt, trade and aid, food security, globalisation, migration, child soldiers and human trafficking. The Chigwell sisters also supported the work of the National Justice and Peace Network.

Theresa was a keen advocate of training and formation of people. Much of the work at Chigwell has focused on formation over the years. Sadly, the need for formation of Catholics in the faith has never received the recognition it deserves. Theresa did her best but it was always an uphill struggle.

I remember doing a feature on the work of the centre for the Universe newspaper, focusing on Theresa and Fran. Being centred in Chigwell, the parallels were drawn with Birds of a Feather – it was never clear who mirrored which character, though we never had a Dorian.

Theresa worked closely for many years with then chair of the Brentwood J&P commission Kathy Piper, who died in 2013.

I also knew Theresa and her partner of many years Alex socially. They took me to the Gay Hussar restaurant in Soho for the first time. Alex being of Hungarian descent, seemed keen that night to try every drink in the place. A night never to be forgotten.

We also used to go to Lee Hurst’s comedy club at Bethnal Green, seeing the different comedians along with several drinks and a kebab later on.

Another occasion was a few years ago when I met up with Theresa and Alex at the British Beer festival at Olympia. I got in with my press pass, receiving a free drink to boot. It took much effort on my part to explain that if I’d had to pay it would have affected my objectivity as a journalist.

Theresa and Alex though were keen beer festival attenders. They were staying in a hotel that time for the whole four days of the event. They visited other festivals around the country, including Whitstable.    
Theresa battled and overcame against cancer but last year the disease returned. Sadly Theresa has left us now. The world will be a lesser place for her loss, always up for a laugh but also a serious person whose abilities and intellectual integrity did not get the proper recognition they deserved.  RIP Theresa.

*Funeral will take place at 1.15 on Tuesday 21st June 2016 at Chigwell Convent Chapel  

- published Independent Catholic News - 20th June 2016/ Universe - 26/6/2016

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