CSAN Blog

‘A Kingdom of justice, love and peace’ – The Eucharist and social justice

  

By Dr Philip McCarthy, Chief Executive, Caritas Social Action Network

When I was asked to speak on ‘how the Eucharist changes the way we can see the world and the demands it makes on how we should live’, my mind went back to an early experience. When I was 16 a Marist priest who taught at my school asked for volunteers for an overnight soup run in central London. What I saw that cold night had a profound effect on me. It was the mid-1970s when ‘cardboard cities’ lined the Thames embankments: homeless people sleeping in boxes. People huddled under the extractor fans from the Strand Palace Hotel for warmth, and many as hungry as they were cold. The soup run was provided by a couple of priests, several religious sisters and dedicated lay people. They all had day jobs,
and as the night wore on I witnessed their commitment to alleviating hunger and loneliness. I realised that this was an integral part of their Christian faith.

In my adolescent mind I had assumed that being a Catholic meant going to Church and trying not to commit sins, so this was a breakthrough for me! Pope Benedict XVI tells us in Deus Caritas Est,

‘The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity (caritas). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature.’

If proclaiming the word, celebrating the sacraments and caritas are inseparable, it follows that the Eucharist, the ‘source and summit’ of our Christian lives, must make demands on the way we relate to others, particularly those in poverty and
exclusion from society. Like manna in the desert, the Eucharist sustains us in difficult times and helps us to deal with our limitations. St Pope John Paul II wrote: ‘Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?”

We go to church to receive the gift of the Eucharist, but from the moment we enter the building we are reminded of the demands of social justice. We know that Jesus caused scandal to the religious authorities of his own time by sharing meals with outcasts – but how well do we welcome outsiders and those who do not easily ‘fit in’ to the Eucharistic
feast? I expect that most of us can think of times when we have failed in this and so we start Mass by admitting our own failures and brokenness.

Throughout the Mass there may be words and actions that remind us that the Eucharist calls us to serve each other, as Jesus did at the Last Supper by washing the feet of his disciples. We may also reflect that such love and service can be costly and as we call to mind Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we may reflect on the sacrifices that many have made in His Name for social justice. The Blessed Oscar Romero, one of the patrons of Caritas, gunned down while saying Mass, is a vivid example, but we may also be called to make day to day sacrifices of our time and energy for others.

At the end of the Mass, having met Jesus in the Eucharist, we are sent forth, not just to gossip on the church steps, but to change the world and build the Kingdom of God. We have received the body of Christ and now we leave to be the body of Christ for our world; to bring healing and wholeness to a divided and unjust world. As St Teresa of Avilla wrote:

‘Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he
looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

I have described some of the demands that the Eucharist makes on the way we live our lives, but how does it change the way we see the world? It seems to me that this is where Eucharistic adoration can help us. Through Eucharistic adoration
we may be led into contemplation of wholeness, the unity of the human family and the wonder of the universe. In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis wrote:

‘In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed, the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. We are called to respond to this outpouring love for us, through acts of compassion for others and care
for our planet.’

A brief article can only touch on a few aspects of this subject. I hope the Adoremus Congress workshop will enable us to explore this subject in greater depth and lead to practical actions in service of others. If so, what a wonderful legacy
Adoremus might leave in England and Wales for the years to come.

This article was prepared for a workshop at the National Eucharistic Congress held in Liverpool on 8-9 September 2018, and was first published in ‘The Universe’.

Working for a better future

  

What demands does Catholic Social Teaching make on government, employers and employees?

By Rob Flello

Oliver Twist was published in 1837 – the period which marked the end of the first Industrial Revolution. In the following fifty years, Britain underwent enormous social change and innovation. The country saw the growth of huge disparities between the riches of a small elite and the mass destitution of the working classes. By 1889, the London Dockers were on strike for their tanner: Cardinal Manning went on to successfully mediate in the dispute.

Just two years later, in 1891, Rerum Novarum was published. Pope Leo XIII wrote, “working [people] have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition…a small number of [the] very rich have been able to lay upon the teaming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself” (1).

