Is this a time of opportunity?

By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker

The result of the referendum on membership of the European Union took most of us by surprise, horrifying some and delighting others, and causing political upheaval for both main parties. The Brexit campaign has been widely accused of oversimplification of complex issues, misinformation about the likely consequences and an underlying racial prejudice.

Whatever the reasons for the vote, Brexit means Brexit. Those trying to understand why it happened suggest that politicians have been despised as being out of touch and serving only the interests of the powerful. By this account, the vote was a protest against the political establishment by people who felt abandoned and forgotten. The referendum was a rare opportunity when politics allowed them to be heard.

If the sense of being abandoned and forgotten is a correct analysis, then politics needs to do more than change party leaders. It needs to change for the better. It needs to find a way of connecting with ordinary people.

Although the Conservatives restored order very quickly, through a system that relied on the influence of an elite few, it seems as though Labour's reliance on a democratic process has thrown it into a tumultuous power struggle that will last for months. Some are even predicting that the re-emergence of the hard left has put the party's very survival into question. It would be unfortunate if autocracy restored order while democracy caused chaos.

When we turn to our faith for help in understanding what a change for the better might look like, Catholic Social Teaching offers the concept of subsidiarity to help us think about how political and economic power should be exercised. In Laudato Si', Pope Francis recommends "the principle of subsidiarity, which grants freedom to develop the capabilities present at every level of society" and calls for "new forms of cooperation and community organisation".

A new form of politics sounds very welcome in our turbulent times but it poses a huge question. Who is going to make this new form of politics in which all of us have our questions answered, our needs addressed and our talents developed? I'm afraid there is only one answer. We are. Each one of us needs to be involved. But we can't do this on our own. 'I' needs to become 'we'. 'I will do it' needs to become 'We will do it'. The time is ripe for people of faith to take an active part in the way our country is organised at all levels, local and national. We in our families, our schools, our parishes, our church communities, our deaneries, and our diocese can take an active role in what is happening in our areas. We need to talk to each other, to our local communities, our councillors, our MPs, and to take an active part in protecting the interests of all.

This is a time of opportunity if we have the courage and the energy to get involved. This is a new opportunity to make sure that the changes in Britain's role in the world do not condemn us to increased privilege for the rich and more misery for the poor. The future needs us.

Could you help host a Syrian family?
Do you remember September last year when Pope Francis appealed to all churches to take in a refugee family? The government has officially launched the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement scheme that allows ordinary people to get involved in sponsoring vulnerable refugee children and their families. It is a big task. The sponsoring group must provide a house, have a ring-fenced income of £9,000 to use if necessary, have the agreement of the local authority and approval of their local MP, and be able to find appropriate school places.

A housing association could help with finding a house and maybe a group of churches could raise the money together. If you would like to know more, please:

• Find a group of like-minded people
• Get the approval of your parish priest
• Contact Steve Atherton at LACE for a full explanation of the process