Helping the bereaved and coping with feelings


By Jacinta Goode, Caritas East Anglia

In recent times I’ve been thinking about grief and loss, as I’m sure many of us have. For me, this has been both on a personal level and more recently, on a wider scale.  Any one of us may have experienced the loss of a loved one and most of us probably have. 

There are also, of course, many other types of grief. In these extraordinary times, we are witnessing – and perhaps experiencing – many types of loss: from the loss of freedom of movement which we have all had to cope with, to loss of contact with family and friends, the loss of a secure income and possibly even our home. As one psychiatrist put it, this is grieving on a global scale. 

At any one time, there may be someone in our life who is in need of support through a time of grieving, but in these extraordinary times, everyone is grieving in one way or another – possibly in multiple ways – all at the same time.  That requires awareness of others on an unprecedented scale. That, alongside greater self-awareness and gentleness. Everyone we know will need extra care in the way we speak to them, consider them, how we walk their journey with them and everyone is in need of extra prayerful support – including ourselves. We remember how, on arriving at his friend Lazarus’ tomb, ‘Jesus wept’ (Jn 11:35) so we know that Jesus also experienced grief and loss. We can be comforted in the knowledge that Jesus understands our feelings and that He will walk this journey with us.

So it was with interest that I attended a webinar on grieving, facilitated by Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN). Dr Mike Scanlan, a psychiatric nurse and mindfulness expert, spoke about mindfulness techniques which are helpful in recognising our feelings and how we can influence our own healing.  Mike used five ideas to help us to gently give ourselves back control through a time of grieving.

He spoke first of the importance of acknowledging our feelings, and stressed that it is not useful to set goals. It’s not helpful, for example, to say: “You ought to be over this by now.” 

What is more useful is, firstly, to acknowledge how we are feeling, and then to keep a grip on the things which really matter to us. Mike cited the importance of accepting an invitation from a friend or family member to a video call or a walk. If that person matters to us, then we surely matter to them, too. He then explained the BOLD process, which he suggested we use four or five times each day:

B – Take one breath
O – Observe yourself and ask, “How am I doing right now?” and notice your answer.
L – Lean in and ask: “Is how I am right now the me that I like and would like to be? Am I responding to situations and people around me in the way that I would like to?”
D – Make a Decision to respond in the way that I would like to, rather than the way in which I just did. Make a decision to change the who I want to be.

Secondly, Mike spoke about the importance of keeping in contact with the present moment. If we find ourselves leaning forwards into the unknown future, or backwards into things past, just be aware of this and gently bring ourselves back to the present moment and what is going on right now.

Realise that what is happening is important to the grieving process.  It is OK – and in fact it’s important – to accept that this is going to be tough. 

The other really important thing to remember is that all things pass, and this immediate feeling will also pass. We might recall the famous quote from Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Mike also spoke about how we have control over our thoughts. Many times, those who are grieving have unhelpful thoughts such as: “I could have done more” or “I should have done something differently.” 

His suggestion is that we notice we are having these thoughts and then count to 10. He used the example of a scam text coming in from someone pretending to be our bank. Our instinctive response to these scams would be to say: “I’m not buying into that – I’m not going to click on the link, because I know that’s not real.”  We can apply this kind of response to our unhelpful thoughts.

When we have negative thoughts, Mike suggests we look at the situation from outside of ourselves. If we take a step away and look at ourselves as another person would – or perhaps as God would – we will see a different perspective. When we do this, we can see that our perception of “I’m not good enough” is in fact just that: a perception. Whereas our actual self (which other people – and God – see) is OK.

By using these techniques, we can make a commitment to ourselves to be the best version of ‘me’ that we can. But let’s not be judgemental when we don’t live up to that ‘me’, when we’re not perfect. The most important thing is to be kind to both those around us and also to ourselves.

This blog post was first published by the Diocese of East Anglia. Any views expressed are those of the author.

Love under lockdown


By Paul Bodenham, Programme Leader for Social Action, Diocese of Nottingham

Even if you have escaped the coronavirus so far, I am sure that, like me, you are grappling with its impact – on yourself, your family and friends, your world and on your branch of the Caritas family.

