Eddie Slawinski mhm, member of the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN), gave the following presentation on the role of religious involvement in NJPN and the contribution they have made both individually and collectively via their JPIC desks.
It goes without saying that by highlighting the role of any religious within NJPN it’s not my wish to undermine, even inadvertently, the support NJPN has received and continues to receive from individuals and agencies and which has been well documented over the 40 years. It should be stated, however, that religious have been involved in NJPN almost from its very beginnings. However, we shouldn’t think of them as ‘sugar daddies’, nor as’ the icing on the cake’, but moreover, as one of many necessary ingredients in the cake that helps enhance its flavour. Allow me to add some substance to these thoughts.
Religious have their own individual charism, spirituality and constitutions and pin their respective different colours to the mast which dictates ultimately their degree of involvement as individual or collective supporters of NJPN. Mill Hill Missionaries (a secular society of which I’m part) pride themselves on their rugged individualism. Religious involvement is enacted via action, prayer volunteering of time and energy or sometimes by financial support alone. Religious, in all the above guises, are also frequent participants of the National Conference, give workshops too; some, are unable to attend networking meetings for a variety of reasons, mainly, because of their commitment to their contemplative order or community, but offer spiritual support and pray for blessings upon NJPN.
Religious have been involved since NJPN’s first conference in 1978. The Columban Missionary Society has been involved from the mid 1980s. The Columbans – through Ed O’Connell and Mike Kelly – joined in 1986, and launched and circulated Vocation for Justice and offered their services to both NJPN and CAFOD. Both sat on the NJPN executive at various points. Columban Eamonn O’Brien, involved with the Leeds J & P commission in the late seventies, has contributed to many conferences and Networking days; a good number of other orders, congregations and societies also joined around this time. Fr Peter Hughes and Ellen Teague, a Columban co-worker have also sat on the executive.
Other influences upon NJPN since 1992 brought onboard some members of JPIC-LINKS (a group representing over 120 religious orders). Also, members of AEFJN (the Africa, Europe, Faith and Justice Network) brought Africa concerns to NJPN and forced it to look at mission abroad.
My predecessor, Fr Terry O’Farrell (Mill Hill Missionary) was a member of NJPN and became a member of the executive. I have flown the flag since and Mill Hill Missionaries (priests, brothers and lay associates) have actively supported many of the on-the-road campaigns supported by NJPN, and they’ve given spiritual and material support too. I also, like my predecessor, spent six years on the executive and it was wonderful. Though our own numbers in Europe are depleting (and there is no new European blood in the pipeline) we continue to pledge financial support to the website and its management and my own aspiration and hope is to try to set up a legacy to NJPN on behalf of my own society, especially if no one succeeds me in my representative role at our own JPIC desk.
Notwithstanding this, currently, we have over 160 students in formation in Africa and Asia as Mill Hill Missionaries and have ordained more than three dozen in the last decade, some of whom are working here in Britain now. It fell on me to keep our students abreast on JPIC issues when they were studying at St Joseph’s College, Mill Hill. The specific contribution of religious to NJPN is witnessed by the support they offer the JPIC desks of those flying the NJPN flag. Those who are members, enjoy being part of it, so continue to renew their subscriptions. I know that we enjoy being part of a grassroots network, not because it’s far removed from our daily community life style and community commitments, but rather because it’s working for and with the poor and marginalised and rubbing shoulders with people who need us. We are not many in number but we are fortunate that our leadership teams and councils endorse what we know to be right.
Other missionary orders joined NJPN in the mid-nineties, such as the White Fathers and Africa Missionaries, the Sisters of Mercy. The Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Chigwell) became involved too and got involved with the Jubilee project and hosted NJPN meetings at Chigwell. We can’t forget Theresa Helm from the Chigwell desk, and the spiritual and material support from Chigwell’s JPIC desk. The Chigwell office also supported Rosemary Read as NJPN’s national field worker over six years.
At the turn of the Millennium the Sisters of Joseph of Peace, through Deirdre Duffy, became supporters and continue to this day supporting the conference and attend networking meetings. Holy Family of Bordeaux (Lucia McGuckin), Religious of the Assumption, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Our Lady of Charity are involved too. The Jesuit Refugee Service offered an immense contribution too through the person of Louise Zanre. Others are the Consolata Missionary Sisters, Comboni Fathers, Conference of Religious, Dominicans, Sister and Brother Xaverians, Passionists, Don Bosco volunteers, Christian Brothers, Holy Family of Bordeaux, Vincentians, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Franciscans, Daughters of the Holy Spirit and Sisters of Charity of St Paul. Their Marie Hayes is currently an executive member. All the aforementioned have for short or long-term periods been active members of NJPN directing their support through prayer, action, expertise, time or financial support and have often contributed speakers at networking meetings or the national conference.
To sum up: Religious have made a wonderful and varied contribution to the work of NJPN and life of the Church from the 22 Catholic dioceses of England and Wales. The atmosphere amongst all religious in Europe is fast changing, and depleting order numbers with no replenishment will eventually dictate their future involvement in NJPN.
Personally, I think as long as NJPN exists there will always be religious around to accompany it on its own faith journey by continuing to offer spiritual help, materials, time, resources and financial help to what is principally a lay organisation. I’ve remained part of it for two decades now and have always just seen myself as doing what we are all preached to do from the pulpit…that is to ‘Act justly, Love tenderly, and walk humbly with our God’. ‘There are many gifts but all of the same Spirit’ and ‘by their fruits you will know them’ are just two lines from scripture that spring to mind to encompass what NJPN stands for. Let’s continue supporting each other in this vein for another 40 years.