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“A Poor Church for the Poor?” - seeing and addressing poverty in modern Britain

Tuesday 22nd March 2016

 “A Poor Church for the Poor?” took place on Saturday 5th March, 2016 at Trinity All Saints University, Leeds.  The event was organised by the Las Casas Institute in partnership with Caritas Social Action Network, Depaul UK and Trinity All Saints, all of whom provided funding for the event. The inspiration for the event came principally from John Battle, former Cabinet Minister and Labour MP, and a Las Casas Board Member.  It was his hope to bring together Catholics from a variety of organisations as well as from parish life, all of whom had a concern for the poor. He envisaged a participative event, at which people were continuously encouraged to share their views and actively shape the way our response to poverty can be taken forward and made more effective. It was hoped to build a network and collaborative relationships, both of which would lead to more fruitful action.  As such, the event was to be the beginning of a process, and not an end in itself.  The event was quickly booked up to its ceiling of 250 participants, the majority from the north and not necessarily young, but certainly very keen. The event was streamed, so that other people could gather in various locations to watch, discuss and so participate in the process.

 The first main speaker Fr Michael Czerny, SJ, who works at the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, suggested that a Church for the Poor needed to be a Church that was rich in mercy and rich in inclusiveness, embracing all. We do not need to be a Church that takes the lead in all matters of Justice and Peace, but we do need to accompany all who work for justice and peace, co-operating and sharing the perspectives and the riches proper to the Church. We were encouraged to really see the poor, and to see ourselves as inextricably connected to them and to all people. We need to attend to and remove biases that allow us to overlook certain types of poor people. Love and mercy help us to see and respond to the poor. The heart of Jesus saw and responded to the poor, and we need to cultivate the same heart.

The second main speaker Julia Unwin, CBE, of the Joseph Rowntree Trust, presented a profile of contemporary poverty in Britain.  Stressing the robust nature of research, she stressed that poverty in the UK is real, with 13 million living below a decent level of living.  It is not becoming poor that is the problem, but remaining poor. It causes harm, and one becomes trapped, leading to other problems.  We do not want policies that are a war on the poor, but are a war on poverty, its causes and its fruit. Such policies and action are good for us all, as there is no sustained prosperity while we have high ongoing levels of poverty. Care and concern are the bedrock of all social change.  The increasing chasm between rich and poor in modern Britain is dangerous for us all, and the solution to poverty requires the collaboration of us all.  We need to put money into the pockets of the poor in a sustained and dignified way.  We need to realise and address the fact that many are trapped in living places that make it hard to overcome poverty. We need to give them real prospects of a better future, and we need to give them power to improve their lot, in the first place by really listening to poor people. 

In the afternoon there were eight workshops, each addressing different ways to help the poor.  The plenary that followed began to point the way towards practical ways the different groups and individuals present could co-operate in taking forward such work.  John Battle ended by stressing that this was a beginning, and that he intended to organise follow-up steps, but encouraging as many people as possible to take up the baton, staying connected, committing in renewed ways to the poor, and collaborating in doing this. 

Let us hope this really happens: it would make a useful day very worthwhile indeed.

Andrew Brookes OP, Justice and Peace Promoter. (Photographs by Mark Dolby)

Andrew Bookes OP

Andrew Bookes OP

Bishop Marcus Stock and Timothy Radcliffe OP open the event

Bishop Marcus Stock and Timothy Radcliffe OP open the event

Julia Unwin

Julia Unwin

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