In this way, Catholic Social Teaching makes some quite specific demands on government, employers and employees. At its simplest it requires them to act in the best interests of each other to avoid excessive greed and to look out for the well being of the people. It seeks dignity for all and the self-respect of those concerned.

The right to work

Former Vice-President of the USA, Joe Biden, is not alone when he notes his father’s advice that, “a job is about more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in your community”. According to the Mental Health Foundation ,“being in work is important for everyone’s health and well-being; it gives us a purpose…, promotes independence, allows us to develop social contacts, and is a factor in preventing both physical and mental health problems” (2).  Clearly, the right to work has many important aspects. Work can improve self-esteem and confidence, reducing depression and psychological distress.

Most of the obligations on employers flow from the rights of their workers. Employers should look on their workers as in a relationship with them of mutual need and support, not simply as commodities in themselves, as a slave master would.

The role of the State

Throughout Catholic Social Teaching, the Church is very clear on the need for a strong state with the ability to intervene to maintain justice. It is also clear that the State should not overstep the mark and interfere wrongly in family, property and other aspects of life.

In the UK, legislation has been introduced regulating working hours, the age of child employment and the right to paid time off, as well as maternity and paternity leave. In addition to National Minimum Wage, we have pay and gender equality laws and wide-ranging employment and health and safety legislation. There is also some regulation over the markets and businesses. But what we don’t have is any regulation covering zero hours contracts, which are widely regarded as being grossly unfair to the employee in favour of the employer. Moreover, there is tension around free trade deals, free movement of labour and market deregulation. If UK employers are free to bring in workers who are able to under-cut the terms and conditions of the existing workforce, then I consider that is also in direct contravention of Rerum Novarum and its successor encyclicals, and harms both the existing workers and those coming to take the jobs.

 

Note 1 – Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, 3 (1891)

Note 2 – Mental Health Foundation, ‘Employment is vital for maintaining good mental health’ (2012)

Rob Flello is a political consultant, former Labour Member of Parliament for Stoke South and former shadow Justice Minister. This blog post is a shorter version of a speech given at ‘Working for a Better Future’, at the Mechanics’ Institute in Manchester, on 1 May 2018.

The opinions and positions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Caritas Social Action Network.

 

 

 

 

Catholic women in Kidderminster reach out to new mothers

  

By Teresa Clements, Newcomer Coordinator, Father Hudson’s Care

The Union of Catholic Mothers (UCM) in the parish of St Ambrose in Kidderminster is a lively and welcoming group at the heart of the local community, which meets fortnightly in the parish hall.

During Lent, members of the group showed their generosity of spirit in contributing to the ‘Welcoming the Stranger’ initiative of Father Hudson’s Care (CSAN member), which provides focused support for refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants.

In practical solidarity with expectant mothers newly arrived in the country, UCM members knitted beautifully-made warm baby clothes. They also contributed many essential items for mothers and babies. Brushstrokes is distributing these to refugee women living in Sandwell and Birmingham.

Tea dance in Stoke brings generations together

  

By Helen McCarroll, Father Hudson’s Care

On 19 March 2018, primary schoolchildren from St Peter’s Catholic Academy, Cobridge, joined older people for an afternoon of intergenerational singing and dancing.

The students visited the Hanley Young at Heart Club, run by Father Hudson’s Care (CSAN member charity), for an event inspired by Signal 1 Radio’s Don’t Dance Alone campaign. The children and older people enjoyed their time talking, singing and dancing together to live music.

This event was the brainchild of Jackie Kelsall, Family Support Worker at St Peter’s Catholic Academy, and Matt Ford, Project Co-ordinator at Young at Heart.

They were joined by Community Champions from Tesco, Hanley, who put on refreshments for the children. Tesco is a regular supporter of the Young at Heart project and were pleased to assist with this collaborative event.

Matt Ford said, “All the older people enjoyed it very much and have asked if the children can come back again. They said the children were lovely and very well mannered. I think the most enjoyable thing for me was seeing everyone in the room, old and young, mixing together and dancing. They all had smiles on their faces, which is what it’s all about.”