While other countries were locking down in March 2020, the British government initially took a controversial strategy of ‘herd immunity’, which required an infection rate of up to 60%. There was an outcry when independent scientists forecast it would mean that 250,000 British lives would be lost. But by then, many more people, possibly leading to thousands, had become infected.

The bewildering loss of life in Britain has confronted us with challenging questions about our Anglo-Saxon values. Did we choose leaders who value capital and wealth more than people and life? Can we believe in that kind of world anymore? How will our Prime Minister’s encounter with mortality change his own leadership? How will we pull together in the aftermath?

Already polls say that only 9% of Britons want to go back to ‘normal’. The air is clearer; communities are becoming reunited; poorly paid workers in essential services are at last getting the esteem they deserve. There is a sense here in the United Kingdom that we stand on a threshold.

When lockdown finally did come, the nation was unready. Church congregations had no opportunity to meet to plan their pastoral care and outreach. Consequently the response of Caritas organisations in England and Wales has varied widely according to their capacity. In many dioceses, including my own in the East Midlands, Caritas is not a provider of professional services, but rather a network of volunteers and parishes. In fact, Nottingham Diocese is not yet a Caritas diocese at all, but on the journey, thanks to support from Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN).

The initial response in smaller dioceses like mine was characterised by a focus on sacraments and safeguarding, where the greatest capacity exists. There was an early proliferation of live-streamed Masses, but it is proving harder to move pastoral care online. Clergy were advised that volunteers must have a criminal record check, but there were no precedents to say what they could safely do. Catholics have been encouraged to volunteer with civil projects approved by local authorities, and discouraged from putting themselves and the Church at risk by establishing parish-based initiatives.

This cautious early response was understandable and necessary, but does little to foster the dynamism of caritas in our communities. As the person leading the development of Caritas for Nottingham Diocese, I have found that my role must face in two directions: outward service and inward investment.

For the outward journey I turned to CSAN and SVP (Society of St Vincent de Paul) for help to develop creative responses that are safe for volunteers and beneficiaries. I played a small part in the preparation of a pandemic response toolkit, which I hope will be promoted far and wide.

Looking inwards, the pandemic has revealed how much Caritas relies on the capital assets of the Church – spiritual, financial and human. A seven-point call to action is emerging for our parishioners:

  • Community Care – Look after vulnerable parishioners, and yourself;
  • Networked Parish – Stay socially distanced but still connected;
  • Virtual volunteering – Offer your ICT and social media skills;
  • Grow in the Gospel – Meet up, seek God, reach out;
  • We are Caritas – Tend a wounded world with love;
  • Stay connected – Sign up for news through lockdown and beyond;
  • Weekly offertory – Switch to Standing Order.

In Nottingham, we were due to launch our Caritas journey at a diocesan conference on 28 March, but it did not happen. We have published the prospectus anyway, offering support to parishes in the ministries we already had planned:

  • Environment and global responsibility;
  • Poverty and dignity;
  • Modern slavery and human trafficking;
  • Refugees and asylum seekers;
  • Tackling social isolation.

These five crises will only become more acute as we emerge from lockdown. What will change qualitatively, however, is our sixth ministry ‘Building communities of missionary disciples’. And for that task we can turn for guidance to Pope Francis.

In a remarkable interview Pope Francis draws attention to three opportunities buried deep in this pandemic: to build ‘an economy that is less liquid, more human’, to ‘move from using and misusing nature to contemplating it’, to ‘“see” the poor’ and, in so doing, to restore their humanity.

Implicit in all his meditations on the pandemic is a challenge to the Caritas family: to recognise this time as a kairos moment. We have an opportunity for systemic change – and a duty to honour the rising public mood of repentance and longing for renewal. How shall we be true to that call?

This blog post was first published by Caritas Europa.

Blogs for Lent 2020: Care in an Ageing Society – St Antony’s Centre


A witness of hope

By Kevin Flanagan, Founder & Director of St. Antony’s Centre for Church & Industry, Manchester (CSAN member charity)

Little did I think life would change so dramatically in a few weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world!  While no one is exempt from its ravages, it is clear the older you are, the greater the risk you face from the infection itself.  The Government has asked us to work from home and those aged over 70 to self-isolate even more strictly.

