It came as a terrible shock to us to have church categorised as a ‘non-essential’ service, less important than supermarkets and even off-licences. Our bishops have an obvious concern for the opening of church buildings so that we can worship and express our faith through the Mass and public and private prayer. We need our churches for our life as a community: for Baptisms, First Communions, weddings and funerals.
Yet closed churches do not mean that we can no longer express our Catholic, Christian faith. In his exhortation ‘On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World’, Pope Francis says that ‘the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others’. These words make it clear that we express our faith by our actions towards other people.
With this in mind, and with an awareness of the impact of the pandemic on some of the most vulnerable people in our area, the Archbishop and the trustees recently decided that diocesan funds ringfenced for charitable initiatives would go to support local charitable projects. Grants of £5,000 have been made to Feeding Liverpool (www.feedingliverpool.org) and SWAP (www.swapwigan.org) to help their much-needed work to continue.
To provide some information about these charities, Feeding Liverpool is an ecumenical pilot project of Feeding Britain – and a wonderful example of the strength of ecumenical relationships among churches in Liverpool. In ‘normal’ times, the aims of Feeding Liverpool are to:
• Create arenas for practitioners to share and shape good practices in relation to tackling hunger and food insecurity in the Liverpool city region
• Draw on experiences from the ground to influence policy debates locally and nationally
• Raise awareness and understanding of food policy and related issues
Since Covid-19, Feeding Liverpool has played a key role, in collaboration with the mayor’s office, in the procurement and distribution of food supplies to support vulnerable households, using funds secured through its relationship with Feeding Britain and with local churches. Feeding Liverpool understands food insecurity as one part of a wider web of poverty and seeks to change the structures that allow injustice to continue.
Its chief challenges and concerns are as follows:
• Un/under-employment; loss of income, e.g. ‘furloughed’ workers not receiving the 20% top-up
• Delays in receiving Universal Credit
• Debt, including dangers of informal lending
• Digital exclusion, e.g. ensuring tablets/stable internet connections for schoolwork; financial digital exclusion, e.g. older people who are fearful about leaving their homes but do not have access to cash or online banking to pay for home deliveries
• Social isolation and fears to ask for help, particularly among those struggling to care for children
• Deteriorating mental health; especially for young people over summer holidays, groups who are continuing to shield/fearful to leave home, single parents, single people
• Vitamin D deficiencies – both in young children but also in shielded and vulnerable population
• Dependency on free food parcels; the need to move away from free food parcel models towards encouraging affordable food initiatives
• Tailored debt advice/support
• Understanding the pandemic’s impact on Liverpool through collection of suitable data
SWAP – the Support Wigan Arrivals Project – looks after the interests of over 1,000 asylum seekers in Wigan borough and the surrounding districts by providing advice, case work support, and language classes. It has maintained its outreach to some of the area’s most vulnerable people despite a funding crisis during the pandemic. Asylum seekers and refugees are doubly disadvantaged by having very limited accommodation and not always being able to understand health instructions. They are one of the groups least likely to have digital access, making it difficult for their children to keep in contact with schools.
Nationally, the Bishops’ Conference has acted by creating an online booklet titled Responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic which serves as a toolkit for parishes, offering advice from the Caritas Social Action Network and the St Vincent de Paul Society (Nugent, in the case of our diocese) as well as a full list of contacts.
Although lockdown may be easing for some, many in our parishes will continue to need our support. Hopefully this document will encourage, support and enable this important work. It can be reached via www.liverpoolcatholicresources.com or www.liverpoolcatholic.org.uk (by clicking on ‘Prayer and Other Resources’). Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
The quotation from Pope Francis at the start of this article goes on to say: ‘Our worship becomes pleasing to God when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters.’