Young at Heart offers a range of services to combat social isolation faced by older people in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire. The Hanley group is one of four social groups held locally, with a fifth opening in April.

Sleeping out in Durham for youth homelessness

  

By Anna Couper, Community Fundraising Manager, Depaul UK

As the sun set on Durham Cathedral on a relatively balmy night for mid-October 2017, I prepared to join 140 others who were sleeping out to raise money for Depaul UK and our vital emergency overnight accommodation service Nightstop.

There are few things in life that make us feel truly vulnerable. Sleeping on a stone floor, in the cloisters of a cathedral, with only my sleeping bag for comfort was one of them. And to know that this was only a fraction of the emotional turmoil that a young person might face sleeping on the streets was sobering.

I had access to a toilet, running water, and people looking after my security and wellbeing. For many, it is a much lonelier and scarier experience, and one that does not end when the sun comes up. Instead, the dawn only brings another day of uncertainty and danger. As I tried to shake out my aching muscles and wash away the chill that had settled over me as I tried to sleep, I could not shake off the feeling that for someone else this morning, the future felt empty, hopeless, and broken. That those experiencing homelessness lose far more than their security. It takes away their identity, confidence, and strength to keep going.

Depaul UK wants to change that. Founded on the values exemplified by Saint Vincent de Paul, our charity supports young people facing homelessness in the UK. And like St Vincent 400 years ago, Depaul reaches out to bring light into even the most difficult and complicated situations.

I think of Ashleigh, one of the many young people with whom Depaul works. Following the death of her mother to cancer, Ashleigh, who was aged just six, moved in with her aunt and eventually her grandmother. Sadly, Ashleigh’s grandmother was dependent on alcohol, having never recovered from the tragic loss of her daughter. After a difficult time and many arguments, Ashleigh found herself moving out and sofa-surfing, unable to return home. She was only 16.

“Then I found Depaul Nightstop.” Ashleigh discovered our emergency hosting service. She recalls. “I started to realise how it felt to be a part of a family!”

Now living in her own flat, with continuing support from Depaul, Ashleigh is confident and excited about the future. She adds: “I can honestly say I would not be the lady I am today if it wasn’t for Depaul.” Depaul is committed to not only meeting the urgent needs of vulnerable young people, but helping them discover their potential, and their value.

Sadly, her story could have been very different. It is estimated that in London alone there are 12,000 “hidden homeless”, most of them young people.

In Rome, thousands gathered on 14 October 2017, to hear Pope Francis, as he received the Vincentian family, calling us to adore, welcome and go forward to serve – a call we are committed to follow. With Depaul, we can be the light in the darkness to thousands of young people going to sleep afraid and alone tonight. We can be the answer, the friendly face, the family.

I will sleep out again, not simply because of the challenge (it was amazing and exhausting) but because if I sleep out, and others join me, through donating, volunteering and praying, it means that another young person won’t have to.

Picture: Durham Cathedral, medieval door knocker for people seeking sanctuary

 

Work with refugees celebrated in the Diocese of Leeds

  

By Carol Hill, Director, Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds)

Over 120 people from every corner the Leeds Diocese attended the Diocesan Refugee Response: One Year On event on 31 January 2018, at Hinsley Hall. As in November 2016, when the Leeds Diocesan Response was first launched, and in spite of the wintry weather, people’s enthusiasm to help the most marginalised in our society was as strong as ever.  The buzz in the room was electrifying.

The purpose of the evening was to update each other about the work taking place in response to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers and also to connect those wanting to be involved with a variety of volunteering opportunities.

We watched a short film highlighting the work of Catholic Care’s Gianna project, which is more and more being called upon to support asylum seeker and refugee families. The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Rev Marcus Stock, invited the meeting to join him in prayer and gave a brief reflection on his visit to PAFRAS (Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) that had taken place earlier in the day.

First to present was Sean Ryan MBE, National Coordinator for the Community Sponsorship Scheme, which seeks to settle Syrian refugee families in the UK. Sean reported that this is a growing area of action in the Church, with over 70 parishes in England and Wales already working their way through the application process with the Home Office.