The very nature of our humanity as social beings is being restricted, for a limited period we hope, in order to achieve a greater good, the protection of the vulnerable and all of us from the ravages of this organism. A tiny organism that is sadly taking many lives, feeding fears & anxieties, sapping hopes, and threatening the very foundation of our global economy. It has changed dramatically how we interact with each other; in our family, streets and across communities at home and globally.

I am soon to become a ‘pensioner’ as I reach State Pension Age, but thankfully my mind and heart feel young. I took advice in the 1980s to ‘opt out’, only to find when the previous pension scandal struck, I was placed back in the state pension. Now, my state pension will be reduced weekly, based on a valuation of what my private pension should be worth, but clearly isn’t. World markets have plummeted and the value of pension pots is falling yet again: this will have waves of impact in the years to come as private pension income values are reduced and the hoped-for security in retirement is further eroded. Pensioner poverty will continue to grow even more, as will the necessity for people to work longer during their ‘retirement’ years in sickness or in health, in order to survive.

I live on my own, following the death of my wife Liz three years ago. I have experienced the sense of loneliness and loss. It’s not a comfortable place for social beings to be in. I’m blessed with a loving family and friends, yet many people don’t; in the face of Covid-19 their isolation is now greater as movement outside the home is restricted and they are separated from loved ones. 

At St. Antony’s Centre for Church and Industry, like many organisations in the Caritas network, our phones have been very busy with people seeking assistance. A lady in her 70s, working as a cleaner in a hospital to supplement her pension, now torn between following self-isolation instructions by the Government and her desire to serve at a time of need, asks, ‘Should I self-isolate and will I lose my pay?’

We support the Blackpool Centre for Unemployed in winning thousands of pounds on appeal for those refused benefits, transforming despair to hope.

To assist people quickly to get the guidance and help they need, St. Antony’s Centre is shifting from face-to-face working and training, to converting our social communications systems to share expertise and knowledge on employment rights and welfare support. The development of new online tutorials, advice sheets and blogs to help those unfamiliar with digital communications tools to improve their ability to keep in touch with family members. For those struggling in the world of work, made redundant or self-employed, our advice sessions now take place by phone, helping people where possible to stay employed. We have seen a rise in those facing redundancy or laid off unpaid.  

Our Spirituality Project, Life to the Full, providing that essential spirit of joy and reflection rooted in Ignatian spirituality in people’s lives, is now running through private consultations held via live video links.

Charities and welfare agencies across the Caritas network in England and Wales face uncertainty as they have to weave a cloth of love, care and service, rooted in the Gospel, on a new loom still in the making. The real challenges of providing personal care to many, while protecting our employees as carers, is a delicate balancing act. Charities in the front line need additional help now so they can respond quickly to the thousands impacted daily by this crisis. We see the wafer thin membrane of survival and despair melting, as people experience a loss of control and exclusion. People look to CSAN’s member charities for an authentic witness as the “Church of the Poor”, the face of Christ and true hope reflected through our services with them, a service of joy singing with deep love above the crisis of gloom.

St Antony’s Centre for Church & Industry was established in 1979 to reflect Catholic social thinking in action, in the world of work and wider community.

This article was first published in The Catholic Times. Any views expressed belong to the author.

Blogs for Lent 2020: Care in an Ageing Society – Caritas Brentwood


Ageing and care in a Covid-19 world

By Steven Webb, Director of Development, Diocese of Brentwood, with Jenny Clayton, Membership Development Officer (Diocese of Brentwood), St Vincent de Paul Society (England and Wales)

As I write this article, the government has just announced that schools will shortly close as part of our concerted efforts to minimise the impact of COVID-19. Much will have changed by the time you are reading this article because that is the nature of the spread of the virus and our response to it.

However, some things do not ever change. God’s love for us is constant and abundant. Hopefully our love for one another is similarly constant and abundant. The events that we are living through now afford each and every one of us an opportunity to put that love into practical effect.

