Friday, 25 February 2011

Report from Caritas conference: A Common Endeavour

All the interns took part in the recent Caritas conference in Liverool to examine how the Church engages with the Big Society, Jo-Anne reports on how they got on.
Archbishop Patrick Kelly and Archbishop Vincent Nichols
There was a great amount of expectation surrounding the Caritas conference in Liverpool, where charities and agencies from across the UK had travelled to have their voices heard and to tackle the way we as a Church approach the Big Society.
Over 180 delegates from across the dioceses as well as independent thinkers and projects interested in social action joined the discussions on various themed topics such as Youth, the Elderly, Theology of the Big Society and Volunteering. Each group had a chance to reflect on the work they do in relation to catholic social teaching, identifying opportunities and challenges they are facing in the current social and economic situation.
The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, called on Catholic’s to take a lead in standing in solidarity quoting from the Pope’s address to the Bishops of England and Wales at Oscott during the Papal Visit to the UK: "The prophetic voice of Christians has an important role in highlighting the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, who can so easily be overlooked in the allocation of limited resources.”
The conference was a response to this call, and has been heralded as the first step in a project to ‘re-invent and re-imagine’ the work of the larger Catholic Community.
Archbishop of Liverpool, Most Rev Patrick Kelly opened the conference with an address looking at Liverpool’s past, present and future. He spoke fondly of the conference's host city explaining its history in trade and industry. Archbishop Kelly compared today’s situation to Liverpool’s past, centring on the fact that once 80% of the world's trade came through Liverpool's port, the foundations of wealth, but with a human cost.
Archbishop Nichols continued the discussion, focusing on the urgency of social action saying: “If it is to succeed this project must be taken beyond party politics to become a common endeavour owned by society as a whole”.  The Archbishop spoke of a yearning for a richer community life, and need for “stronger social bonds”, emphasising the importance of “mutual responsibilities”.
He said: "Our Church is present throughout the country, and Catholic social action takes place quietly and on a much greater scale than many realise. We have at the heart of our theology a word which beautifully describes this practical expression of Christian love - Caritas.
“My hope and prayer for the work we are doing together today and in the coming months is that this idea of Caritas will become more visibly the shared inspiration for Catholic social action in England and Wales. For it is a common endeavour at the service of those in need, and always to the glory of the One in whose name we are called to that service."
CSAN’s Chief Executive, Helen O’Brien presented some facts and figures presenting the picture of social action that Archbishop Vincent had highlighted. The figures were surprising, allowing us to see the amount of work the charities and agencies do on relatively little funding. It was a great aid to demonstrate the work Caritas and the charities do, as well as useful to guide discussions on what would be a realistic step forward for Social Action in terms of the Big Society.
After table debates and a chance for Exposition with Archbishop Kelly, former MP John Battle and Rev Dr James Hanvey, theological adviser to the Bishop’s conference, addressed the conference summarising what they believed the concept of the ‘Big Society’ was. Rev James Hanvey spoke about the need to move with social chance, leaving us with the thought: “We need to think less in terms of ‘me’, and more as ‘we.”
The Church now plans on carrying out a survey to gather information about emerging social needs within local communities, and the contribution currently being made by the Church. Caritas will lead the practical action to identify ways in which the Church can better assist local initiatives and promote the further engagement of the Catholic community at every level. There is also going to be a major conference to draw together the results of this work, the progress made, and the challenges then facing us. There is a lot of work to be done but ‘A Common Endeavour’ was a step in the right direction.
The Most Rev Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, gave the closing address drawing together the themes of the day and sending everyone away with a newly invigorated motivation towards social action.
A shorter version of this article appeared in March issue of the Westminster Record, the Diocese of Westminster newspaper which is available in parishes and Westminster Cathedral now.

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