John Battle introduced several organisations working in the area, that then made an appeal for additional volunteer support. These included the SVP’s St Vincent’s Centre in Leeds, City of Sanctuary in Wakefield, the Conversation Club, and St Monica’s Housing.  Many more organisations had a stall in the “Market Place” which was the focus for the second part of the evening.

Finally, to highlight the powerful Spaces of Sanctuary photographic exhibition, two former asylum seekers, who have been helped by, and now volunteer for, the Refugee Council, told a little of their harrowing stories. The first had been in the country for 16 years, often sleeping in churches where she found sanctuary, before finally being given leave to remain 3 years ago after 13 years.  The second was on the verge of suicide, she was so desperate, and it was only the kindness of a GP that enabled her to turn the corner and keep going.

So much good work is already taking place but there is so much more to do.  After this inspiring event, many more are positively charged to help those who are disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised, living in our very own communities.

Faithful communities come together to transform lives in North Yorkshire

  

By John Hinman, Trustee of Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland, Core Group Member of Caritas Diocese of Middlesbrough 

 

Over four years ago, the Church Urban Fund and the Anglican Archdiocese of York set up a pioneering community programme, Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland, to help those in poverty and in need across Middlesbrough and the borough of Redcar and Cleveland.

Its Board of Trustees is chaired by Bishop Paul Ferguson, Anglican Bishop of Whitby, who wanted to ensure that the programme attained an ecumenical character. I was consequently appointed by Bishop Terry Drainey to represent the Catholic Diocese of Middlesbrough on the programme’s Board of Trustees.

At Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland, which is a Core Group Member of Caritas Diocese of Middlesbrough, we work with churches, other faiths, charities, local groups and organisations to help transform lives and build flourishing communities. Churches play a keep role in alleviating suffering caused by hardship and poverty, so our work is focussed on communities where people face such challenges.

Through working together, Anglicans, Catholics and Methodists have achieved a great deal in four years. Our tangible contribution to the initiative has been the offer of the John Paul Centre as a community hub for four local charities who were finding it difficult to pay rent at other properties.

At this centre, we support the homeless, those in poverty and refugees. The long-standing ethos of the centre is hard to miss. The slogan splashed across walls and notice boards reads: “Where Strangers Become Friends.”

The work to support refugees and asylum seekers in the area is second to none and the John Paul Centre has two dedicated charities working in this field. For example, the Upper Room Project serves food and the Mary Thompson Fund provides financial support and groceries to meet the critical needs of those who are seeking sanctuary or are settled refugees in the Tees Valley. Without the support of the Diocese of Middlesbrough, both vital charities would be unable to deliver services to this vulnerable group of people.

Several Catholic schools offer support to the John Paul Centre, and we receive support from students at Ampleforth Sixth Form and students from the Middlesbrough College Exclusion Unit, which serves as an example of troubled youngsters giving back to the community.

Downstairs in the basement, we give out hundreds of clothing items donated by two North Yorkshire communities to refugees and people seeking asylum. The gifts are collected by the organisation 2Dales Action for Refugees, involving people living across Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. Over eighty adults and children benefited from the kindness of Dales folk over the last Christmas period, and Tyne Tees Television were on hand to record a news item based on the stories of refugees and their appreciation for the gifts.

To many, the John Paul Centre is both an important social hub and a sanctuary. All of these activities go hand in hand with the spiritual work coordinated by Father James Benfield.

Middlesbrough has some of the poorest wards in the country and the highest recorded figures for child poverty. In Redcar and Cleveland, the community programme is supporting those affected by the closure of the SSI Steelworks. We have two project workers, one an Anglican and one a Catholic, coordinating many community initiatives. These include a programme called Feast of Fun, which served over 5000 meals to children in the summer holidays. This project has now been extended to cover all the annual school holidays. Food poverty is an alarming issue in the area and we have asked Frank Field MP, and others, including local MP’s who have proved to be very supportive, to take action. We also set up a food bank in Middlesbrough and this has expanded six-fold in the last two years.

