By Matty Maslen – parish of St Blaise, Bradford whose attendance was sponsored by SPARK Social Justice
Last weekend, 23rd to 25th August, the National Justice and Peace Network met for their annual conference at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick. The topic for 2021 was climate change, calling the network together to discuss ‘Action for Life on Earth’. The Diocese of Leeds was fortunate enough to have 10 representatives at this, the 43rd Annual Conference, many of whom have been attending for a number of years.
As the weekend marked 100 days until COP26, discussions were fuelled with the urgency and passion the current climate crisis demands of us. For three days almost 200 people gathered to discuss the work that needs to be done, not just as part of the Justice and Peace Network, but in a united effort with the wider community of our brothers and sisters in faith.
In this spirit of cooperation, contributions came from representatives of many other charities and organisations. Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD, chaired the conference and stands from organisations such as the Student Christian Movement, Christian CND, ACTA and Pax Christi, filled the main hall for the duration of the weekend.
Set against the backdrop of Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti, the conference was centred on Pope Francis’ inspiring Papal Encyclicals which call on us to care for our common home. As Fratelli Tutti reads, “Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”.
Alongside those attendees from Leeds who have become well-known faces at the National Justice and Peace Conference, were four young people, Sara, David, Chukwuemeka and Matthew, who were sponsored to attend as part of the Leeds Justice and Peace group’s new youth project: SPARK Social Justice.
Over the course of the weekend, key-note speakers took the stand to address the climate crisis and the responses they wished to see from their own fields of expertise. The speakers – Fr Eamonn Mulcahy, Mark Rotheram and Lorna Gold – were joined by Bishop John Arnold, Andy Aitkins and Christine Allen for a panel discussion.
The range of both professional and personal experiences the speakers and panellists brought to the table highlighted once again the value of including as wide a range of people and perspectives as possible in the response to the climate crisis. As Fr Eammon said, “there’s no way that we’re going to solve the problems of our planet unless we first throw the spotlight on ourselves and try and recreate and regenerate an authentic idea of humanity” and though a united front is needed, it must be an encompassing and inclusive unity.
This spectrum of perspectives on how we should respond to the climate crisis was also evident in the range of workshops on offer. One of these was run by Leeds Diocese’s own Tim Devereaux, who led a well-attended discussion on ‘Conflict and Climate’. Other workshops covered issues such as ‘pastoral care for climate distress’, ‘nonviolent direct action and environmental protest’, ‘church divestment from fossil fuels’ and ‘a just transition to a green economy’.
The 2021 National Justice and Peace Conference was an inspiring weekend. At times, the struggle to protect our planet from this manmade climate crisis can seem overwhelming. But, as Pope Francis said in Laudato Si, “May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”. As COP26 grows ever closer, the time to act is now. Let this hope be at the heart of our actions.
Click here for videos of speeches from the conference
Click here to see the COP26 website