First Anniversary of Caritas Southwark, St George’s Cathedral, Southwark

On Saturday 16 March, Caritas Southwark celebrated its first anniversary. The day began with Mass at St George’s cathedral, led by Archbishop John Wilson. In his homily, the Archbishop said that the anniversary was a good moment to consider the vision for the Church in the Archdiocese. He summed up the heart of the vision as follows: “we are loved by Jesus Christ and, therefore, we want to share his love with others using words and actions that make that love real, that give life and hope.”

The Archbishop went on to say that essential and integral to this vison was an authentic “option for the poor”. To help us understand this key concept in Catholic Social Teaching, he used the analogy of St Oscar Romero, who said if we look at poverty from outside, like looking at a burning building, that is not to opt for the poor; but if we consider those inside as ones we love, as if they were Christ himself, we would do everything in our power to get inside and help them, at the risk to our lives. We cannot do everything, but our something is more than nothing, and for a person in need our something may be everything they need in that moment.

After Mass, volunteers and guests made their way to Amigo Hall next door for an afternoon of sharing the good news of Caritas in Southwark. Archbishop Wilson opened the gathering by thanking all those who had worked so hard in the previous year. He stressed the role of Caritas in the diocese as not one of competition or control, but to build local and diocesan networks, to celebrate and encourage, to gather knowledge and expertise, providing resources, tool kits and signposting.

John Coleby, Project Manager for Caritas Southwark, continued the proceedings by welcoming Raymond Friel, CEO of Caritas Social Action Network. Raymond provided an overview of the work of CSAN as an agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and a hub organisation, with more than 50 Catholic charities in membership. Raymond also introduced CSAN’s new Do Justice campaign and highlighted the resources for schools and parishes.

John then reminded the audience of the four Caritas themes or workstreams which had been discerned for the archdiocese, namely: food poverty and economic exclusion; migrants and refugees; pastoral care of older people; social well being of young people. John invited people form a number of projects to provide a brief overview of their work.

We heard from Fr Stephen Langridge from St Elizabeth of Portugal parish in Richmond-upon-Thames. Fr Stephen told the gathering about the evolution of the parish’s work with the isolated and elderly, among a number of other initiatives. An important aspect of the work with the elderly was listening to their voice. This led to the creation of Connections, a cross-generational project rooted in encounter and building relations, to get to know people, so that nobody is forgotten when they become housebound, and nobody dies alone.

We also heard from colleagues from the Jesuit Refugee Service UK who have developed a refugee hosting programme in Dulwich. Lack of accommodation is an acute problem for refugees and people seeking asylum. The hosting service invites people to open their hearts and homes to some of the most destitute people in our community, with transformational effects for all involved.

Jonathan Ronan, the headteacher of Bonus Pastor Catholic College in Bromley, reflected on the social circumstances of many of the young people in his catchment area, with the percentage of young people carrying knives in the surrounding boroughs the highest in the country. Since much of the violence we see on our streets involving young people tracks back to engagements on social media, Jonathan has linked up with local partners to develop an innovative programme to empower young people to make the right choices.

The day was very much a celebration of the works of compassion and justice in the Archdiocese of Southwark, brought together by the new Caritas agency. All at CSAN wish them a happy birthday and every blessing for the future. Ad multos annos!

Raymond Friel, CEO, Caritas Social Action Network