In his Pastoral letter read in all Churches on the weekend of 27/28 September Archbishop Bernard invited anyone who was involved in serving their neighbour to attend the launch of the Caritas Archdiocese of Birmingham network at St Chad’s the following Sunday.
And what better place for this to happen than in the mother church of the Diocese in a beautiful service of prayer and Benediction where the lovely words of the Taize chant Ubi Caritas evoked even richer and deeper meaning.
Archbishop Bernard, accompanied by Bishop David, welcomed everyone joyfully and introduced Fr Michael White as the first Chairperson of this new network.
It would be nearly impossible on an occasion like this not to have a few words from Pope Francis. Although he couldn’t make it personally his words were ably rendered by Sister Gillian Murphy as she read several short sections from Evangelii Gaudium. Sister Gillian must have been delighted by the presence of so many members of religious congregations, all of whom in their daily lives are living out the words of Pope Francis.
Helen O’Brien, the Chief executive of CSAN, the national Caritas social action network placed this new network in a national context –belonging to the bigger network of Caritas Europa and even bigger one of Cartas Internationalis. She spoke of two arms of the Church’s service in this country: CSAN serving people locally and CAFOD serving abroad. Helen said that Birmingham is the fifth diocese now to establish a Diocesan Caritas and that more are considering it. She spoke clearly about those living in poverty, that CSAN is there to respond to their needs and to advocate.
Fr Michael opened by saying when he took the call from Archbishop Bernard, asking him to take this responsibility he answered yes straight away. Yes, because he sees this as a constitutive part of being a priest; that is what he is called to do. He did not talk about all the work he had done in the past. He did not mention that he and his parishioners had, just two days before, launched a new charity, Heart of Tamworth, with the Lord Mayor, the Deputy Lieutenant, the local MP and many councillors, organisations, and parishioners present. What he did say was that whenever you set out on this journey what he has discovered is just how many volunteers come forward who wish to join in. He spoke about the future, about what would be possible if people get involved. He said he had had one reservation about his yes being so immediate- would anyone join this new network? However on looking through the Cathedral at all those who had come he said that doubt was removed.
Fr David Oakley commented as he began speaking that it is a challenge to preach after hearing the phrase read earlier from the Pope:
‘For example, if in the course of the liturgical year a parish priest speaks about temperance ten times but only mentions charity or justice two or three times, an imbalance results, and precisely those virtues which ought to be most present in preaching and catechesis are overlooked.’
However he had taken Matthew 25 as the gospel and focused on what it truly means to encounter someone whether it be Christ in prayer or a person living in poverty, he quoted:
‘I think he means here, that our concern for those in need must be more than just helping them, as it were, from a distance. We have to meet those in need, face-to-face.’
He carried on:
‘The word solidarity is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. It presumes the creation of a new mind-set which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few.’ (EG 188)
He left many of us thinking that as Catholics, though it is good that we do give generously of our money, the giving of ourselves in an encounter with a brother or sister in need will reveal Christ more fully to us and to them in that face to face encounter.
Afterwards in the Grimshaw room in a very relaxed atmosphere over tea and cake those present were given a preview of the new Caritas online presence. This has been prepared by Father Hudson’s Society (as part of its commitment to offer secretariat support to the network), working closely with Catholic Today. It is part of the Diocesan website which now has a Caritas tab. Following this tab led us to a map of the Catholic social action happening around the Diocese, including justice and peace groups, food banks, Life groups, SVP groups, Community projects and much more. All this information had been gathered in the previous year by a research assistant at Father Hudson’s Society. Why not look up your parish and check it is accurate – if not let us know at email@example.com. Everyone was encouraged to ask their parishes, schools, groups, organisations to become members (application form on the website). Once this happens the online forum, which will be accessible to members will be a very valuable communication channel.
The full text of Fr David’s talk can also be found on the resources page and is definitely worth a second reading.