“Orange the world: End violence against women now!”


As we begin to emerge from a global pandemic, research and data is not yet able to fully measure its impact on the globe. However the UN have identified a shadow pandemic, formed with emerging data and reports from those working on the frontline with evidence that women and girls experiences of violence and exploitation have increased. 

This year the United Nations marks its 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence on the 25th of November until the 10th of December 2021, with its global theme set by the UN Secretary – General’s UNITE campaign is “Orange the World: “End Violence against Women Now”

The campaign sends a clear message that the mission is to see an end to violence against women and girls, and that the need is now. 

“The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because its demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men, there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.” 

Fiona Broadfoot
Survivor of International Trafficking and Prostitution

Women@thewell is a frontline provider of support and exiting services, based in London, supporting women, whose lives are affected by prostitution both on street and off street, including women who have been trafficked into the sex trade. 

As with data from the shadow pandemic, women@thewell identified trends across support services highlighting a demographic shift in those in need of our support, supporting women who pre pandemic would not have typically experienced exposure to exploitation in the sex trade. We believe this is a direct consequence of economic disadvantage, and that the women we supported through the pandemic shine a bright light of clarity on the links already identified in the sector- between economic disadvantage and exploitation and abuse. 

Our mission is to work towards full abolition of the sex trade, lobbying and campaigning around legislation that protects women. Now more than ever we believe this is the only way to keep women safe and protected. Under an abolitionist legal framework, society recognises that women are not saleable objects and should have choices, which come from a place of stability, not mere survival. 

As Fiona Broadfoot, a survivor of international trafficking and prostitution says, “The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because its demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men, there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.” 

Our experience delivering frontline services indicates strongly that this model, alongside provision of holistic exiting services – is essential to break down the barriers and enable women to exit prostitution. Shaping a society in which commercialised, one sided sexual gratification has no place. 

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to ending and preventing all forms of violence against women, has announced a special fundraising challenge, Give25forUNTF25, marking 25 years of grant-making to support women’s organisations around the world.We believe that female only support and advocacy services such as women@thewellplay an essential and imperative role in the fight against violence against women and girls. 

During the next sixteen days, we celebrate the hard work and commitment by individuals and organisations across the globe – who advocate for change and the end to violence against women each and every day. 

Jo Thompson 
External Affairs Manager 

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women


By Jo Thompson, women@thewell (CSAN member charity)

25 November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. On marking this day, we are together acknowledging the hard work and commitment of individuals and organisations across the globe, striving towards the end of violence against women and girls, and the creation of a world where women and girls can live a life free from exploitation, abuse and disadvantage.

As we begin to emerge from a global pandemic, the UN has identified a shadow pandemic, formed with emerging data and reports from those on the frontline with evidence that women and girlsexperiences of violence and exploitation have increased. There have long been links identified between economic disadvantage and violence against women and girls. It is therefore no surprise that a global pandemic, with new and unexpected economic disadvantage and change in circumstances, increased exploitation and abuse. For those for whom violence and exploitation was already their lived experience, choices significantly narrowed and for some women and girls the choice to live or die became a stark reality.

This year’s theme is Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect! amplifying the call for global action to bridge funding gaps, and ensure there is capacity to fund essential services for survivors of violence during the COVID19 pandemic crisis, with a focus on prevention, and collection of data that aims to improve lifesaving services for women and girls.

To see the end of violence against women and girls there is a real need to resource femaleonly trauma informed support services, which respond to the needs of women and girls with a knowledge and level of research supporting and advocating on their behalf to a place of safety and security. In order to achieve this we must respond to changing landscapes and support women to live a life free from disadvantage, abuse and exploitation. Only when we listen to survivors can we create services, which are fit for purpose, current and relevant.

An example of this is research commissioned by CSAN member charities the National Board of Catholic Women and women@thewell: Invisible: prostitution and the lives of women. The report was a result of listening to the voices of women whose lives have been affected by prostitution, as well as the voices of some of the professional staff who support them. The unusual feature of this report is that its concern was not primarily with the facts of the women’s situations the violence, frequent experiences of homelessness and addiction but with how the women made sense of their lives. In particular, the reflection on what freedom means in their own lives, and on issues such as safety, survival and solidarity.

Through this listening we come to a deeper understanding of the damage of prostitution. The women’s voices are full of anguish, courage, resilience and morality. The research had a double task: to listen to the women and amplify their insights and stories and to bring these into dialogue with Catholic social thought and theological and political ethics. In a world where women experience daily inequality based on their gender, we believe that the structure of Catholic social thought gives us some solid building blocks to work towards gender equality.

We pray together for the women and girls who are victims and survivors of violence, those that work to support them in their recovery, those who advocate tirelessly to change systems, and especially for those who have the power to make changes within their communities. May we work together to eliminate the scourge of violence and build a brighter future for all women and girls.