We also have a thriving programme for the elderly in Christian parishes throughout the area. The association with Mind and Ageing Better has moved forward this year by the appointment of a project worker to work in Christian and non-Christian settings to support the elderly. We call the new programme “Faithfully Ageing Better” – FAB!

It would be appropriate to conclude, and to demonstrate the ecumenical focus at the heart of the work that Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland does, with the following words.

The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, commended the programme for doing “a huge amount to tackle the issues of poverty in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland”, and stated that he is “very proud that the Diocese of York, in partnership with Church Urban Fund, has taken a lead in making this possible”.

The Rt Revd Terence Patrick Drainey, Bishop of Middlesbrough and Chair of Caritas Social Action Network, and the Rt Revd Paul Ferguson, Anglican Bishop of Whitby, commented how “it’s wonderful that Together Middlesbrough and Cleveland has already opened up more ways to bring hope to so many people”, and that “in Christ’s name we will continue to work so that people can find a way out of poverty, and have dignity, justice and honour.”

This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 09.06.17.

 

 

 

Helping to carry the cross of London’s homeless

  

By Mick Clarke, CEO of The Passage

Every Good Friday, at midday, a procession starts off from Westminster Central Methodist Hall. The ‘Crucifixion on Victoria Street’, as it has become known, unites Christians as they commemorate the Passion and death of Christ.

Several hundred people walk in silence from Methodist Central Hall, including Church leaders, along Victoria Street in central London to Westminster Cathedral and then finally back down Victoria Street to conclude at Westminster Abbey.

Leading this procession are people who are homeless and served by The Passage, with one carrying a large cross.  It is a very moving experience to witness.

This year, as we were about to set off on the final stage of the procession from Westminster Cathedral to Westminster Abbey, I went to help the person carrying the cross get ready to set off. As I approached him he turned to me and said “thanks for helping me carry my cross”. For me, this one sentence summed up the mission of The Passage, and the role it plays in the wider mission of the Church.

The mission of The Passage is to provide resources which encourage, inspire and challenge homeless people to transform their lives. The Passage runs Europe’s largest Resource Centre for homeless people. Hundreds of people a week use the Centre to access basic services (such as food, showers, clothing etc) as well as housing advice, health services and assistance to get into education or employment.  The Passage also provides accommodation services. Passage House works with those coming straight off the streets in order to provide shelter and stabilise their situation, and Montfort House prepares clients to move out of homelessness and into their own flat, as well as community and homelessness prevention schemes.

At The Passage, we believe that any person is only a couple of steps away from becoming homeless and we aim to address the root causes that have led to someone becoming homeless: family breakdown, mental health or addiction issues, etc. If these issues are not addressed, it is hard to ensure that a homeless person can break out of homelessness for good. The litmus test for The Passage is ensuring that those people we resettle into their own permanent accommodation can sustain it; that’s where our Home for Good programme comes in, ensuring that those resettled have the support of volunteers from their new local community to help them keep their accommodation and not end up back on the street.

The Passage has a Vincentian ethos, in that it takes its values from St. Vincent De Paul.  St. Vincent saw that faith requires a practical demonstration in doing good amongst the poor. Vincent was intensely motivated by the Christian faith, and took on board the inclusivity of the Christian message. He looked at the life of Jesus and saw his concentration on those in need, never leaving suffering people the way he found them and constantly transforming the life of the poor. He identified the death of Jesus with all the sufferings of the poor. He literally took the passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says: “whatever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters, you do to me”. For Vincent, this meant that every human person, and particularly the poor, has God living in them. Every individual was a whole person, with their individual story, and in serving their practical needs attention must also be given to their spiritual and emotional being. Each person therefore must be treated with total respect, with immense dignity, with gentleness and kindness and, in the manner of Jesus, be helped to transform their lives at every opportunity.

For me this is what the mission of the Church is about; to be a visible sign of justice and compassion in a world that seems, at times, to value materialistic gain over the intrinsic value of the human person.

