The Need for Priorities
There is nothing like the overworked use of the language of catastrophe and apocalypse to induce a desperate sense that nothing can be done except pray for a quick end. The recent dominance of ‘fear politics’ – ranging from Brexit, Covid, conflict in Ukraine, and now a ‘cost-of-living crisis’ – has worked to render a deep sense of general political powerlessness and a belief that any real transformation is well beyond any democratic reach.
It was St Augustine who stressed that “hope has two beautiful daughters [named] anger and’ courage…” a family of virtues that empower us to work for change. Together, a family of virtues that empower us to work for change. The prophetic tradition of ‘righteous anger’ insisted on the need to name the sin (including its deep causes) and to courageously ‘speak truth to power’.
Our work as the Justice and Peace Commission, which includes the whole Church, involves refusing to be overwhelmed by the challenges and to set focussed practical priorities.
Faced with a change of government (though not a new elected parliament) it is not yet clear what policies will emerge but there is a mounting in-tray of challenges to be faced. Our priorities are rooted in Catholic social teaching insisting on the dignity of every person, solidarity to ensure no one is left out and a good sense of making decisions with people as much as possible (subsidiarity). A keynote of Catholic social teaching is participation at all levels of society. For us locally, the Diocesan Commission is part of the Church’s strategy of ‘reaching out’ to work with others – such as those in the growing Citizens movement, those already working with the homeless and refugees. As a further 3 million are predicted to fall into poverty over the coming winter as the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ bites more deeply, working with food banks, the SVP, and anti-poverty and debt campaigns will be vital.
Increasing poverty at home and internationally must be challenged by supporting actions, but also, by spelling out the causes of poverty and of the deepening inequalities in our communities. That means a priority for ‘educational action’ on the causes of poverty. It also means increasing support for CAFOD, a means of addressing international poverty and underdevelopment in a global economy. That includes pressing the new government to improve the international aid budget.
Nor can we neglect conflicts as the media train moves on from one to another. Wars cause death and displacement on a massive scale and we need to press for peaceful interventions. Supporting refugees and rights for asylum seekers is as imperative as ever. Part of the conflict agenda links to the need to continue working to promote racial justice. Yemen and Palestine must be kept in mind. Lastly, but by no means least, the climate emergency is a complex matter that actually ties many of the issues of poverty, conflict displacement, and future economic developments together. Laudato Si still provides a guide to be shared.
In brief, the UK poverty focus needs intensifying, and more member support, we need to promote CAFOD’s efforts, working for racial justice and supporting refugees. All of which need the back up of continuing reflection and discernment.
Perhaps this is a UK ‘kairos moment’ of the need for radical root change. In which case, the Leeds Diocesan Commission’s plan to rebuild with young people as our base, through the SPARK Social Justice project, will help reset the future.