A Christian call to restore harmony

By Helen Jones

Every year on Peace Sunday, the third Sunday of January, the Archdiocese of Liverpool Justice & Peace Commission hosts its annual memorial lecture in memory of those who have contributed to the J&P cause in their lifetime. This year it took place on Sunday 17 January and, instead of a gathering at LACE, it was held virtually for the first time on Zoom. The lecture was titled ‘To prepare a future full of hope amid chaos and uncertainty’ and was given by Mary Colwell.

Mary is an award-winning writer, environmentalist and producer, who is also a feature writer for The Tablet, and she put her considerable communication skills to use with a gentle, inspiring presentation which indeed explained chaos and uncertainty in our world, and explained the need for a balance between the four considerations of God, others, the environment and ourselves.

Of these four, she pointed out that the environment had only recently become a major consideration but, quoting from ‘Laudato Si’, observed that the maintenance of this balance was now seen as a major factor by the Catholic Church.

Mary then went on to help us to find ways in which we could act. She emphasised passion and simple steps, including the suggestion to ‘pick something you love’She illustrated this with her own love of the curlew, a large British wading bird, the numbers of which have drastically fallen in recent decades. She explained how she had set out on a 500-mile walk through England, Wales and Ireland where curlew numbers were falling and how this first action had led to interest, education and political action among people throughout the UK.

Her suggestion of using a LOAF (Local, Organic, Animal-friendly, Fairly traded) approach when buying food was picked up on by many participants.

Following on from the lecture, we were invited to have small group discussions followed by a Q&A session with Mary where she responded to a wide range of questions including the use of public parks as a resource to educate and ways to lobby MPs. 

Below are some of the responses we received from participants from the Archdiocese and beyond:

Annie Merry, Director of Faiths4Change, Merseyside
Mary invited us all to engage actively in preparing for a future together that was rooted in faith, hope and nature. Drawing on ‘Laudato Si’, she highlighted Pope Francis’ call for direct action and challenges to the tragedy of extinction facing many species by our current ways of living, saying: ‘We have not the right!’ Mary concluded by asking us to stop waste, start being thankful and to ‘fall in love with the earth again’.

Pat Murphy, Archdiocese of Liverpool
Mary's lecture on a damp Sunday afternoon was a wonderful reminder during this ever-long lockdown of how blessed we are with the world and all that it provides for us. Mary’s words vividly reminded us that we are just custodians of this planet to hand on to the next generation. Appreciate the simple things that we take for granted – the birds of the air, the ebb and flow of the tide and the wonder of the seasons, with the changing landscape.
As Christians it is our duty to play our part in the care of the planet. Recycle, reuse, buy Fairtrade, become animal-friendly, walk rather than drive. God has created all these things, and provided a beautiful earth for us to enjoy. Let’s not destroy it. Take a photograph each day of something that is simple but uplifts us – carry the positive thoughts that will keep us positive. Take the simple, more holistic approach to our daily life.
A most uplifting couple of hours. A burst of energy almost, and a reminder that if we can all just change our lifestyle in a small way, we will leave the earth in a good condition for the next generation.

Brother Bernard Foy, Diocese of Arundel & Brighton
Mary evoked both an intellectual and emotional response in me. Her delightful presentation reminded us of the glorious variety of creation, and through that of the exuberance of the Creator. GM Hopkin’s poem came to mind: ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God.’
After a lifetime of involvement with young people and becoming increasingly aware of the diminishment of life experiences for many young people in the deprived city areas we serve, I was led to ask how can we focus on animal charities when stories of women and children suffering appear daily. The really difficult area of Justice & Peace commitment is: how do we prioritise issues, especially those concerning people?

Pauline Volk, Archdiocese of Liverpool
At a time when we can all feel overwhelmed, it was refreshing to hear Mary’s approach in that after giving some thoughts on the larger picture of the concerning situation we are in at present – in light not only of Covid-19, but also the climate crisis – she highlighted the value of taking some initial smaller steps.
Through sharing her personal story, it was much easier to imagine those first possible small steps we each could make. In the break-out groups and afterwards in the chat, many concrete actions were suggested. Last year, I took part in the Laudato Si Animator course and I take this talk as further encouragement to put the ideas of Pope Francis into practice by choosing to adopt the Live Simply principles and also invite others to do so too.

Mark Wiggin, Director of Caritas for Diocese of Salford & Northern Dioceses Environment Group convener
When I logged on, I didn’t have any clear expectations about what I was going to learn. It had been a busy week and I didn’t do my usual due diligence of looking up who exactly Mary Colwell was. I remember reading a Tablet article some time ago about her walking the Camino which led me thinking perhaps today would be a spiritual reflection on a painful journey towards redemption. The title of the lecture sounded as it might be a call to the ‘new normal’ for us to rally round social-justice issues of poverty, disadvantage or even reflect on what a post-Brexit Britain might look like.
Instead, I found myself listening intensely to the wisdom of a person who had fallen in love with nature and who offered a simple solution to climate change and the finite resources of our planet when she said that ‘we want to have a future where people and nature are in harmony’.
Asked about what our priorities should be, she offered the following advice: ‘Pick something to love and go with your passion, go with your heart, that’s where you will make the best difference.’ At the end of her inspiring memorial lecture, it began to dawn on me that the curlew was indeed a metaphor for redemption and its survival and flourishing, like everything else on God’s earth, begins by taking the first deliberate step on that journey to salvation.

To read more about Mary Colwell’s work, visit www.curlewmedia.com.