23 November 2016
By Philomena Grimley, SHCJ
I recently returned from a meeting of the UK Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network in Crewe in England. It turned out to be a most inspiring experience as I happily told the group at the end of the final session and I want to share some of it with you.
For quite some years now in our province we have been receiving an AFRICA ACTION SHEET produced by Myra Cumming, SHCJ four times a year. We have also had periodic references to the Network in our province news and we know that Myra represents us in it. I think there have been occasions, too, in London from time to time when AEFJN has hosted a day, welcoming all who come to give them an experience of what they are about. But I have to admit that it is only after this experience I have had that I have come to appreciate the strength of the Network and the very important and valuable advocacy work they do.
I had not realised the extent of AEFJN begun in Rome in 1988 by leaders of religious congregations with missionary and development experience in Africa. They saw that legislation and trade agreements being passed by the EU were unjustly exploiting African countries and undermining progress. There is now an Executive Committee in Rome elected by representatives of 40 missionary congregations. They have an office in Brussels with three fulltime staff. Then in 12 European countries congregational representatives form national groups called Antenna. They share information on key economic issues, receive updates from Brussels, network with other organisations campaigning for economic justice and try to promote effective lobbying of MP’s and MEP’s on urgent issues. The Network is now developing in Africa too. Modern technology and social media have become important tools to assist both sharing of information and advocacy action.
All the efforts of AEFJN are underpinned and motivated by our Christian faith and gospel values. You might say that everything in Laudato Si’ finds an echo in what inspires the members. That is certainly what I found and what inspired me as I listened and took part in what the core group had prepared for the meeting of members. Apparently about 25 religious congregations in the UK are subscribing members so any of us are welcome to the Network’s meetings. Lay people, too, are made welcome. I was delighted to meet Maureen Hamilton representing the SHCJ Associates when I was in Crewe.
As well as introducing us all to the vision, mission, values and working structure of the AEFJN core group members made presentations on the three key issues which all national Antennae have been asked to focus on this year. These were Trade, Land Grabbing and Climate Change. I was so impressed by the thoroughness of their research and the clarity with which they presented us with their findings. But most of all I was shocked by the injustices they exposed in each area of research. So all the more reason why the efforts of this Network must be supported by us as well.
One important point was made to all of us by the Chair, Father Terry Donnelly CSSp who is in regular contact with the leaders of the Network in Rome and in Brussels. When they are preparing material for advocacy on a particular issue, the more they can provide data from the “grass roots” about it, the stronger is their case. They need our sisters and brothers in the different African countries to send us information, cases etc. from their experience at first hand. Such data will get the submissions attended to. I know that both Myra and I hope we can make some contacts with sisters in our African province as and when issues come to the fore to provide this kind of information first hand.
All of are asked to pray most earnestly for the work of this Network in its advocacy against terrible injustices. Some of us might want to learn more and be active advocates.