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‘National Justice and Peace Network’ Conference

eventWednesday, 27 September 2023

The Assumption Youth Team UK along with four young adults attended the 45th Annual Conference of the National Justice & Peace Network over the summer. The conference gathered campaigners from across England and Wales with around 150 participants including Justice and Peace activists from 16 dioceses; priests from three missionary societies and six orders of religious sisters joining representatives of CAFOD, CSAN, CARJ, Missio, Pax Christi, SVP, Archbishop Romero Trust, and the Laudato Si Movement to highlight social justice issues, structural injustice, climate change, conflict, and migration. The title ‘Survival or Shutdown’ presents each of us with the reality of the current state of our planet, the major challenges we face and the informed choices we must all make so that those who come after us may experience the beauty of creation, living secure and sustainable lives. Here are the reflections from the young adults:

Alejandra: “I am a Bolivian economist who finished her studies in MSc. Environmental Economics and Climate Change at The London School of Economics and Political Science. All my life I have been involved in environmental issues. However, it was only in 2016 that I decided to turn my professional career around and focus on environmental and sustainability issues. This decision is based mainly because that year my city, La Paz Bolivia, experienced problems of water shortage and especially because I met the then-recent encyclical Laudato Si which inspired me to want to be a protagonist of that change that is needed in the world. When I began my studies in London, amid a search for places where I could share my faith, I met the Assumption Sisters and found in them a great source of inspiration, especially when I saw the work of my church in the service to society. Thanks to them, I was able to be part of the conference, which left me with great teachings and very important life insights. The conference has allowed me to internalize the work of the church in developed countries in terms of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Genesis 1:26-31 we can see how God gives us the gift of creation. He gives it to us to have authority over it, under the slogan that this gift will allow us to be fruitful. A treasure that has been given to us to take advantage of and care for, not to destroy or exploit. The conference allowed me to deepen the relationship between the environmental crisis and the crisis of values that I perceived to exist. A society in which the throwaway culture is very latent. In which to repair, to compromise, to hope, is something very far from reality, and even something undesirable. A culture that seeks to discard everything that is not productive, that does not generate returns on investment. This culture can be seen in personal relationships, in the economy, and even in environmental treatment. For example, we seek to destroy forests, because "their mere existence does not generate economic income", and instead we seek to transform them into something that "is productive" by exploiting resources. The durability is not comfortable for us, instead, we prefer disposable glasses, cutlery, and utensils for single use, whereby once they fulfill their function, satisfying personal needs, they are discarded. Without daring to be uncomfortable, to look for something durable, something that requires more time, because today's society does not dare to give up a little of its comfort, desires, and time, for the greater good.

The message of Pope Francis that was so often repeated at the conference still resonates in me, LIVE SIMPLE. The simplicity of life goes hand in hand with that simplicity of heart that allows itself to fall in love with the everyday of life. It goes hand in hand with a heart that values the small details of life, that seeks to be present, in the day-to-day and not live longing for a future. That simplicity of life that the world needs, to stop promoting a consumerist industry that causes so much personal and environmental damage”.

Amy: “I am a caseworker and local citizen adviser. I offer free legal and confidential advice on various issues including social security, housing, employment, debts etc. I've known the Assumption Sisters since 2019; went with them on a pilgrimage for eight days with other young adults to Lourdes; lived in an accommodation provided by them in Twickenham by St Mary’s University and participate in the activities and retreats they offer to young adults when I can.

I found the talks at the conference very interesting and inspiring! I attended two workshops and one of these discussed the Cost of Living and injustice in the welfare system in the UK. This workshop is very much in line with my work where those on low incomes are unable to meet the cost of living in the UK and must take on extra jobs to be able to pay their bills. Whilst the benefit system such as Universal Credit is supposed to provide financial assistance, it does not work sufficiently. We discussed campaigning for the basic rate of Universal Credit to be increased to enable people to afford to live in this high cost of living. The campaign aims to tackle poverty for people across the UK. The weekend conference prompts me to continue helping the voiceless understand their rights and make significant positive changes to their life”.

Angel: “I am currently studying law with French law and aspire to become an international environmental lawyer. My connection to the Assumption Sisters first started at COP26 in Glasgow. I think the quote that struck me the most was that “we might be the first generation to end poverty, but the last to save the planet”. It really resonated with me. Later in our final discussion group, someone gave me another perspective on this quote saying that if poverty is solved, doesn't it intertwine with saving our planet? This was very intriguing because all the UN Goals are interconnected, and one goal cannot be solved without the others.

Another workshop that stood out to me was the refugee workshop. As an asylum seeker, it's great to see that people are passionate about us and do care about what’s happening with the new illegal immigration Act. It’s reassuring to know people are fighting against this cruel bill. I feel after the weekend I need to be more educated about organizations and learn more about what they do and the programs they have such as simple living, and to educate others and spread the word. I am so grateful for this opportunity sponsored by the Assumption, and I feel recharged to act in my small community with faith and determination”.

It was a wonderful weekend with fruitful encounters and awakened the universal call to action for us all to join in peace and prosperity for our common home. The overall message of the conference was one of Hope, where we were urged to bring this hope by advocating back in our dioceses the political will to take human rights and sustainability more seriously.