On 31 January 2018, the memorial day of St John Bosco, a group of people gathered at Walsingham House at Abbotswick to begin the first “conversation” about Caritas Diocese of Brentwood. The initiative is part of the diocesan vision of Renewal and Restructuring and aims to bring together all those who are working hard – and often very quietly – to promote social justice “at the edges”. The project is being led by Vicar for Pastoral Formation Fr Dominic Howarth and Steve Webb, the diocesan Director of Development.
Said Fr Dominic: “In the room were people working with refugees, asylum seekers, the homeless, the traveller community, the frail and vulnerable elderly, the LGBT+ community, the crews of ships who are often away from home for many months, those working for peace, and with the poorest across the world, those working with people suffering from HIV/AIDS, as well as people working as part of Justice and Peace Groups (senior and junior) in parishes and schools.” Street pastors, Brentwood Catholic Children’s Society, Caritas Anchor House, CAPS (Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support), the SVP, CAFOD, Pax Christi, HCPT, schools and the Apostleship of the Sea were amongst the organisations represented.
He added: “It was an extraordinary group, representing work with tens of thousands of people who can often feel – and who often are – marginalised by society, and sometimes marginalised by the Church. In many ways, the work done by those who gathered last Wednesday is a very powerful and lived expression of faith in Jesus Christ, echoing his mandate to the disciples, ‘go to the ends of the earth’ and his clear teaching that ‘whatever you do to the least of my sisters and brothers, you do to me’.”
The evening began with Mass, celebrated in the newly renovated chapel at Walsingham House. The choice of date was very deliberate: St John Bosco is the patron saint of the young, and intimately linked with social justice, through his life’s work and ministry.
Part of the challenge for those who have worked in the area of justice and peace for many years, said Fr Dominic, is that groups can be run by volunteers who are ageing; knowing how to attract young people is difficult. And for the young, who have great passion about social justice, pathways into parish groups that are one and perhaps two generations older can be difficult to find. “Through the leadership training and formation provided by the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service, within the Vicariate for Pastoral Formation, there are numerous young adults with skills to bring to a wide range of justice and peace work. So the hope is that Caritas Diocese of Brentwood will be explicitly intergenerational, building on the wisdom of decades and finding pathways for current and future generations of young people.”
Catholic Social Action Network (CSAN) chief executive, Phil McCarthy, spoke about the way that Caritas works internationally, and in dioceses within England and Wales. The group agreed that over the next few months, further conversations – including those to bring different generations together – would help to shape how Caritas looks within the Diocese of Brentwood.
The participants also heard a message from the Bishop of Brentwood, Rt Rev Alan Williams: “Caritas Diocese of Brentwood is a new way of arranging things, with a tremendous opportunity for renewal and development of social justice ministry across the generations.”