Wednesday, 27 July 2016

What is the future for justice and peace at parish level?

Justice and Peace activists gathered at the Hayes centre in Swanwick a couple of weeks ago for their annual conference with the topical subject of democracy up for discussion.
The event has been organised by the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) for the past 38 years, bringing together activists from across the country. There are usually around 300 attending with activities for children provided during the weekend. However, one subject that strangely never comes up for debate is what is the future of justice and peace in this country?
We have been reminded of the fragility of the movement, with the recent passing of Theresa Helm, the director of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary’s centre for Justice and Peace in Chigwell, Essex. Theresa had been director of the centre since 2007, working together with Fran Marshall prior to that since 1997. Both women progressed to full time work for justice and peace in the Brentwood diocese from a parish group in Hornchurch, Essex.
Many other people over the years have followed a similar path, starting doing their bit in the parish before progressing on to work full time on some aspect of the work. Former chair of Brentwood J&P Commission Kathy Piper, who died in 2013, was another who followed a similar root.
In her case going from a parish group to work for what was then the Catholic Institute for International Relations, prior to returning to work for the Brentwood Commission after leaving CIIR. Former Labour MP John Battle has trod a similar path, beginning in grassroots justice and peace – he has returned to that work now with the Leeds J&P Commission.
The question today, as some of these outstanding individuals leave us is where are their replacements coming from?  Justice and Peace is becoming a threadbare movement in the Church. Many parishes these days don’t have J&P groups, with parish priests generally far more comfortable with charitable based enterprises than those that seek to educate and question structural injustice. CAFOD has not helped matters, largely negating its role in education and formation for justice and peace across the country in favour of becoming simply a charitable aid provider.
Previously, CAFOD had played a major role in the sustenance of the J&P network, funding workers, NJPN and work in parishes. The previous visionary director Julian Filochowski saw the value of this network which would become a basis of support for CAFOD across the country, entrenched in the parishes and diocese.
NJPN and the justice and peace movement has continued to struggle on. Many expected that with the arrival of Pope Francis with his social justice message that this might renew and revive justice and peace. However, it does not seem to be the case. The movement has aged, with little new blood coming through.
The lack of formation amongst clergy and laity on justice and peace has stopped the spread of the teachings across the Church at grass roots level. The problem recently became crystal clear to me when I met a couple who had given fantastic support to my mum over her final years. They had visited her weekly, helped out with trips to the hospital and generally made life more bearable.
They continue to do fantastic work, with the SVP and others, in the Church. The charitable nature of their lives cannot be faulted. However, sit down with them and talk about any major issue of the day, whether it be migration, multiculturalism or the economy and the line will not resonate with the social teachings of the Church. Indeed, some would think their views the exact opposite. They have very little formation in the social teachings of the Church. Or to put it another way, without wanting to sound too patronising, they have not grown up in the faith. They are workers for charity not justice.
The recent meeting with this couple just reminded me of the massive job of work of formation in social justice that still needs to be done. Many of the people attending mass on a weekly basis do not know the social teachings of the Church. Some of those who do, go outside Church structures to fulfil this aspect of their faith. Certainly younger people on the whole do not seek to do social justice within a parish context.
There are big questions over what is going on with formation at all levels of life, from child to adult. We have established there is a lack of formation at adult level but what is happening with the schools? Are they providing any formation in social justice or is it still all orientated toward the exam factory model?
The fate of justice and peace and formation in the social justice teachings of the Church is an issue that has been kicking around for some years now.

There are variants on the justice and peace theme like community organising but they do not really address the question of formation in the faith. There are centres doing formation work across the country, which is an excellent development, but what of the grass roots at parish level?  These roots are being left to wither and die.
There is probably the need for a new model of justice and peace formation, since the present approach dates back to the 1960s. What is for sure is that there needs to be some significant effort made to breath new life into this work at grass roots level.
The social justice teachings are the lifeblood of the Church, a failure to pursue them is a crucial failing in the faith. Something needs to be done to revive the work of social justice at grass roots level across the Church. Otherwise where does the future lie, where will the next Theresa Helm, Kathy Piper or John Battle come from?
* Roads to justice and peace - published 30/7/2016 - the Tablet


  1. This is very depressing reading - maybe a discussion on solutions would be more helpful. there is great work being done in catholic schools and the social justice sector is growing - where are the good examples you mention


  2. Do you think it is depressing because it prompts us to look at our selves and question what we do and what Theresa Helm, kathy Piper, John Battle and others have done ?


  3. Do you think it is depressing because it prompts us to look at our selves and question what we do and what Theresa Helm, kathy Piper, John Battle and others have done ?

  4. I have recently returned to the role of Justice and Peace Fieldworker for Nottingham Diocese, after an absence of two years. I echo Paul's thoughts in that, in ours, the largest diocese in England and Wales, there seems to have been no progress on the continuation of JP in the time I have been away. One of the priorities I have suggested to the Nottingham JP Commission is that we need to construct a formation programme on CST for clergy and laity. One module on the CCRS course only scratches the surface, and a full programme of training is what is needed. The new Bishop of Nottingham Rt Rev Patrick McKinney appears to have training very close to his heart, so my own hope is that Nottm diocese could be at the forefront of designing such a programme. What we need are partners with expertise to help us to do this.