Catholic People’s Week ‘Prophetic Imagination’ weekend in Leeds

by Ellen Teague
In a change from tradition, the annual Catholic People’s Weeks Dora Turbin lecture was held in the North of England this year, at Hinsley Hall in Leeds. It was part of a weekend discussing ‘Prophetic Imagination’. The lecturer was David McLoughlin, Emeritus Fellow of Christian Theology at Newman University, Birmingham, and the theme of his lecture was, ‘The Challenge of Prophetic Imagination in 2020’. The event was chaired by Ellen Teague and she and David also provided input for the rest of the weekend. An opening prayer was led by Anne Dixon, the CPW Chair. David started by saying that in every age we need men and women who open up for us the prophetic imagination of Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah, and of Jesus. Mary, the mother of Jesus is indeed a prophet in her wonderful ‘Magnificat’. David introduced us to a number of modern prophets, principal amongst them Oscar Romero of San Salvador. Romero was an unlikely prophet, schooled in a tradition where thousands of young seminarians learnt all the answers to questions no-one was asking!  But over the years of working with real people in real places, Romero began to read the gospel from their questions. He began to see differently and feel differently and realised,  “Blessed are the destitute (ptochoi) for theirs is the Kingdom of God." David then introduced us to three modern Liverpool prophets, all recently deceased. Tom Cullinan, Austin Smith and Kevin Kelly were priests whose radical living of their vocations represent how different activities – monasticism and care for creation, inner-city ministry and pastoral/academia – are all the work of the same Spirit. Each embodied the learning of disciples, the humanity of people sensitive to the needs and potential of others, and the disruptive vision of prophets who recognise the signs of the times and can measure them against the deeper truths of God’s love. Austin’s book, Journeying with God, Paradigms of power and powerless, starts off by reflecting that Austin’s hometown, Liverpool, was enriched by trading in powerless slaves. The book inspired a young Irish nun, Sr Margaret Walsh, to found the Brushstrokes Community Project which enabled dialogue and solidarity across cultures and faiths in supporting migrants and asylum seekers around the UK. She also founded The Sanctuary at St. Chad’s in Birmingham, for those who arrive without home and security and often are unable to speak English. David also highlighted the work of Mary Grey, an ecofeminist liberation theologian who works on reconciliation, connecting reconciliation with the Earth and reconciliation among ethnic and faith groups. She co-founded Wells for India, with Nicholas Grey. Finally, David mentioned Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish activist who speaks truth to power and is clearly a prophet of our time. This was a lively and very wide-ranging talk, enriched by some fine singing! In groups, we discussed: ‘What does it mean to be prophetic in our own time as we begin a new decade?  Who do we see as being prophetic today and why?  How can we work to realise the vision of God's will – life to the full - for all people and our common home? Ellen Teague, who is part of the Columban Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Team, continued the theme of ‘Prophetic Imagination’ with further examples of modern prophets including Pope Francis, Bruce Kent - who campaigns for nuclear disarmament - and Dorothy Stang, a nun murdered in the Brazilian jungle by gunmen hired by loggers. Ellen condemned ‘Financialisation’, the phenomenon by which finance and its way of thinking have come to dominate every corner of business, and inflict damage on the entire economic system and the world’s natural life systems. She also talked about how we can get inspiration from creation, and from liturgy, and from everyday living where love is shared in simple acts of service. Our chaplain was Father Jim Fleming, a Columban Father, who graciously accepted our invitation to help us celebrate Mass on Saturday and Sunday and who led two meaningful and peaceful liturgies. Lala Winkley gave us a contemporary Lord’s prayer which was inclusive, not patriarchal. We were well supported over the weekend by our host, Malcolm Dixon, and the staff at Hinsley Hall, where the standard of accommodation and food was very high. Overall a great weekend and a great start to CPW’s 75th anniversary year of events! A special anniversary event will be held on 15 August at Kintbury, near Newbury. For more information about CPW or for details of future events, please visit the CPW website. Article written by Mike Campbell