Last Wednesday, Bishop Paul, members of the Caritas Team, and many of the Caritas Reps, met virtually to discuss the Coronavirus pandemic, and the measures we are using to try and help those most affected by it. It was a wonderful opportunity to engage with our volunteer Reps, who provide a vital link between Caritas and their respective churches around the Diocese, and thank them for the work they are currently doing. Below is the reflection for the session, provided by Bishop Paul McAleenan;
Thank you for taking the time…for this meeting. Welcome to members of the Caritas Team and to all you Caritas Representatives who have also joined us from various parishes, your inclusion… is a recognition of your importance as Caritas Westminster tries to reach out to all those who need our help at this time.
When this crisis began there was initially a sense of novelty, something new, something none of us had experienced before and perhaps we wondered how we were going to manage. After the novelty came for some of a sense of disorientation, asking what day of the week it was, they seemed the same. The disorientation couldn’t last long we knew there was work to be done. Hopefully now we have a level that we can operate at and a system that is effective.
What I think is very interesting is how even though we are disconnected, separated we have never before been so connected, we are making contacts we never had before, relationships we had are being deepened.
No matter what we were involved in before the crisis began we often found that we were being pulled in many different directions, meetings, travelling, so much time was taken up. Somehow what we are experiencing at present is helping us to focus.
The crisis is affecting different people in different ways and out of it all there is emerging those who are struggling. For some people it is like a holiday, more time, less stress, more relaxation, less pressure, no deadlines to keep, no travelling. I think of myself and where I live, close to open spaces. And then I think of parishes where I used to be in East Acton and Hackney, housing estates and tower blocks which I used to visit and I imagine what life must be like for the people there at this time. Families on the fifth floor with several children, who had to use their hallways as washing lines that you had to fight your way through into the living quarters. Now they have to struggle to stay indoors with the children. There are homeless people and refugees. The number of those finding it hard to make ends meet are being added to. So there is a need, you see the reality of it and are responding, if you were not there what would they do. The fact is if you were not doing what you are doing people would go hungry. We know parents are willing to do anything for their children. In providing at this time you are simply helping individuals, you are helping families, bringing a sense of wellbeing and relief into homes and households.
I saw on the news recently of a priest in Naples, which is also afflicted by the virus, with similar effects, a need for food. This priest is supplying food to the poor. He is motivated to do so is not only because he is aware of their plight but because he wants to protect them from something worse. In his case it is the Mafia, the Comorra as they are called in Naples. The Mafia will gladly supply provisions and then weeks or some months later looking for a favour in return, which as you can imagine will be something unlawful.
This brings us to ask ourselves why is Caritas involved in these projects, food banks, food collectives, voucher schemes, pop up food stalls, identifying need, offering help. Not because you want anything in return.
There was a great king of England, you have probably heard of him, called Edward the Confessor, it was said that his greatest satisfaction was ‘in finding a poor man his dinner’. Now he is Saint Edward the Confessor.
Caritas Westminster is carrying on his work though on a much bigger and by necessity a more organised scale. Those who require our help at present are not immediately obvious by their dress, or where they live. We might pass them on the street and be unaware of their true financial need or their inability to provide for themselves of their children.
What motivates Caritas Westminster is something that is the heart of Judaism and Christianity. Both in the Old and New Testament it is spelt out that to go to the aid of the poor is a commandment of God. To help the poor is not just an add on, something extra, what you undertake because you have some spare time or resources, but what is essential.
You have probably heard of the body of documents called Catholic Social Teaching. A word that appears throughout all the documents in Catholic Social teaching is dignity. The dignity of every human person. We could decide never to violate or undermine someone’s dignity and most likely most people would subscribe to that. What makes Caritas Westminster so essential to the mission of the Church and makes what you are doing something more than charity is that in whatever you do you are promoting human dignity, you are making a statement to those whom you assist, your dignity is important. We will do all we can to not only protect it but to declare it.
It is very easy to say that every human being is valuable. The hierarchy of the Church say it so frequently. But it is you who take those statements and turn them through your action on the ground into reality. It is you who make the Church’s teachings credible, you make them visible and tangible. That is why you are dispersed throughout the Diocese, why efforts are being made to have representatives in every parish. It is a recognition that words no matter how sincere are not enough, they have to be given flesh, they have to be seen.
Sometimes when you are so close to action you do not see what you are achieving though the feedback that is being received is that you are bringing hope to peoples lives. People can live without many things. This lockdown is showing us that there are many things we can live happily without, we do not need, though we thought they were indispensable. Equally there are many things which are absolutely essential, food without a doubt is one of them, but so also is hope and the knowledge that someone cares about you. Apart from the sustenance you are providing through your great imagination and initiatives, you are also giving hope and that builds up a person’s dignity too.
There is verse in the Gospel of St John which says, ‘the word became flesh and lived among us’. Jesus came and shared life with us. He came and saw for himself what life was like and responded to what he saw. Caritas Westminster, the team, the volunteers, the parish reps are continuing Christ’s activity. Among the people, seeing, listening, responding.
I remember a long time ago I was at a meeting, a priest was trying to raise funds for some project among a people who were in great need, they weren’t Christian. A member of the audience objected saying, but they are not Catholics. The priest replied we are not doing because they are Catholics, we are doing it because we are Catholics. I think that is the Spirit of Caritas Westminster, our modus operandi, our raison d’etre. We do what we do because we are Catholics, it doesn’t matter to us who benefits. All we know is they need our help and we are prepared to give it. The blessings is that we have local structures that enable us to find our way into the heart of communities and reach all those in need.
So I would really like to thank you for all you are doing at this time, so much of the Diocese is in a state of inertia, like society. Some people might say everything has come to a stand still, everything is on hold. But that is not true. Your work is not on hold, in fact it is in great demand. The basic material needs of adults and children never stops, to have the assurance that you are not forgotten is always important. And you are in the vanguard of the movement which provides not just food, but hope, certainty and love. For that the Diocese but especially those whom you are helping, are very grateful.
God Bless you all.