By Meriel Woodward, Assistant Director, Caritas Westminster
It always delights me when I see people gathering together to make great things happen.
In my travels I’ve seen it in abundance. In the Mumbai slums, Indian rubbish dumps, Brazilian Favela and Chinese Hutongs, there is an overwhelming richness of spirit in people. A witness to love and hope shining out from communities experiencing material poverty. It is the same in the midst of crisis and tragedy; we witness a momentous coming together and solidarity between people.
Our Christian faith teaches us to respond to those who are most vulnerable and marginalised. Every Sunday we hear inspirational readings, hymns, bidding prayers and homilies that remind us of our Christian duty to ‘glorify the Lord by the way we live our lives’. Every week we are reminded to stay awake, be ready to reach out our hands to those who need our help, to care for our planet or to speak out for those with no voice.
As we see around the Diocese of Westminster, many people do respond to this call. They set up food banks, homeless shelters, befriending services for older people, family support groups, or they join parish initiatives and campaigns with Caritas, St Vincent de Paul Society, Justice and Peace Commission, Irish Chaplaincy and CAFOD.
Many more people, however, are motivated by the words, but don’t really know where they fit in. We have a duty to celebrate and recognise their gifts and talents, to welcome them to get involved.
During the pandemic, there has been an outpouring of community spirit. People have been helping their family and neighbours, responding to parish outreach, mutual aid groups, or donating to charity appeals. At Caritas Westminster, in our privileged position of working with outreach projects in parishes and schools, we have seen a huge increase in the response to those in need. Across the diocese, 249 parish projects offer food relief to their local community, 103 parishes have been providing a specific COVID-19 response and 120 parishes and schools have been giving out Caritas Food Vouchers. Many people have been mobilised to help. It has been wonderful to see how much has been achieved.
The pandemic has exposed many inequalities in our society: food poverty, cultural divides, digital exclusion, insufficient or no access to benefits. People on low incomes, such as those working in the hospitality industry, now find themselves without work and in mounting debt. Sadly, the demand continues to rise, so it is critical that we continue to respond to the call. As we heard in Bishop Paul McAleenan’s video message launching the Road to Resilience programme, it is our Christian duty to respond.
As we enter Advent, Caritas Westminster is encouraging parish volunteers to pause for a moment of self-care. Get to know and use our resources, take some time to appreciate the great work that has been done, pray and reflect on what we are called to do through the gospel and Catholic Social Teaching, and discern your next steps. Caritas is asking those who run food relief projects to also think about how they can walk alongside people to help them out of poverty for good.
Every Catholic parish in the Diocese of Westminster has within its congregation the capacity, expertise and resources to make transformational change. Every parish has individuals who want to make a difference, and who, if inspired or invited to work together, could make things happen for the common good.
Whatever your age, background, skills or experience, if you are looking for a sense of purpose and to put your faith into action, speak up now. There will be others who are of the same mind and you can make great things happen. Talk to your Caritas Representative, your Parish Priest or email email@example.com. As we come to the end of an extremely challenging year, respond to the call and bring some love and hope to our community.
Photo: Volunteers at a food bank at St Monica's Church, Palmers Green (Mazur/CBCEW.org.uk)