Like most dioceses Brentwood is blessed to have an active SVP. The St Vincent De Paul Society has been putting love of neighbour into practical effect for nearly 200 years. Today it uses the strap line “Turning Concern Into Action” and nearly 10,000 members across England and Wales do exactly that again and again.

Caring for elderly people is a key part of how we can demonstrate our love for our neighbours and never more so than in the difficult circumstances we are all experiencing right now.

As each of us looks out of our windows we know that there are people out there who might be lonely, might not be able to get to the shops, perhaps they just need to talk to someone or perhaps they are finding it hard to contact a family member far away. Turning our concern for those people into action is not rocket science but sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start and in a time when safeguarding concerns are rightly high on the agenda it can be difficult to know if you are doing things the right way.

The beauty of having the SVP active in our diocese is that we do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to putting our concern for our neighbours into action. The SVP has been doing it for years and has contacts, protocols, and policies that will help people find a place to start and to ensure that safeguarding is done properly.

Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and being in self isolation could lead to more loneliness, practical problems and a greater need for a chat. Many of us consider what we are going through right now to be an unprecedented interruption to normal life but it is good for us to remember that for some of our elderly neighbours they have already spent several years of their lives in the turmoil and suffering of a World War.

Caritas Diocese of Brentwood operates on the basis of a light touch and if there is no need to reinvent the wheel, we do not. Having so many dedicated members of the SVP in our diocese is a blessing for us all and our thanks go out to them all. We would also urge more people to join them especially at this time so that even more people can put their love and their concerns for their neighbour into action.

We often hear the phrases; “it is better to give than to receive” and “you get so much more out than you put in”, and I think that is true.

Local SVP members told me, “Visiting the elderly is such a privilege and invariably they really enjoy the luxury of a one to one chat. Often their family are very busy with their modern high speed lives and also appreciate that we are there to “fill some of the gaps”. Very often the relationship with an elderly person becomes warm and trusting and before you know it they are old friends!” and “I really enjoy visiting the elderly and get as much back from it as they do, learning about different life experiences and I’m able to appreciate things differently. The elderly have so much to teach us. I especially enjoy vising with my young children as I get to see them through the beneficiary’s eyes and it makes me proud.”

So, as we all cope with a world that seems to have gone crazy we know that we can rely on the love of God, and that if we want to find a way to give practical effect to Christ’s commandment to love one another there are people like your local SVP who can help you to help your neighbour and especially the elderly who are self-isolating. After all, it is also said, “many hands make light work”.

This article was first published in The Catholic Times. Any views expressed are those of the authors.

Blogs for Lent 2020: Care in an Ageing Society – Irish Chaplaincy


By Eddie Gilmore, Chief Executive of the Irish Chaplaincy (CSAN member charity)

Our society has a tendency to view old age as a problem and the elderly as a burden on the state. Dementia tends to be seen in an especially negative light. We hear, for example, that somebody ‘suffers’ from dementia, we use words like ‘decline’, and there is often a perception that the person is somehow no longer there, or that they are almost an empty shell.

It’s all a bit more real for me these days as my dear, wonderful mum is living with dementia. Her short-term memory has got a lot worse and yet her lovely nature continues to shine through, for example in the way she speaks to the staff, “Thanks ever so much, love”. She still takes a keen interest in what’s going on around her, and about which she still makes pertinent and humorous little comments. And we still have a good laugh together, even if things get increasingly a bit mixed up in her brain. I arrived on the last day of my post-Christmas visit to find a sizeable group of the women in the dining-room in rapt attention: it was the bingo. I asked mum if she wanted to go to her room for a quiet chat. “Ah, after the bingo”, she said. She was 100% focused and there was nothing at all mixed up in her brain as she went on to win the next full house!

I came across an interesting book by John Swinton, Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at the University of Aberdeen: ‘Dementia: Living in the Memories of God’. In the Introduction, entitled ‘Being Loved for who I Am’, Swinton recalls how he was asked once, “If you ended up having dementia, how would you like to be treated?” His answer was, “I hope I will be loved and cared for just for who I am, even if who I am is difficult for me and for others.” He went on to raise the interesting point that the question of who I am is not necessarily straightforward when our brains are functioning ‘normally’, let alone when I may have forgotten who I thought I was.

