Faith, hope, charity and solidarity: CAFOD’s 50 years

Michael Walsh

CAFOD Westminster office volunteer Michael Walsh gives his account of this year’s Pope Paul VI Memorial Lecture:

“The beginning of Advent, looking towards the Second Coming and the Last Judgement, is a good time to reflect on the achievements and defeats of the year and this year, CAFOD’s fiftieth, to review its work and new challenges. To mark the anniversary, the annual CAFOD Pope Paul VI Memorial lecture on November 9 took a new turn this year with substantial contributions from six people. Catherine Pepinster, Editor of The Tablet, which has sponsored the event for many years, chaired the meeting, Chris Bain, CAFOD Director, introduced a video about CAFOD’s work and took part in the discussion, and Bishop John Arnold sent the sizeable audience away happy with the news that CAFOD’s ability to do good in the world had been enhanced by raising the greatest total so far.  However, he reminded us all that there was no room for complacency: the challenges were changing, not diminishing.

How many people in 1962 could have imagined that CAFOD would raise £61 million this year? How many would have thought that today CAFOD and other development agencies still need to address the needs of more than eight hundred million people without sufficient food to live a decent life? The three guest speakers provided valuable insights into this challenge and others.

Rosamund Urwin, a columnist working for the Evening Standard and a broadcaster, expressed delight at the youthfulness of many of the CAFOD staff and volunteers but spoke frankly about the obstacles in the media – generally allergic to good news – to reporting and commenting on the successes of charities with a religious basis. CAFOD in particular was perceived as excluding non-Christians, even though its projects helped people in need of all faiths and none. She suggested that CAFOD might raise its profile among the wider public by providing fresh research as often as possible as well as comments on stories of interest to the media. In addition, CAFOD should use the new media, especially Twitter, as widely as possible.

Fr Joe Komakoma – a CAFOD partner in Zambia – stressed the need for perseverance and for hope in a world of social justice and dignity, a message he brought to CAFOD’s Hungry for Change launch the following day. In Zambia the bishops made much of Catholic Social Teaching, raising their voices for justice and – shoulder to shoulder with CAFOD – making the most of the Jubilee 2000 Campaign for the cancellation of debt in the global south. The poorest communities had benefited most from the resulting enhanced economic growth through progress in health and education but globally the gap between rich and poor was growing ever wider and our Catholic faith required us to take up the challenge to forge ahead to social justice.

John Battle, a former minister in Labour governments, took up the theme of faith and the need for international solidarity.  He talked about the tension between solidarity and another pillar of Catholic Social Teaching – subsidiarity – which requires that to the maximum extent possible decisions should be taken by the people affected by them and revealed that his own parish in Yorkshire was lively and innovative in projecting CAFOD as a force for good, not least in aiding individuals’ spiritual development. But the global nature of the present problems of poverty and injustice and structures of sin required a new united response of solidarity from governments and international institutions.  In calling on Catholics to show solidarity by backing CAFOD’s campaigning work to influence central national policies, he quoted from Miracle by Seamus Heaney. The poem focuses on the faith-driven men in St Mark’s Gospel who broke through the roof of the house in which Jesus was teaching and lowered their paralytic friend down so that he might be healed.

‘Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in— …
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.’

The panel of speakers, from left to right: John Battle, Fr Joe Komakoma, Chair Catherine Pepinster, Rosamund Urwin and CAFOD Director Chris Bain

The panel of speakers, from left to right: John Battle, Fr Joe Komakoma, Chair Catherine Pepinster, Rosamund Urwin and CAFOD Director Chris Bain

Concluding comments by the speakers neatly summed up the ideas of the speakers about the most pressing needs of the world at the end of 2012. When they were asked what they would like CAFOD’s 50th anniversary present to be, Chris Bain, who earlier had reaffirmed faith in the United Nations as the forum to build international cooperation, called for  an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions.  John Battle praised the liturgical materials prepared by CAFOD and asked for additional resources to provide them to parishes. Fr Joe asked for hope to sustain its work.

The meeting also provided an opportunity to pray for three great supporters – recalled with great affection by CAFOD in the Westminster Diocese – who died in September. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in an address in Westminster Cathedral in 1997 linked CAFOD’s foundation and work with OXFAM and the nation’s stance alone in the world in 1940 and 1941 against tyranny and oppression as great contributions by Britain to peace and justice.  Mildred Nevile made an outstanding contribution to the development of CAFOD and of the Catholic Institute for International Relations – now Progressio – and Joan Angland laboured faithfully locally in CAFOD’s vineyard for many years as a schools volunteer across the Westminster Diocese. They and many other supporters who have died provide the rest of us with inspiring examples of solidarity, hope, and courageous commitment in bringing forward God’s Kingdom.”

If you are interested in getting involved with CAFOD, or would like to gain a greater insight into CAFOD’s work, come to Understanding CAFOD Day on Saturday 26 January. The workshop will run between 9.30am and 4pm at Amigo Hall (next to St. George’s Cathedral), 55 Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 6HU. To book a place, contact CAFOD Westminster by phone on 0208 449 6970 or by email at westminster@cafod.org.uk.

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