I’ve really enjoyed my first month here in Birmingham as a Faith in Action Volunteer. Throughout the induction I’ve been introduced to many things and I’m looking forward to learning more along the way. The induction was split into projects which focused on Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation led by James Trewby, Columban Justice and Peace Education Worker and projects concerning Interreligious Dialogue with Mauricio the Interreligious Dialogue Coordinator.
For the JPIC part, James explained his role to us, how it came to be and his passion for his work. I was awakened to the inextricable link between people and the planet. I learnt that the climate crisis does not just affect the communities that have been displaced or destroyed because of things like erosion to soil and more intense and frequent weather patterns, but that the habitats of non-human species are also destroyed. Climate change not only affects individuals and communities but our planet’s whole biodiversity. This made me understand a little better, Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Laudato Si’’ in which he urges us all to listen to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.
Myself and Juliette (and Fr. John Boles) supported James on a visit to a Religious Studies and Geography College and two local primary schools that James had pre-existing partnerships with. The purpose of the school visits was to hold a 1-2 hour session during which we spoke to the pupils about communities that are experiencing the damaging effects of climate change and how these communities that are the most affected by climate change are the least emitters of carbon. We also used the framework ‘See. Judge. Act.’ from the ‘Catholic Social Teaching’ which encourages students to open their eyes to the plight of communities negatively impacted by climate change, reflect on it through prayer or discernment and then make a pledge or write to their local MP’s to consider climate change policies as important.
In the induction, I was introduced to the concept of interreligious dialogue and the importance of it. In my own words based on what I’ve learnt so far, interreligious dialogue is the encouragement of conversations between people from different religious backgrounds or none and the overall promotion of positive relations between these groups.
One of the main points of interreligious dialogue is to encounter differences and to be made aware of the many similarities we have, despite the demarcations of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, gender etc. Mauricio set up a Summer School during September over Zoom and invited people from many faiths to listen to speakers who work in their communities that encourage dialogue between people.
In the sessions we were asked to answer questions like “What is the value of working alongside people from other faiths?” and “Do religious beliefs and faiths hinder or promote ‘encountering differences’?” One of the sessions that has stuck with me is where a Muslim lady talked about ‘A divided Britain’. Division in Britain is galvanised through the demonisation of migrants in the media and these dangerous narratives misinform people and can harm refugees. This session shed light on the positive contributions of interreligious dialogue as faith groups can come together and tackle humanitarian issues like the Refugee Crisis. It aids us to create a world where we can all work together to bring about peace and harmony.
Mauricio also introduced us to a befriending charity called Restore. Restore works with refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham and their purpose is to ensure refugees and asylum seekers are ‘welcomed, valued and integrated’.
In the induction, we were also able to grasp a deeper understanding of the work Mauricio does and the importance of it. For example, Mauricio runs a place called Fatima House which houses women who have come to the UK, for international protection but have had their claims rejected by the Home Office which results in them being destitute. Fatima House provides a safe temporary shelter for these women as they try to figure out their next step through the precarious and inconsistent UK. immigration system.
Lastly, I was able to meet the Columban Missionaries who come from places like New Zealand, South Korea and China. I love hearing their stories of how they found the faith and became missionaries. I love how the nature of the Christian faith brings many people together from around the world.
“And He said to them, the harvest indeed is abundant [there is much ripe grain], but the farmhands are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
The reason why I chose to apply to become a Faith in Action Volunteer is because I was interested in the work of the Columbans and wanted to learn more, whilst at the same time strengthen my own faith. I believe that this year will be a good opportunity to put my faith into action through learning about the plight of people across the world due to the effects of climate change, understanding the cry of the planet and of people having to flee their homes because of persecution and are now seeking international protection.
As a Faith in Action Volunteer, I remind myself that I am doing the Lord’s work. There is always something that God has called us to do, there is always a harvest that God needs our labour for. I believe that God has positioned mine and Juliette’s hands to be labourers in the harvest of the work of the Columbans. This is a piece of scripture that I will therefore keep in my mind as I journey as a Faith in Action Volunteer.