The National Board of Catholic Women have produced a resource for parishes and groups, which includes information on where to access support.


Journeying from despair to hope


Staff writer, Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact) – CSAN member

I was in prison and you came to see me

Matt 25:36

The sudden and unexpected arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic changed all our lives. Compelled to stay at home, to mix only in defined bubbles and to keep our distance, even from loved ones, was painful for us all and, for some, unbearably so. For those imprisoned, enforced separation is an everyday experience yet for prisoners and their family members, the sense of isolation, loneliness and the ensuing mental health issues which have resulted during these past 18 months have been unprecedented. ‘Banged up’ for 23+ hours each day, no access to work or education and a complete cessation of family visits have tested the resolve of everyone. Online ‘purple visits’ have helped to keep family links but, as we all experienced in some way or other, no extent of online contact can ever be a substitute to being physically present with those we love. Today the situation is cautiously, but gradually, improving as prisons move through the five Coronavirus alert stages. That said, family visits are still limited, inside the prison visitor halls children’s play areas and refreshment areas are largely not yet operational. The situation is far from ‘normal’ and the ‘new normal’ is likely to be different for some time to come.

Writing in Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis reminds us that “Jesus asks us to be present to those in need of help, regardless of whether or not they belong to our social group.” (FT 81). This can be a challenge, especially when those we are called to help may have caused great harm to others. Yet we would do well to remember that the first person to follow Christ into the Heavenly Kingdom was a convicted thief, “In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43). Grace knows no boundaries; “Christ shed his blood for each of us and…no-one is beyond the scope of his universal love.” (FT 85)

The impact of imprisonment on families with a family member in prison can be devastating. Families often feel ashamed, that they are to blame and must struggle on alone, often feeling ostracised and judged by association. How many such people are the ‘hidden’ in our parish communities, sitting alongside others in silence?  Imprisonment can, and does, happen to all ages and strata of society. Where and to whom do people turn when the unthinkable happens to them?

Jessie rang Pact’s 7 day a week Helpline. When Jessie’s husband was arrested and taken straight to prison, she was left alone with their children and without any income. On the verge of homelessness and with food in short supply, she didn’t know what to do. She explained to Alex, one of our Helpline volunteers, that her husband had always managed the family’s finances whilst she had focused her energy on raising their two children, aged 5 and 2. Jessie’s access to financial benefits had suddenly been stopped and both she and her husband were desperately worried about how she would manage. “I’ve never had to do this before,” she explained.

Despite being new to her volunteer role at Pact, Alex knew that Jessie was counting on her so set to work finding a way to help. She eventually found an organisation which was able to help Jessie get access to financial support. This was a great step forward, but the process was long and daunting and, in the meantime, Jessie’s mental health was rapidly deteriorating. She was now receiving a small sum for the children, but it wasn’t enough to cover the basics, so the family had to rely on food banks. Jessie felt as though she’d let her children down.

When Jessie told Alex that she was having to choose between feeding her children or keeping them warm, Alex turned to Pact’s Welfare Grants: emergency funding designed to make an immediate difference to someone’s life. The grant application was approved within a few hours and later that afternoon Alex was able to send Jessie vouchers for food and clothing. Thanks to Alex’s support Jessie is now also able to access the benefits she desperately needs but it may still not be enough to sustain her until her husband returns home. Pact volunteer Alex remains in regular contact with Jessie to provide support and advice as she waits to find out if she and her children will be able to keep their home.

The Helpline is just one way in which Pact reaches out to support people affected by imprisonment. Pact volunteers and employees work in close co-operation with hardworking prison staff, chaplains, healthcare workers and others as part of prison multi-agency teams. Our services are in many prisons and communities in England & Wales, including:

  • Prison-based family workers
  • Mentoring for prisoners
  • Court Services
  • Prison Visitors’ Centres for children and families
  • Prison and community-based relationship and parenting programmes
  • The national Prisoners’ Families Helpline and website

The Lord calls us to cooperate with Him in building the Kingdom of God on earth, transforming our offerings into grace-filled moments which change lives. Pact’s JustPeople program is a new initiative aimed at encouraging, inspiring and motivating people to explore how faith can be put into action, in practical ways, by volunteering with Pact. Starting in London and the South-East, JustPeople workshops will aim to help to strengthen parish communities through prayer, discernment and sharing, since it is in giving that we receive.

In describing the activities of Pact, our President Cardinal Vincent Nichols says, ‘This work is a direct expression of our discipleship and a very concrete expression of our desire to serve the Lord in those who are most vulnerable.’ In Jessie’s story we ‘see’ the positive impact of Pact’s work but even when we don’t ‘see’, we trust in Him. Changing hearts and minds is the Lord’s work. Who are we to judge?

