CAFOD at 50 . . . What lit their flame?

On Saturday 24th March Leeds CAFOD supporters enjoyed an afternoon conference celebrating fifty years of commitment by the Catholic community in England and Wales. The idea was to explore  what is at the heart of CAFOD’s vision.

Grace aged 13 and Lucy aged 11, shared how they had taken part in the Junior Great North Run for the last two years because they had been inspired to help children who didn’t have access to all that they took for granted.

Elaine Barker, a former teacher from St Joseph’s Catholic College, spoke of the inspiration of four young students, Kimi, Katie, Izzie and Megan who had won the first ‘Solutions for the Planet’ competition with their World Gift idea to help mums and babies which has now raised almost £165,000.

Peter Johnson, a long-standing volunteer in the CAFOD Leeds office described how a deepening understanding of Catholic Social Teaching had made him think more deeply about putting faith into action.

 Dr. Ann-Marie Mealey, Senior Lecturer in Ethics at Leeds Trinity University, explored the nature of spirituality, focussing on the spirituality that is at the heart of CAFOD. If our spirituality is not inviting us to ask the moral questions of our time or if it is not motivating us to engage with issues of justice then we are only giving expression to the vertical axis of the Cross and the horizontal is missing.

John Battle, a long-time Justice and Peace activist and former MP for West Leeds considered what sustains us when working for justice often seems challenging and overwhelming. For John, joining with others and tackling bit by bit that which we can do is a way forward.

He highlighted that for most of us it is the people we look up to who inspire and motivate us. John shared his admiration for the life and witness of Archbishop Romero, ending with readings from the Archbishop’s Holy Week homilies.

Chris Bain, Director of CAFOD, then shared powerful stories of people in CAFOD communities who had inspired him. CAFOD isn’t about giving a ‘hand-out’ but aims to support and enable people and communities to flourish recognising and celebrating each person’s innate dignity and potential.

Chris outlined some of the challenges facing  an agency like CAFOD, because of the external global context – financial crisis, climate change, belief in a ‘growth at all costs’ culture. The challenge is to live by our deepest values and learn to live more simply, sustainably and in solidarity with those who are poor.

Bishop John Rawsthorne, recently retired Chair of CAFOD, rounded off the afternoon with a powerful personal witness about his own journey sharing how his ministry had been shaped by involvement with CAFOD. He described travelling in El Salvador shortly after Archbishop Romero’s murder and witnessing the shocking and unbelievable violence of the country during that civil war period.

During mass in the Cathedral, Bishop John said that Archbishop Romero’s deep faith enabled him to speak truth on the part of his people who were suffering violence and oppression, even though he knew well the consequences. His life has inspired people all over the world and he lives on within the El Salvador people.

Bishop John thanked everyone for being part of CAFOD and encouraged us all to look forward to the next fifty years.  As a token of thanks from CAFOD Leeds, Bishop John was presented with a chalice that had been specially made in El Salvador.

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