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CARITAS EUROPA: listening to the periphery Marian Pallister, Justice and Peace Commissioner and SCIAF Ambassador for the diocese of Argyll & the Isles, and Just Faith co-ordinator.

As many of you know, I’m coordinator of the pilot project in the diocese of Argyll & the Isles called Just Faith, which is supported by SCIAF, Justice and Peace Scotland, Missio Scotland and the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. We are working together to share the social justice work of the Church and to encourage Catholics to connect their faith with action for change.

I have enjoyed some lively events throughout the diocese, and most recently I’ve been taking the ‘Rediscovering Mercy’ resource to parishes. It has been encouraging to learn of the work our faith inspires. And when I was invited to be part of a delegation from Scotland at the Caritas Europa conference in Lourdes in May, it was exciting to get together with hundreds of people who are inspired to connect their faith with action for change.

Cité Saint Pierre, the Catholic centre perched above the pilgrim town of Lourdes, was the conference venue. Representatives from 46 countries shared the space to eat together, talk together and pray together before collapsing into serene cells where we could regenerate for the next day’s participation.

It was a privilege to work together to update Caritas Europa’s 2010-2020 strategic framework – so much has happened since the current strategic plan was first committed to paper. The world’s economic crisis and the escalation of the refugee situation are just two of the issues urgently needing to be incorporated into Caritas Europa’s plans for the future. With refugees in our own parish of St Andrew’s in Rothesay, we have some small knowledge of how we can welcome and enable refugees.

The objectives of the conference therefore were to reflect on anti-poverty, solidarity and social inclusion at pan-European level; to promote the contribution of Caritas grassroots volunteers, employees, people experiencing poverty, youth and others; and to inspire the implementation of the reviewed CE Strategic Framework 2020. At the heart of all of this were the core values of Catholic Social Teaching.

We were divided into workshop groups to develop ideas that could be incorporated into the update of the strategic framework – an exciting chance for grassroots people to contribute to this strategic revision. My discussion group, working on family and child poverty issues, comprised two Polish women, a deacon from the Netherlands, a woman from Samoa, a monk from Moldova, a delegate from Slovenia, another Scot, and Anahit Gevorgyan, our mediator from Armenia.

To give a further flavour of the international co-operation that was achieved, there were fraternal groups that shared culturally and spiritually. In my group there were Bulgarians, a Filipino living in Finland, a Czech, Herman and Joep from Cordaid in the Netherlands, two Albanians, a delegate from Georgia and a French representative of Caritas International based in Rome.

We talked our way in the workshop towards a proposal for legislation that would allow migrant families to be together: the mum or dad who becomes just a pixilating persona on Skype can lead to the erosion of family values. Discussion was as diverse as how to create equal opportunities of welfare benefits and pensions to ways of helping children combat the bullying that comes with poverty. The use of social media to fire people and fight problems was one that the executive reiterated at the final plenary session.

People who impressed me? Everybody! But I’m convinced young Kinga Krolikowska, Polish delegate just leaving school, will go very far in her quiet, informed, committed way. It was wonderful to see the strength of the Young Caritas movement.

At the plenary session, we were reminded that Pope Francis told us to go to the periphery and listen to the voices there, and said ‘I dream of a Europe that cares for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter … I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime.’

We clearly shared that dream and it would be good to share it here in Argyll & the Isles.