Picture: Cardinal Nichols visits Wormwood Scrubs Prison, January 2022. Credit: Pact. Re-used with consent.

#ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021


By Jo Thompson, External Affairs Manager, women@thewell (CSAN member charity)

This year International Women’s Day asked us “to choose to challenge”, to celebrate women’s achievements and forge a gender equal world. 

The definition of achievement is “a thing done successfully with effort, skill, or courage.” During the global pandemic, women across the globe have shown achievement daily and often without recognition. In a world where we have not yet reached gender equality, it will come as no surprise that women have used “effort, skills and courage” simply to survive. 

Women@thewell is a frontline service provider of support and exiting services, based in London, supporting women whose lives are affected by prostitution, both on street and off street, including women who have been trafficked into the sex trade. This year we use our “choose to challenge” for all women across the globe entrapped in the sex trade, a trade built upon oppression of women. We believe that until society recognises the buying and selling of a woman’s body as abhorrent, we will never achieve true gender equality. 

In the last year there was a noticeable trend across our services of women who would not have typically experienced exposure to exploitation in the sex trade seeking support. We believe this is a direct consequence of loss of employment and/or housing. This new cohort of women shines a bright light of clarity on the direct link between disadvantage, poverty and entrapment in the sex trade. Rachel Moran, our ambassador, author and founder of the abolitionist non-government organisation Space International, says,

The concept of ‘choice’ when applied to prostitution is both misleading and offensive because the cash is the coercion, and no woman or girl would choose prostitution if she had other options. It is a ‘choice out of no choice”.  

When one thinks of choice, how often do you have the luxury of free choice? Many women we support have little or no option other than to make ‘choices’ based on survival, in some cases as stark as the choice to live or die, a fact which especially highlighted by the current pandemic: Melissa Farley says, 

“You might survive the virus, but you won’t survive not eating for two months. If you ask any rational person if they’d rather take the virus, or not eat, that’s not even a thought”  

Gentile, 2020 (pdf)

Women entrapped in the sex trade face a range of challenging situations, such as homelessness, substance misuse, mental and physical health issues and poverty. All women should have access to support for their basic needs such as secure accommodation, access to healthcare and a regular income.  Without these it is impossible to live a life free from poverty and associated exploitation.  

With these in place, women can access viable opportunities and choices which are not influenced by survival, but instead come from a place of stability and free choice. 

We have been part of the conversation in the UK around prostitution and the issue of consent, which was referenced in the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission report, ‘The Limits of Consent’ (June 2019) – ‘In the context of prostitution many factors can inhibit one’s capacity to make a free choice.’ This is something which is very clear to us every day in our service provision. 

How can we together change the landscape for women and girls whilst building a world free from disadvantage, abuse and exploitation? 

We are committed to working towards full abolition of the sex trade. Lobbying and campaigning for the introduction of legislation to protect women sold into the sex trade remains high on our agenda. We believe this is the only possible option to keep women safe and protected – by the introduction of a legal framework that sends a clear message that women are not saleable objects.  

As Fiona Broadfoot, a survivor of internal trafficking and prostitution says,

“The UK needs to criminalise men who abuse women through prostitution because it is the demand creates the supply. Without demand from these men there would be no supply of vulnerable women and girls to be bought and sold.”  

Our experience delivering frontline services indicates strongly that this model – alongside provision of holistic exiting services – is essential to break down barriers and enable women to exit prostitution. Shaping a society in which commercialised, one-sided sexual gratification has no place. 

On his visit to the UK in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI asked leaders in British society, including politicians, business leaders and academics, gathered in Westminster Hall, “Where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?”  

Women@thewell advocate that ethical choices must be backed by Government legislation and a society which does not view women as saleable objects.  

Our “choose to challenge” today and from this day forward, is to challenge gender equality and celebrate all woman’s achievements as great accomplishments, against the odds day after day. 

Images from the work of artist Claudia Clare’s ‘And the Door Opened’ Project, undertaken in partnership with women@thewell. Re-used with permission.

The views expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not CSAN policy.

No salvation in fiscal policy


By Philip Booth, Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics, St. Mary’s University, Twickenham 

Yesterday, I ended a presentation to sixth-formers by commenting that nobody would want to be Rishi Sunak. Of course, in the strict sense that is not true – indeed, many of the people to whom I was talking might well have had ambitions to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course, what I meant was that the Chancellor was facing the most difficult combination of circumstances of anybody in his position since the mid-1970s. It is in this context that we have to consider the widespread calls to increase government spending on welfare. 

