Ellen Teague writes about the summer issue of the Vocation For Justice (themed Freedom) , a Columban newsletter and everything you should expect from it.

Columban Sister Kate Midgley and Columban Education Worker James Trewby protesting against new coal mine in Cumbria
Columban Sister Kate Midgley and Columban Education Worker James Trewby protesting against new coal mine in Cumbria

The cover photo on the Summer issue of the Columban newsletter, Vocation for Justice, shows Columban Sister Kate Midgley and Columban Education Worker James Trewby protesting at Westminster against the UK government’s plans to build a new coal mine in Cumbria.

And last weekend, the Columban Justice, Peace and Ecology Team supported ‘The Big One’ climate protest at Westminster. They joined 1,400 people of faith walking to Westminster after a packed ‘No Faith In Fossil Fuels’ Service at St. John’s Church, Waterloo, organised by Christian Climate Action. Church leaders led the walk via Shell HQ, where the chant was raised of, ‘Shame on Shell’, urging the oil and gas company, “to stop all new fossil fuel exploration and extraction immediately”.

The newsletter takes the theme, ‘Just Freedom’, highlighting the freedom to protest. It also quotes Jonathan Sacks when he said: “True freedom requires the rule of law and justice and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.” We hear from Palestinian Christian and climate and peace campaigners reflecting on how they tackle challenges to freedom and human rights.

Concerns about freedom and democracy are being voiced everywhere. For example, how can water companies get away with dumping so much raw sewage into our rivers? How can a new Genetic Technology Bill be passed in the UK, relaxing regulations around gene editing for plants and animals, with virtually no public debate? And what about Artificial Intelligence? Human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society, but it is here without risks being fully assessed.

On the issue of freedom, what are we for?

The centerspread is on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the theme of July’s Conference of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales. Two landmark documents of 2015 were the SDGs and Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si. They represent two different lenses towards the common goals of ending poverty and leaving no one behind. Basic freedoms are identified.

April saw campaigning by church groups on issues of freedom, democracy, justice and human rights. The so-called Illegal Refugee Bill has been challenged with petitions and vigils at parliament which Columbans have supported. A Columban group will join protests at the 12-15 September International Arms Fair at the ExCel Centre in East London.

MPs and peers have warned that legislation going to the Lords designed to curb strike action fails to meet the UK’s human rights obligations. Maria Exall, the Catholic head of the TUC reminded the congregation in her talk at a Romero Service in London on 25 March that Catholic Social Teaching endorses the right for working people to organise themselves into unions and improve their working conditions.

The newsletter also applauds the young people who entered the Columban 2023 Schools Competition on the theme: “Building Peaceful Futures”. The Columbans hope this will help them develop skills and perspectives that are forward-looking and solution-finding.

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