In a later chapter, ‘Becoming friends of time’, Swinton speaks of the simple act of being present to another person. He tells a story entitled, ‘The sacrament of the present moment’, in which a seminary professor, John Goldingay, invited his students to come and have pancakes with him and his beloved wife Ann, who was in an advanced state of dementia. He encouraged them to speak to Ann, even if she might appear unresponsive, and he said, “She probably won’t remember you afterwards, but in that moment she will appreciate you”. That story reminded me of a visit I made recently to a lovely Galway woman who lives in a care home and who I’d seen a few times before. As I entered her room, she said to me, “I don’t know who you are but it’s very nice to see you”!

Goldingay describes his journey with Ann in his book ‘Walk on’ and writes “it can seem now as if Ann is almost gone…there is so little of her here now”. Yet, he is challenged by a caregiver who sees Ann in a different way. This person enjoyed simply sitting with Ann over the course of a year and remarked “Ann’s spirit ministers to my spirit”.

There’s a story in John Swinton’s book about another man caring for a wife with Alzheimers. This person had been a successful, and very busy, businessman, but now he devoted himself entirely to the care of his wife: feeding her, bathing her. One night she woke him and, as if emerging from a fog for a moment, said, “Darling, I just want to say thank you for all you’re doing for me”, and then she fell back into the fog.

Dementia raises interesting questions about who we are at our core, about what it means to be human, and about what makes for a ‘valued’ and ‘worthwhile’ life. It’s interesting as well to examine our assumptions that a person living with dementia is somehow in decline and suffering and going ‘downhill’. If I ask myself the question that John Swinton was asked, ‘How would I like to be treated if I had dementia’, my answer might be: with love, and with dignity and respect. But then again, it might not be too far from Swinton’s response, “loved and cared for just for who I am”. And I hope there will be people who will simply sit with me and be fully present in that moment, even if I may not remember them with my conscious mind the moment they’ve walked out the door.

This article was first published in The Catholic Times. Any views expressed are those of the author.

Picture credit – © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

Blogs for Lent 2020: Care in an Ageing Society – Medaille Trust


When age related illness and social care issues make a grave Human Trafficking situation even harder to resolve

By staff writer, The Medaille Trust (CSAN member charity)

Retirement age is often seen as the time of life when struggles and instabilities are resolved, allowing our twilight years to be safe, secure and dare one hope, happy? Retirement age was no such comfort for one of our clients who was trafficked from Poland.

We know very little about Piotr’s life (name changed for safeguarding reasons) before he reached age 67 in Poland. Unfortunately, due to mental illness, alcohol dependency and psychological trauma, Piotr found it hard to communicate the full picture of his life and what led him into the hands of traffickers. We understand that Piotr was targeted as being vulnerable. Although he did not have much, traffickers preyed on his illnesses and insecurity to access his pension and equity in his flat, leaving him with nothing.  Having nothing of his own added to his vulnerability, leaving him wide open to the suggestion that moving to the UK would give him a better life.  The traffickers manipulated Piotr and left him destitute. With no option he followed their instructions and left Poland for the UK.

Arriving in England, Piotr was cruelly exploited. He worked in terrible conditions and lived in squalor. The traffickers confiscated Piotr’s passport and left him at their mercy. Unable to speak any English, the traffickers forced him to beg on the streets, taking the money he earned while leaving him cold, hungry and intoxicated.

Piotr suffers from diabetes and was in need of medication and was drinking alcohol very heavily, a dangerous combination. Sadly, Piotr was in so much danger while on the streets, he also posed a potential threat to others too, as his medication for schizophrenia was not being taken. It was only when Piotr was taken into hospital for alcohol-related illness and cuts and bruises to his face that Piotr’s dire situation become apparent to hospital staff. Piotr told the doctors and nurses treating him that he’d been coerced into shop-lifting by his traffickers and was living an abysmal life. The police were involved and it was clear to them that Piotr was a victim of human trafficking. Piotr was then supported through the National Referral Mechanism.

