Signs of Hope in a Troubled World

Our CAFOD Director recently talked about the ‘Signs of Hope in a Troubled World’, it was the theme of a lecture she gave for a Memorial Lecture in the diocese of Middlesborough.  Read the opening paragraphs or watch the lecture in full on a CAFOD Facebook page.

Christine began by explaining her reasons for choosing this theme, “I chose the title “Signs of hope in a troubled world” because it is easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of so much that is wrong in our society, we rarely see “good news” stories on our news, and yet, there is so much witness and hope out there.

I want to reflect on what it means to be a sign of hope at different levels and how they are connected. I will give some illustrations based on the work of CAFOD but do remember that the church as a whole is a huge witness to hope. I particularly want to reflect on the challenges that Pope Francis has laid out to us in his most recent letter, Fratelli Tutti – brothers and sisters all. Providing you with some insights from that document into what being a sign of hope might mean.

The reality of our world

Our world is troubled. What worries you?

At the local level we might think of crime and violence, especially towards our young people – gangs and drug cultures. We might worry about poverty and the increasing numbers of people who struggle to get by – to put their heating on, to put food on the table. My two local churches (one catholic one Anglican) organise food distribution. More than 300 packs of food are given out between them every week.

At work, as part of the Caritas Network, I get regular updates on emergency responses and situations every day. The conflict in Sudan is very worrying, causing significant movement of people out of the conflict areas and out of the country into neighbouring countries who are already facing severe food crises.

Across East Africa over 30 million people face a food crisis – in some places it is famine conditions, but the governments are unwilling to use that term. A pledging conference recently has seen more contributions made, but the international community has really only funded about half of what is needed for the region.

The war in Ukraine continues, and colleagues in Caritas SPES continue to provide the essentials as well as pyscho social support and accommodation to people in some of the most war-torn areas.

The floods in Pakistan, the earthquake in Syria/Turkey; I could go on. You don’t need me to tell you that we have a troubled world.

The underlying causes of why our world is troubled are structural:  climate change, conflict, economic inequality.  The way our world is structured and organised is based on a set of values that frankly are at odds with the Christian values of human dignity, of integral human development: that holistic and profoundly spiritual sense of development that Paul VI outlined in 1965 Populorum Progressio.  He didn’t just talk about people having the basics, he talked about how people should be “artisans of their own destiny”. This, along with another idea, an “ethic of solidarity” that Francis has developed further and both of which are so essential in the Christian conception of the human person.


A Christian sense of hope

So, in the face of all that is wrong with the world, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. To perhaps cower in fear in a locked room like the disciples did on the first Pentecost. Whether physically hidden or mentally feeling unloved and unworthy, it is an easy place to be.

CAFOD has “hope” as one of our values, that guides our work and informs our strategic framework. This is what we say about it:

Hope transforms despair, feeds love and fuels our work. We are profoundly hopeful, inspired by Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching and the resourcefulness and strength of our supporters, volunteers, local partners and the people and communities we seek to serve. Hope joins us in confidence with others to act for the common good.

Inspired by Scripture, CST and the community we are a part of – there is much in that community to give us hope!

The people who raise money for us, the volunteers in our parishes and schools and the partners we work with like Isacko in Marsabit – who could be working for the UN but who leads the church response in solidarity with the communities he came from.

You will know the people who inspire you – many of you are those people.

Whether it’s food banks or local Caritas agencies around the world, as a church we are bringing that hope. In buckets.

But for us as Christians, this is something more than us just doing nice things – as important as they are. Don’t forget that Pope Francis reminded us that “no act of love however small, is without meaning”!

We are witnessing to a different understanding of the human person. Of them as our brother and sister. As us all being siblings. For us we are obeying the imperative of Christ to be as love to one another.

Pope Francis was at the Caritas Internationalis General Assembly the other week, and said:

“There is no better way to show God that we understand the meaning of the Eucharist than by giving to others what we ourselves have received when, in response to Christ’s love, we make ourselves a gift for others.”

He reminded us that we aren’t just another set of NGOs, we are church. We are witnesses, we are the embodiment of love. It‘s not just heroic service or activism.

It’s not narrow interests, it’s love.  Love is what makes us “to be.” When we embrace God’s love, and love as God loves, and remain in God’s love, we understand the meaning of our own lives: we find life only when we give it away; we find our own life important, when we recognize how totally precious is the life of every other.

Love opens our eyes and enables us to recognize that the neighbour in need is my sibling with a name, a story, a drama, unique and never to be duplicated. Yes, our sibling neighbour’s needs question us, disturb us, and challenge us to respond. As they should! For this is Christ questioning, disturbing, and challenging us. And God’s love gives us the strength to respond.

These were the words that Cardinal Czerny reminded us, words that Pope Francis had talked about. Being a sign of hope in the world is all about love, and how we show that love. Which is easy to say but much, much harder to do in practice.

In our world, self-interest and indifference are not only tolerated but justified and indeed imposed. Solidarity is side-lined as optional, the common good reduced to an abstraction, and people deprived of their proper hope.

So, our expressions of love, our practice of solidarity and the common good is a counter-cultural witness to hope.” Check out our Facebook page for the full lecture!

Speaking of solidarity and hope – Bishop Ralph & Fr John Cook from St Williams, are amongst many who have already signed Salina’s letter to the World Bank and we are asking people in parishes to sign it over the summer. Resources are available from the CAFOD shop including a short talk and an A2 sized copy of the letter to show our solidarity with Salina and all farmers who are fighting to be able to choose the seeds they grow and being threatened with legal action by multi-national corporations.