Among initiatives discussed by around 60 participants last Saturday, 27th February 2021, were the SVP and Islamic Relief providing relief together after flooding in Kendal, Cumbria, networking of foodbanks in Birmingham, which Columbans support, liaison in several dioceses with prison chaplains who are Muslim, and collaboration on Fairtrade Fortnight.
Speaking on ‘Inter-faith Relations in the UK Today’, Dr Harriet Crabtree, Director of UK Interfaith Network, highlighted some campaigns that have had an interfaith dimension: Together for the Common Good, Grenfell and Faith for the Climate. Looking at factors important for good interfaith relations, she singled out the importance of diverse communities feeling valued in society and by the government; also, the media being positive about people of diverse faiths.
The second speaker, Jon Dal Dim, Interfaith Representative of the Foculare Zone of Western Europe, addressed the theme of, ‘Going to God Together’. The Focolare Movement is committed to promoting dialogue between religions, feeling that it contributes to the building of solidarity and world peace. In 1977, in London, founder Chiara Lubich was awarded the Templeton Prize for progress in religion. She presented her experience before leaders of different religions, and when people from other faiths (Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindu, etc.) were the first to step up and offer warm congratulations, she felt it was a sign from God. Chiara felt the Movement had to open itself to dialogue with people of all religious traditions, based on the central importance of love. Love has an immediate echo in the other religions and cultures, because of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” By implementing the Golden Rule, fruitful dialogue can be established. Focolare is active in 183 countries, and its new International President is Margaret Karram, a Palestinian Christian.
The late Brother Daniel Faivre, who set up Westminster Interfaith, was remembered for his 28 years’ work in Southall, West London, bringing about understanding between different faith groups. There were photos of him at the Battersea Peace Pagoda and participating in the annual Multifaith Pilgrimage for Peace in Westminster Diocese, which passed by or entered different places of worship, including Christian churches, mosques and Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples. There was always tasty food offered at Sikh temples!
Among the dioceses represented on Saturday were Westminster, Southwark, Arundel and Brighton, Clifton, Hallam, Hexham and Newcastle, Birmingham, Lancaster, Middlesbrough, Northampton and Nottingham. Religious included the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace and the Columbans. Organisations participating were CAFOD, SVP, Pax Christi, Christian CND, Seeking Sanctuary, Christians Aware, and the Romero Trust. Participants agreed that Interfaith work can enrich celebration of one world and there is already significant engagement to build upon. Columbans have a strong commitment to interfaith collaboration.
CAFOD reported that a COP26 Faiths Task group meets regularly to plan joint climate action in advance of the November climate talks in Glasgow, which will include an Action Day on 6 November. Faith for the Climate on 11 March has a global interfaith initiative, where places of worship around the world will sound the alarm for the climate. An Ecumenical Climate Sunday project is planned for September, during the Season of Creation, with a national event on 5 September at Glasgow Cathedral, which will be live streamed. There is close liaison with the Vatican’s 7-year plan for implementing ‘Laudato Si’. Columbans are involved in all these initiatives.
Pax Christi is following up on the new international Treaty to ban nuclear weapons, plus a focus on disinvestment from nuclear weapons. It is holding a zoom on 8 March for International Women’s Day. It is also urging more dioceses to use Palestinian olive oil at Easter. “There is a dire situation in Palestine at the moment” said chair Ann Farr “and support is much appreciated”. Some dioceses do this already for there is “huge symbolism to use olive oil from Holy Land.” The Archbishop Romero Trust is running its annual Romero Service on Saturday 13 March at St Martin in the Fields. Saturday 27 March will see Southwark Cathedral hosting a Romero Mass with Archbishop John Wilson as the main celebrant.
On general NJPN news, the NJPN Annual conference is planned to go ahead in Derbyshire 23-25 July on the theme ‘2021: Life on Earth – moment of truth’. Bookings are being taken.
The NJPN Environment Working Group, where Ellen Teague is a member, reported that 14 dioceses now have environmental leads, as requested by Bishop John Arnold. Three Catholic dioceses have now divested from fossil fuels. Catholic Divestment/Investment Webinars – promoted by Operation Noah – continue to be very good. The latest: ‘We cannot be people who profit from the wreckage of this planet’ was addressed by Bill McKibben of 350.org on 17 February. In the leadup to the May 2021 international UN conference on Biodiversity in China, Columban JPIC international has produced a podcast series with study notes. The Lent series on ‘Global Healing’ and ‘Preparing the Future’, the latter organised by the Scottish Laity Network, have had hundreds of participants at each session so far.
Middlesbrough is promoting its Environment Policy and members are attending Boarbank Hall retreats. Westminster recently became a Fairtrade Diocese, and the J&P Commission is networking regularly on Creation issues, Racial Justice, UK poverty during the pandemic, and exploring ‘Fratelli Tutti’ and ‘Laudato Si’. Southwark J&P is involved in Medway Interfaith Action and has a big concern for Racial Justice in schools. Clifton runs a ‘Laudato Si’ Circle and works with a Caritas group on prisoners’ issues. Hallam Diocese is helping street homeless in Sheffield and Chesterfield and is funding some young people to come to the July NJPN Conference. Columban JPIC is helping to plan that conference.