Medaille Trust welcomed Piotr with open arms and provided him with safety, care and a home. The Trust’s mission is to provide refuge and freedom from modern slavery. Medaille are the largest provider of supported safe house beds for victims of modern slavery in the UK. What started in 2006, with a house for women trafficked into prostitution, quickly grew into a national network supporting all people trapped in modern slavery – women, men and families.

Once settled in, we helped Piotr access the medical care he so badly needed. Piotr’s problems were not straightforward and a number of third parties were required to get him back on his feet.  It became evident that Piotr had suicidal tendencies and had previously tried to end his suffering. Medical intervention stabilised Piotr’s schizophrenia. He was also diagnosed with a dementia-related illness. This was a very difficult time for Piotr as he went in and out of hospital for his medical conditions and for the cruel treatment he had faced from his traffickers.  There was never going to be an easy fix to Piotr’s health problems, let alone the social issues which needed addressing. The team at Medaille Trust knew that the road to recovery was going to be long and drawn out.

With time however, Piotr’s physical and mental illnesses gradually improved and he began to think about his future. Having escaped his traffickers and with the horrors of how it all began in Poland fresh in his mind, it was natural that Piotr felt a fresh start in the UK could be the way forward. But he risked ending up back on the streets or in the hands of traffickers if he stayed in the UK.

At Medaille Trust we were able to provide him with English classes, help him access benefits to give him some financial stability, and arrange counselling.  Our aim was to get Piotr back into a position where he could make choices for himself and be in the best shape possible both physically and emotionally. As time went by Piotr accepted that going back to Poland was the right route for him. Although he could not go back to the area where he came from for safety and emotional well-being reasons, a new start in a country where he spoke the language and is entitled to his pension was the decision he took.

It is always hard when any client leaves us as there is a part of us that wants to cling on to them and look after them. It is even harder when they go back home to another country. We pray that they do not end up back in the hands of the traffickers or fall out of the support system of that country. When they leave us we provide them with connections, advice and contacts back in their home country or wherever they choose to go. In Piotr’s case we worked with an organisation in Poland to provide him with supported housing. We pray for Piotr and all those affected by human trafficking. We wish Piotr a happier life than the one he has known and we hope that he can begin to enjoy his life; a new start at 67.

This article was first published in The Catholic Times.

Any views expressed are those of the author.

Women address the causes of poverty

For the Third World Day of the Poor, on 17 November 2019, we have assembled a series of three articles. Each reflects on emerging developments in Catholic social mission. In November 2018, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales encouraged leaders of Catholic organisations to work together on addressing the housing crisis. This first article in the series explores some progress in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, within the wider context of the Church’s pastoral work and mission in communities.

By Maureen Meatcher, NBCW Convenor of International Committee

In his message for the 2019 World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis asks all of us, whatever our means, to unite in love and in acts of service to one another.  He explains: “It is my wish that … Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.” That is why the National Board of Catholic Women (NBCW) takes responsibility for the change Pope Francis wants to see – to use our resources to be the catalyst of change.

“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.  God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.  This is a very real danger for believers too.  Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.  That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.” Evangelii Gaudium 2

It is our responsibility as citizens of the world to monitor what our country is doing to enable every person to enjoy their human rights. There are those in power who would prefer that this was not allowed. The space for civil society to remind governments of their duties is reducing. We must use whatever opportunities present themselves for us to be instruments of change. That is why, in March, NBCW sends representatives to New York to attend the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women (CSW64) – answering the call “to go into the court of the gentiles”. We work with other women’s organisations – both secular and faith – who have a united vision of the changes we wish to see in the world. We are all working towards the 2030 agenda when we hope we will have eliminated world poverty by achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Since the 1980s, Britain has been subject to rampant consumerism and individualism, while Christian values of solidarity and selflessness have been supplanted by a secular creed of self-interest. There is a widening gulf between rich and poor, while community life is declining. Christian leaders have warned that the politicians are “making promises aimed more at selfishness than basic fairness, fostering a brand of self-interest that is destroying the “glue” that holds society together. Pope Francis has advised that we are impelled to contribute to the public discussion of social issues, not only as involved citizens, but also because of the Christian understanding of what a just and sustainable society looks like. Politicians assume that the value of a given community is founded solely on its economic output. There is a general economic assumption that the economy has the power to dictate what is and is not possible for human beings; if the economy can be fixed, the fixing of human beings will automatically follow. While in the past our country was governed with Christian principles, our greatly secularised society seems to agree on only one un-Christian principle: every person for themselves.