That homeless person, when thanking me for helping carry the cross, was thinking very much in the literal sense as they led the procession. However, the deeper meaning reflects on the work The Passage does; helping to address the issues that have led to homelessness in the first place, helping people overcome those issues and bring them to a place of recovery.

Whilst most of us will never (hopefully) experience the trauma of homelessness, we may experience a sense of inner homelessness – times of bereavement, loneliness, and depression. At times some people feel they are without hope. We all have to carry our own cross at certain times in our life; if we are lucky, we have someone there with us to help us carry that cross; that burden of inner homelessness.

At The Passage we have the honour of doing this every day, thanks to the support of so many people.  It truly is a privilege.

 

This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 26.05.17

 

A friend to Irish inmates and their families

  

By Fr Gerry McFlynn, Manager of Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas at Irish Chaplaincy

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Irish Chaplaincy (CSAN member) became engaged in caring for the personal, social and family life of Irish emigrants. Various members especially developed concern over the problems facing Irish prisoners in England and Wales and their families at home in Ireland.  As a result, the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) was born in 1985, and it has been providing an outreach service to Irish prisoners and their families ever since.

For many people ICPO is known for its support of high-profile cases such as the Maguire Family, the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four.  While we are pleased to be of assistance to those prisoners and their families, the ICPO’s involvement in such cases has sometimes led to a narrow perception of its real role and activities.   The reality is that the ICPO works with ordinary rank and file prisoners and their families every day.  Today, most of the ICPO’s work is away from the media spotlight.

The bulk of day-to-day activity involves serving prisoners and their families, many of whom feel isolated and helpless on first hearing of a loved one’s detention.  This means offering advice, organising letters and prison visits, as well as helping with modest financial assistance.  Other activities include the mailing of Christmas Day and St Patrick’s Day cards and a twice-yearly newsletter.

As well as addressing immediate concerns of prisoners and their families, ICPO also carries out advocacy work on their behalf.  Key advocacy issues in recent years have included the deportation of Irish prisoners and, more recently, the plight of IPP (Indeterminate Public Protection) sentenced prisoners wishing to be repatriated to Ireland.

We work for all Irish prisoners wherever they are and make no distinction between prisoners of different religious faiths, convictions or status.  More than 1,200 Irish-born people are now imprisoned in countries as far afield as Australia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, the USA and South America.  Irish prisoners now constitute the second largest ethnic group in prisons in England and Wales.  They are to be found in regions that have large Irish populations such as London, the West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester.  But, there is scarcely a prison in the country which doesn’t have an Irish prisoner.  Visits to prisons are usually made via the prison Chaplaincy or the Diversity and Equality department.

Around 45% of Irish prisoners come from a Traveller background and many have learning difficulties.  To help such prisoners, the ICPO works closely with the Irish Chaplaincy’s Traveller and Equality Project, which has done sterling work in recent years in bringing Traveller issues to the attention of the Prison Service.    We have also developed a close relationship with the Irish Embassy in London in respect of other issues affecting prisoners.

The ICPO, and the Irish Chaplaincy as a whole, is a practical expression of concern for the most vulnerable of Irish emigrants and is appreciated not only by the prisoners themselves and their families, but also a wide range of caring agencies.  It performs a valuable function in reminding the Government that the human needs of prisoners cannot be dictated by political or financial considerations.  Furthermore, the organisation takes the view that the only punishment imprisonment should impose is a loss of liberty.   Otherwise, prisoners should be treated with the same respect accorded everyone else in society.

Speaking at our 25th anniversary celebration, the former Irish President, Mary McAleese (herself a founding member of the ICPO), said:  “Over the past twenty-five years, as many people turned away from prisoners and washed their hands of them, it was your (ICPO) unexpected and reliable hand of friendship which let prisoners know that they had an innate dignity that no system could overwhelm and no act of their own could obliterate.”

The ICPO can be contacted at: 50-52 Camden Square, London NW1 9XB, Tel: 0207 4824148

This article first appeared in the CSAN ‘Caritas in Action’ column in the Catholic Times on 19.05.17