“Let’s Build the City of God” by Dan Shutte was the final anthem of the National Justice and Peace Network’s (NJPN) 2022 Annual Weekend Conference on Sunday. It summarized a morning highlighting the work of NJPN members to build a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. And some of the 160 attendees at the 44th NJPN conference from July 22-24 in Derbyshire danced to the anthem at a rally themed: “Hope is a verb with rolled up sleeves”.
Sunday morning saw the final session chaired by Tim Livesey, CEO of Embrace the Middle East, which works with marginalized and excluded communities. It was uplifting, focusing on “signs of hope” and introduced by “four members will tell us what it means for hope to be a verb”.
Aisling Griffin, Schools and Youth Worker Pax Christi, reported that “injustice, peace, equity and climate change are among the issues that matter to young people” and that “teachers are finding young people more interested than ever in social justice”. She said young people want practical ideas and she was “lucky” to work on peace education with networks such as the Columban Education Programme, CAFOD, Christian Student Movement, Young Christian Climate Network, Interfaith Youth Network and Teach for the Future. The Million Minutes Awards honor young people who put Catholic social teaching into action, and she applauded the young people who received awards in Westminster parliament three weeks ago. “Young people want to put their faith into action; they get involved and lead social action; they are the hope for the present as well as for the future of the Church.
Ann Farr, President of Pax Christi, reported on solidarity work in the Middle East. She has worked with Palestinians and Israelis as an ecumenical accompanist. Ann reported that Palestinians see hope in the replanting of olive trees destroyed by settlers seeking to claim Palestinian land. They plant new trees and are supported by the international community which donates trees. Ann highlighted the L’Arche project in Bethlehem, where people with disabilities are treated with respect, and the work of the Comboni Sisters with the Jahalin Bedouins who have lost their ancestral homes and traditional way of life but still manage to produce a ” HOPE” mural on the wall of a school. Pax Christi’s partners, the Arab Educational Institute and Wiam, were mentioned, who work daily with people who are victims of violence. “They create spaces for encouragement and it is essential that we support activities in the West Bank,” she said. She urged the international community to bring hope by challenging systems in the Middle East that cause injustice. A Pax Christ prayer card was distributed.
Martin Birdseye of Christian CND spoke of “many years of work to end nuclear weapons”, and lamented that there are approximately 13,000 weapons left in the world. He spoke about working towards the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which 122 nations have signed. “We have an important role – as citizens of one of the nuclear weapon states – in getting our government to sign the treaty,” he said. He urged participants to get their home regions to produce local resolutions, as Manchester has done. “We must pursue the abolition of nuclear weapons,” he added, “and that will bring active hope.”
John Paul de Quay of Journey to 2020 and NJPN’s Environmental Working Group spoke about the focus on “ecological conversion” inspired by “Laudato Si” and Pope Francis’ call in “Let Us Dream “. He said Journey to 2030 “is about reimagining and we need creative interventions”. The conference was asked to form groups to produce artwork on hopeful paths for the future and the ideas they came up with included gardens, wildflower meadows, education to recognize the interdependence of problems, good public transport and green buildings. “Everyone should have the opportunity to share real wealth and prosper,” one comment read.
Ashley Ralston of the NJPN Environment Group presented campaign recommendations ahead of the UN COP27 climate talks in November in Egypt. The UK will be called upon to deliver on commitments made in Glasgow last November to cut carbon emissions and phase out fossil fuels. Forests, oceans and biodiversity must be better protected against pollution and large-scale extractive industries. “It is very important that the churches speak out and hold the UK government accountable for delivering and reinforcing the COP26 commitments at COP27,” Ashley suggested and “this is a key chance to avert change. catastrophic climate”.
Keynote speakers throughout the weekend explored the conference theme of “Hope”. Irish diplomat Philip McDonagh explored the meaning of hope, drawing inspiration from Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi, in particular the statement that “every serious and upright conduct is hope in action”. He felt that “we should ‘imagine’ or visualize peace as the rightful possession of the human community as a whole”, despite the current global conflicts. He believed that “by developing a culture of dialogue or encounter in national, regional and global politics, we can transform our understanding of effective action and create the conditions for another type of civilization”. He felt that “the National Network for Peace and Justice is living proof that individual interventions in the name of justice and mercy are mutually reinforcing and can also support broader social goals.” He underlined that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) already provide a common medium-term blueprint for humanity and called for consultative processes including representatives of religion to underpin their implementation. “At this time of fractured politics and dissolving ethics, a renewed focus on religion as a source of unity is a bold and much needed move,” he suggested.
Reverend Patrick Devine SMA spoke about his peacebuilding work in East Africa as President of the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. Shalom seeks to identify, understand and address the underlying causes of conflict rather than just addressing the symptoms. Fr. Devine spoke of dramatic, life-changing results in the areas of conflict transformation, peace education and poverty reduction. Shalom researches the root causes of inter-ethnic conflicts, trains local peacebuilders, organizes workshops to facilitate resolution and reconciliation processes between factions, and develops inter-ethnic and inter-religious schools. “Theory without practice is empty and practice without theory is blind,” he said.
“Moving Beyond Optimism to Hope: Demonstrating or Building Kingdom in the World of Politics,” was the title of a presentation by Andy Flanagan of Christians in Politics and a songwriter- interpreter. He spoke of leading parliamentarians who sang about integrity, truth and justice at a parliamentary prayer breakfast in early July and a series of ministerial resignations that took place hours later! Christians believe that “integrity is that leadership really matters”. A strong supporter of fighting the causes of injustice, he praised the NJPN for its campaign work over the years to promote justice and compassion. His music provided entertainment on Saturday night.
Liturgies were organized by the Lay Community of Saint Benedict and Catholic and ecumenical services were offered. Conference planning partners included ACTA, Christians Aware, Joint Public Issues Team and Stella Maris. Reverend Ruth Gee, a Methodist pastor and patron of the NJPN who led a service on Saturday afternoon, spoke of “being united by concern and passion for justice and peace and by a shared faith.”
The workshops covered issues of domestic poverty and universal credit, the Salford Guardians of Creation project, restoring the dignity of prisoners and their families, the Church’s work for tax justice and the interfaith work on justice and peace. A preview of the film, “Finite: The Science of Climate Change”, which examines nonviolent direct action in Germany and the UK to protect ancient forests from coal mining, drew an audience of 60.
At Just Fair hosted 25 stands, including Together for the Common Good, Green Christian, Christian Climate Action, Columbans, Missio, World Council for Christian Meditation, Fairtrade, Palestinian Goods and Global Justice Now. The food at the conference was guided by the principles of LOAF (Local, Organic, Animal Friendly, Fairly Traded).
All NJPN 2022 conference speeches, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up” can be seen on Youtube at: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4HAuivOZMEVt5GE-gSBfoVQbZ4PtE_av