In order to overcome structural problems, especially economic barriers, we need to disrupt and redefine what we value and how. As we prepare for CSW 64 in March 2020 we will be calling for a complete overhaul of the current economic system, moving away from extractive and profit-driven capitalism. We will advocate a move towards a care economy focused on people and planet to create measures that value social progress; that recognizes unpaid care work as “work” that gives right to social protection; that connects social protection and taxing systems to individual rights, and addresses gender-based violence at work.  We will be focussing on those areas of employment which are more exposed to violence against women such as care, domestic work, media, and informal work; over-representation of women in precarious employment, and low wage employment. The informal economy must be addressed by ensuring universal access to a living wage and social protection. A global care crisis must be averted by committing a minimum of 2% of income to public care services. 

In the words of Pope Francis, “no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. … An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it.” (EG183)

Sowing tangible seeds of hope

In the run-up to the Third World Day of the Poor, on 17 November 2019, we have assembled a series of three articles. Each reflects on emerging developments in Catholic social mission. Pope Francis has often discussed a poor Church for the poor. This second article in the series, from our sisternational Caritas agency, CAFOD, considers the theme of housing and home from an international development perspective.

By Catherine Gorman, Theology Communications Lead, CAFOD

What makes a good home?  

A secure, safe space, a place filled with love. A place where you have good relationships with family, friends and neighbours. Somewhere with a garden to cultivate or a connection to nature.  

This is what communities and local organisations CAFOD works with in Myanmar told us. But the answers are universal. They recognised that a home is more than material concerns, and wanted to get to the real heart of the question. What is it that makes a dignified living place? As such, their answers would probably resonate with people anywhere in the world.  

This desire for a home is deep-rooted in all of us. It is a need for more than just shelter. We all need somewhere that we can flourish together with those who mean the most to us.  

And yet there are so many people throughout the world who are denied housing.  

It is incredibly difficult to get an accurate picture of how many people do not have a place to call home around the world. Some reports suggest that 2% of the world’s population may be homeless with another 20% lacking adequate housing.  

But as Pope Francis reminds us in his message for the World Day of the Poor, on 17 November, the poor are not statistics to be counted but people to be encountered. They are not one homogenous group but individuals, young and old, with their own stories to tell. 

The statistics give us no insight into the lives behind the numbers. They tell us nothing about Marwan, who returned to his home in Syria, after six years as a refugee in Lebanon, to find it largely destroyed by the conflict. Nor about how he and his young family lived in the house, which had no windows and where walls had been destroyed, while they struggled to rebuild.  

These statistics also tell us nothing about the causes of homelessness and poverty. They do not speak to the structural injustices that prevent people having the legal rights to their land or their homes. They do not speak of the interests of big business, like those in the Amazon, which wreak destruction on the lives of those who live there.  

They are silent about conflict, migration and the damage that is being done to the earth, our common home. This climate breakdown affects us all and is making life even more challenging for those already living on the margins. 

They do not reflect the indignity of being without a home, displaced and separated from your place of safety, your memories, from all that is comfortable and familiar.  

Neither do the statistics reflect the hope, which our faith teaches us remains in the face of so many challenges. Indeed, Pope Francis chose for his focus for World Day of the Poor a line from Psalm 9: “The hope of the poor will not perish forever.”  

He also reminds us that as disciples we must be the ones to “sow tangible seeds of hope.” We are called to identify Jesus with each person that we meet, or whose story that we hear. We cannot remain enclosed in our own small circles without reaching out to others. Instead we must show loving attentiveness to each person in distress, seeking no reward for the love and support that we give.  

We cannot write people off as being somehow responsible for their lack of safe housing. But rather we must look to the systemic causes that have led to this issue. 

And so, this is the challenge for all of us: to bring hope to those people who are caught up in unjust systems which keep them in poverty and prevent them from accessing safe housing. And to challenge these structures which shape our world.   

This article was first published in The Tablet.