Last year, government spending was about 45 per cent of national income and taxation about 38 per cent of national income. And this is before the big surge in spending caused by Covid-19. Since then, the economy has shrunk dramatically. As we know, the electorate is resistant to spending cuts: in the 2010-2015 period, government spending in real terms (that is after inflation) was cut by just 0.5 per cent per annum and this led to mass protests. It is difficult politically to square the fiscal circle with spending cuts. At the same time, the tax take is more or less at its peacetime high. 

Although it was right for the government to borrow more money to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, our national debt has now reached worrying levels. After declining from its post Second World War peak, it shot up in the financial crisis 13 years ago and has never gone back to a sustained declining path since. The pandemic is likely to take the national debt well over 100 per cent of national income. We can borrow to smooth the costs of a crisis, but anybody who thinks we can increase the national debt on a sustained basis in normal terms over many decades is living in cloud cuckoo land. 

What makes the Chancellor’s position so difficult, is that this is only the start of our problems. Before the Covid-19 crisis really got going, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) produced its annual Fiscal Sustainability Report. It suggested that, on current policy (that is with tax rates unchanged and thresholds increased in line with government plans and making reasonable assumptions about health, pensions, social care and other spending), the national debt would rise to 400 per cent of national income over the next 50 years. To stabilise the debt, taxes would have to rise by a total of 15 percentage points of national income over that period (in other words increase by 40 per cent over and above their current level). 

That’s okay, people might think. There are political choices to be made. We should ask the rich to pay a bit more tax. We can be a bit more like Sweden. However, tax increases of this magnitude are not about asking some people to pay a bit more tax. They would take the burden above that in any developed country. Indeed, it could not be done without hitting the less-well-off and choking off economic growth to such an extent that there would be huge suffering. 

In fact, looking at other countries’ tax systems is instructive. In Scandinavian countries they do have a higher tax burden. However, this is a burden which falls very much on the less well off too. In Denmark, an individual will pay 25 per cent value added tax on everything – including children’s clothes, fuel and food. An individual earning £9,000 a year would pay direct tax of about 16 per cent of their income and then pay VAT on their spending. In the UK, an individual on such low earnings would pay no direct tax and no VAT on food, children’s clothing, fuel and a number of other exempt items. 

The interesting feature of tax and welfare systems in developed countries is that they are very different from each other, but their redistributive effect is remarkably similar. Indeed, the UK is firmly in the top half of the league table for the extent to which its tax and welfare system redistributes money from rich to poor. 

The fundamental reason why the government’s position is so difficult is demography. A rising proportion of old people explains nearly all the OBR’s dire projections. Unfortunately, it is too late to do anything about that. The time for encouraging saving to pay for pensions, health and care costs or for the government to run surpluses so that it had a buffer to deal with the ageing of the baby boomers was 25 years ago. Many of us wasted a lot of energy making that case then. 

We are genuinely resourced constrained in a way we have not seen before. To have reached what seems like the maximum taxable capacity of the economy whilst spending needs accelerate due to demography is nothing short of a fiscal disaster. 

At least Catholic social teaching has some other places to look when it comes to thinking about how we might help the poor. Indeed, it has never regarded the government as the main source of welfare. We might, for example, look at housing policy. Restrictions on house building, largely arising from well-off vested interests campaigning against house building, have meant that between 1969 and 2019, UK house prices have risen by 3.7 times over and above inflation. In Germany, over the same period, house prices have risen by 20 per cent. This is an unmitigated disaster for the poor. It is a major explanation for poverty in the United Kingdom. This is not about a lack of social housing: we have the third highest level of social housing in Europe. It is about planning constraints on housebuilding.  

We might also look to the family. In the UK, 22 per cent of children live in lone parent households. This compares with an EU average of 17 per cent, 15 per cent in Germany and 12 per cent in Holland. Persistent poverty is two-and-a-half times greater in lone parent families than in couple families. We might ask, what is tax and welfare policy doing to support family formation? The answer is that it is more or less uniquely bad in Europe from that perspective. What can civil society institutions and charities do to support the family? What can the Church do to change culture? 

This is a difficult discussion. It can easily seem as if we are blaming lone parents. This needs to be turned round. Life as a lone parent is very, very difficult. We should have every sympathy with them. But government policy, civil society and the Church need to simultaneously help build stronger families whilst supporting those families in difficulty for whatever reason. This will help reduce poverty significantly as well as having many other positive spin-offs. 

The great tradition of Catholic social teaching has, of course, always had lessons for government policy. But the common good is the responsibility of all individuals and institutions in society. We do need to recognise that there is no easy solution to the many problems the country faces arising from fiscal adjustments. Simply complaining that the government is not spending enough money is not a prudent response (in any sense of the word). And we should be aware – the situation is going to get worse over several decades. We need to look in other directions if we are to find lasting solutions to the problem of poverty. 

The views in this blog are of the author and not CSAN policy.

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.