Many of you will recall the ‘old school days’ when we learnt of the lives of saints and were challenged to imitate them. Some of us took the names of one of these saints for our Confirmation name, and some of us were blest to have a good saint’s name as our first name. Part of our formation was to claim the saints as people to whom we could pray and seek guidance. I now believe these stories helped to form us and give us some guideposts to follow. These holy men and women remind us what holiness looks like, to be drawn into Jesus – through Him, with Him, in Him.
Last week I went to a conversation about poverty and inequality in our community called Pushed to the Margins. It was held at Newcastle City Hall during Anti-Poverty Week. There were five panellists who spoke from their perspectives on a range of issues – wealth, homelessness, women, economics, government policies, employment, health, education, community, equality, disadvantage, justice, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture, standards of living, barriers, racism, affordable housing …… As you can see the topics were diverse and each intersected seamlessly with the other.
There would have been more than 500 people at this conversation, the aim of which was to invest in seeing the fruit of change in our local community and a commitment to social justice in our town. On one of the flyers was the challenge to take the conversation one step further and embrace the call to action - Be the change that you wish to see in the world (Mahatma Gandhi)
Each panellist defined poverty from their perspective and spoke of the many myths around people who experience poverty. Interestingly, in our reading from the gospel of Matthew (5:1-12) we read: Blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. For me the overarching issue appears to be the widening gap between those who have, and those who do not, and the increasing gap in opportunities to turn this around. With this widening gap, come disconnection and blame and a real lack of compassion.
There were many people there from a variety of groups, agencies and churches, and I believe that those who engaged with the conversation are keen to form partnerships and to connect, so as to bring about local change. I was fascinated that in much of the shared dialogue, there was an expectation that government was responsible for the solutions. While I understand this is partly the role of our elected governments – local, state and federal, I found myself thinking that the possibilities and responsibility lie at the level of local communities. I think we need to dream of a new reality for our own ‘town’ and then work towards making the change which we want to see. I can’t see how we can expect the impersonal political system to have all the solutions.
Pope Francis’ visit to the United Nations on 25th September coincided with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals. Pope Francis has often spoken of an ‘integral ecology’ – one that encompasses the environment, economic growth, social justice and human well-being – in other words, sustainable development for our common home. Pope Francis spoke of many of the issues such as war, trafficking, climate change, education, prostitution, injustice and human rights.
“The future demands of us, critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.”
Sustainable Development Goals are a new set of 17 universal goals aimed at achieving three extraordinary things in the next 15 years:
- End extreme poverty
- Fight inequality and injustice
- Fix climate change
These goals were agreed to by 193 world leaders.
The 17 goals are:
- No poverty
- Zero hunger
- Good health and well-being
- Quality education
- Gender equality
- Clean water and sanitation
- Affordable and clean energy
- Decent work and economic growth
- Industry, innovation and infrastructure
- Reduced inequalities
- Sustainable cities and communities
- Responsible consumption and production
- Climate action
- Life below water
- Life on land
- Peace and justice - strong institutions
- Partnerships for the goals
These goals appear to align to the conversation held at Newcastle City Hall. We did not need to go to the United Nations to identify the key issues facing us. So I am even more convinced that we need to join our intellectual, social, economic, spiritual, educational, health and welfare resources for the common good. I heard people using terms like innovation, empowerment, collaboration and the building of community.
One of the speakers said that humans need:
- A place to live
- A place to earn
- A place to learn
- A place to heal
Are we able to imagine a response so that all can live, earn, learn and heal?
I left the meeting thinking of our Catholic Social Teaching principles of:
- The Common Good
- The Dignity of the Human Person
- Preferential Option for the Poor
- Stewardship for Creation
Our Beatitudes, the new covenant, calls us to create a framework for social change. I wonder how we might go about achieving this with those others who gathered in this space because they also cared. On these feast days of All Saints and All Souls, I pray that we might become more fervent pilgrims advancing by our faith. May we be blest and holy.