On 17th November I was an assessor of the LiveSimply Award at the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in London’s White City. I visited alongside Colette Joyce, the Co-ordinator of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, and we met with parish priest Fr. Richard Nesbitt – who is a trained Laudato Si’ animator – and parishioner Hilda McCafferty, who coordinates justice, peace and ecology work. The award is given to Catholic parishes and schools in England and Wales which commit to live more simply and sustainably and to act in solidarity with the world’s poor.
During our three-hour visit we were impressed by parish work over several years. The parish has now become the seventh parish in Westminster Diocese and one of more than 70 parishes in England and Wales to achieve the award.
The space around the church, once fairly bare, has been transformed into a beautiful garden which is prized in a built-up area with blocks of five-storey flats surrounding. The project aims, “to increase biodiversity supporting a greater variety of wildlife and an environment where parishioners of all ages can enjoy nature and get more involved in ‘hands-on’ gardening.” Benches made from recycled plastic welcome parishioners to sit in the parish grounds, where one side has a Grotto and on the other a statue of St. Francis with birds.
Inside the church doors was a display of the parish LiveSimply project, including posters of a ‘Care of Creation Quiz Night’, a ‘Green Living Fair’, a parish viewing of ‘The Letter’, and ‘We are proud to be a Fairtrade Parish.’ Fair Trade products were on prominent display in the repository.
There is a weekly sale of second-hand clothes – stored in the parish garage – and an annual ethical fashion show is very popular with the young people of the parish. The parish organises free cycling, maintenance, and safety awareness classes for parishioners as part of an initiative to encourage green transport choices. There are regular ‘Live Simply Challenges’ in the parish newsletter and online to encourage consuming less and living more simply and sustainably, such as ‘less wasteful Christmases’.
Parishioners get involved in supporting on-line and local campaigns on environmental, trade justice and poverty issues. This time last year – during the UN’s COP26 on Climate in Glasgow – a ‘Parliament in the Parish’ was organised involving local MP Andy Slaughter. In April 2022 parishioners joined CAFOD’s Walk Against Hunger. More recently, Hilda joined Westminster Justice and Peace at the London march for the Global Day of Action on Climate, linked to COP27. Around 15 parishioners meet regularly in a ‘Care of Creation’ zoom meeting.
The parish uses its parish centre as a community hub. At a Thursday Club for elderly parishioners we met them knitting squares for blankets for Ukraine over cups of tea. Other rooms were used for keep fit classes for seniors, IT training and a ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ upcycling centre run by a Colombian parishioner. Weekly vegetarian meals are provided for the wider community, with 70-80 people of all faiths attending regularly.
Hilda felt that achieving the award “will help us appreciate what we have done over the years.”
A second parish in Westminster Diocese, was visited on 19th November 2022. Ss Alban and Stephen Parish in St Albans’s held a public meeting to consider whether the LiveSimply project might be appropriate for the parish. Around 40 people attended.
Ellen was the main speaker, after a welcome from the parish priest, Fr. Michael O’Boy, and Mary Harber of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Group. Ellen talked about other award-winning parishes she had assessed, covering three dioceses. And spoke about Columban involvement in the November UN Conference on Climate Change – COP27 – and the December international conference on Biodiversity – COP15 – where the Columbans will have a delegation. The Church works at all levels on peace, justice and ecology.
Alluding to the title of her talk, ‘Hearing the cry of the Earth and the cry of the Poor,’ Ellen said that LiveSimply pulls together the cry of the environment and of vulnerable people, which are key themes in the 2015 papal encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’’. She provided feedback on Columban outreach in Pakistan where two thirds of the country has recently been under water because of severe weather associated with a warming planet. The Columbans in Pakistan have witnessed huge suffering and been involved in the aid effort, plus lobbying to keep warming below 1.5 degrees C.
The Bishops’ Conference met in Leeds just days previously and encouraged greater support for the LiveSimply programme. The parish organised a shared lunch where we continued to discuss ideas and plans. And it was noted that the parish is a large and vibrant community which already practices many LiveSimply ideals, such as a commitment to using Fairtrade products and supporting refugees. The parish recently conducted a Net Zero Assessment of the parish and its use of resources.
It is an honour to visit such vibrant parishes, where the ‘Good News’ is evident in their communities.