Justice and Peace mini conference report

NJPN Justice and Peace mini conference report– a few members of our parishes were introduced to even greater Zoom capability at this virtual conference on 18th July. Over 200 people took part in this event, which managed to replicate the very best of what a Justice and Peace conference can bring- inspiring speakers, small group discussion, informal chat and support and friendship from like minded people, all surrounded by the beauty of prayer and music.

In the morning, experts from the frontline of Covid talked about their experiences with homeless people, refugees, disadvantaged workers and the sick and vulnerable communities elsewhere in the world. Breaking out into small groups of five or six, we discussed our feelings and responses to the current situation, and encouraged each other to act immediately, even if our contributions seem small. There was, unsurprisingly, discussion of how to show care for others when we are socially distanced. Most parishes, of course, were beginning to open, and people discussed their feelings about how the necessary changes feel. This conversation spilled over into lunchtime, which followed the whole group joining together, sharing feedback in written form and then leaving their screens to make lunch in their own homes. The Zoom room remained open, however, so that people could talk if they wished, and by the end of lunch, there was a lively discussion about the meaning and importance of our Sunday gatherings, and what has been gained and lost whilst we cannot meet.

The afternoon started with an address from Fr Joseph O’Hanlon, a priest of our diocese and a scripture scholar, whom many of you will know. His subject was the message of Jesus. He reminded us that Jesus’ mission was to proclaim the Kingdom of God, which, as Mark’s Gospel states, is near to us. God’s Kingdom, he stated is peace and righteousness. The peace that comes from God is a holy peace, a peace which brings wholeness and health, perhaps expressed more fully in the Hebrew word ‘shalom’, or the Irish ‘Slainte’. God’s justice is a righteousness that brings everything into right relationship with God and neighbour. The Kingdom of God brings the presence of God to the everyday of life, and all are welcome. Peace and righteousness therefore is God’s initiative in the world.

Breaking into the same small groups (the technology just whizzed us there!) we reflected on this idea. Our group found consolation in the suggestion that working for Justice and Peace is therefore more an action of acceptance of and acquiescence to God’s Kingdom, than an order or a burdensome action.

Once we returned for the plenary session, Fr O’Hanlon took questions. Asked about lessons from the current situation, he spoke passionately about the house churches which have grown online, and in which the transmission of mass is received. He affirmed that these domestic churches are filled with the Holy Spirit as much as our traditional churches, and they must be allowed to continue and be ministered to. He noted that people are gathering in these spaces who were not, for many reasons, gathering in our churches before.

Following a recurring theme of the day, he was asked how this message could be taken back to parishes once we are able to meet again. His suggestion, radical and simple, is that we reunite in a service of general absolution, recognising our personal failures in confronting structural sin, considering, for example, our responses to a system which leads to homelessness, or to people fleeing violence, or to classifying a group of people with no recourse to public funds, or to unfair work practices, or to wellbeing being predicated on an accident of geography. Such a service (or indeed its incorporation into the penitential act and absolution at the beginning of Mass) would prepare the community adequately to join together for communion in the Kingdom of God. And thus, our Conference looped back to the beginning, with a focus on caring for those in need. We finished in prayer and were gifted with a new hymn composed by Marty Haugen, Together for our Common Home, inspired by Laudato Si.

Catherine Danaher

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