Countering Consumerism – Reflections on Gaudete et Exsultate

Minsteracres on the Northumberland / Co Durham border is a truly beautiful place, well known to me since my childhood and teens and for many years later, as I was a parishioner of St Patrick’s, Consett for 4 decades before we were ‘exiled ‘to the East Riding of Yorkshire!

The Estate lies between Consett and Hexham on the A68 and the tops of the amazing avenue of giant sequoias can be seen for many miles around. You would think the perfect place to reflect on peace and non-consumerism.

However, the mansion house originally was built in 1758 by George Silvertop, who was the first Catholic High Sheriff of Northumberland, after the repeal of the Penal Law and belonged to that family, for almost 200 years. It is a beautiful house sumptuously decorated with vast ceilings and huge rooms.

One of the sumptuous rooms

After some family tragedies and after the son and heir Francis Silvertop was killed in WW1, the family sold the property in 1949 to the Passionist Fathers, who became involved with St Patrick’s, giving retreats and supplying to the local parishes

In the early 70’s the Retreat House was rebuilt and transformed from carriage and stable blocks by the men of Consett parishes during a steel strike. They did the work voluntarily but were fed by the Brothers. It was truly a labour of love. After it was finished Minsteracres opened its doors for summer fairs, family days and retreats for parishes. Myself and my family spent many happy hours in those grounds.

The theme for the day was: Reflections on the Pope’s encyclical,                        Countering Consumerism: Lessons from Gaudete et Exultate.

This retreat was organised by CAFOD and hosted by David Cross, Community Participation Coordinator and was advertised in both Hexham and Newcastle and Middlesbrough Dioceses. It was a lovely opportunity for me to ‘touch base’, I was delighted to be there again! AND it was a FREE day! I just had to go.

Sarah, CAFOD’s Campaigns Manager

The presentations were led by Sarah Croft, CAFOD’s Campaigns Manager, who remarked that it seemed incongruous that we were discussing non-consumerism which didn’t fit easily with the painted ceilings, grand rooms and collections of antiques. However, the fact that this beautiful property is being used for people to come together to pray and find peace, is a wonderful use for the many, instead of the few. Like the tiny seeds from the great sequoias, our lives we hope, will grow and flourish.

Our opening liturgy took the theme of the Beatitudes- that God’s blessings do not follow the logic of the world we live in. In fact, the opposite is true. The world believes that the rich are blessed but Jesus reminds us that it is the poor who are blessed, the poor in spirit and the materially poor as well.

While people covet power, Jesus blesses the meek and asks us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and the marginalised, which is CAFOD’s ‘raison d’etre’. We ask Jesus to show us his presence in the faces of those the world forgets.

This theme continued with thinking of a more just world in which all have enough and none are left behind. We were asked to reflect on how the Beatitudes affect us in our own lives, our relationship with those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, our lack of humility, our fight for justice for others, being merciful, forgetting ourselves and our desires and being peacemakers.

Discussing the challenges presented by our consumer culture

In groups we discussed things which are seldom considered – our desire for newer, bigger, better set against the working conditions of those who make electronic devices, clothes and food – the ‘labour behind the label’.

Following the Beatitudes, we are asked to let Jesus’s words unsettle us, challenge us and demand a real change in the way we live.

The Beatitudes contain eight blessings. In the almost two millennia since it was spoken by Jesus, no other text or teaching has come close to it, as guidance for how to live a good and moral life.

We were asked to identify which of these blessings affect each one of us in our own lives. It was a bit like a preparation for the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Am I poor in spirit? When I mourn a loved one, am I just thinking of my own loss? Do I lack humility and am I prepared to be self- effacing? Am I merciful – do I forgive enough? Am I prepared to be persecuted or criticised for righteousness sake?

We were then asked how these Beatitudes can be our ideal to follow each day. In Gaudete et Exultate, the Pope calls us all to work at being holy in our own lives. Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes. If anyone asks,

“What must one do to become a good Christian?”, the answer is clear. We must do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount. We find a portrait of the Master. The word “happy” or “blessed” become a synonym for “holy”. It expresses the fact that those faithful to God and His word by their self-giving, gain true happiness.

The Pope expresses this and encourages us to have open hearts and minds: – “A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelising environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan.”

In the next session we were invited to experience a reflection hour with a relaxation and silence exercise. We were given questions to reflect on how easy or difficult it would be for us to live out the Beatitudes in our own life. Do we have role models in our lives, like St Theresa, Mother Teresa, the English Martyrs and what made them stand out as saintly figures? They are usually people who forget themselves and are totally focussed on Christ.

We were asked what our greatest distractions or obstacles were in responding to the call to holiness. Pope Francis suggests we are obsessed with our own pleasures – however simple they may be – perhaps our own comfort or needs. Could we develop daily or weekly habits that would help us grow in holiness, perhaps a bit less TV and more time for prayer, visiting sick or needy, writing to politicians and protesting for the innocent?

It is interesting but tragic that public opinion has now become more aware of the damage we have done to our earthly home, a world of beauty created by Our God. People are now more aware of the kind of messages which CAFOD and other voices have been warning about for so long. We pray that it is not too late.

So, we spent the day reflecting on how we can BE DISTURBED by the gospel of the Beatitudes, challenge the culture of consumerism and how we can accept Pope Francis’ invitation to more fully care for our common home.

The day was concluded with sharing views and thoughts provoked by these questions. Finally, we read the CAFOD livesimply prayer, Walk Lightly.

Each leaf, and each petal, each grain, each person, sings your praises Creator God. Each creature on the earth, all the mountains and the great seas, show your glory, Spirit of love. And yet the hand of greed has patented and plundered Your splendour, has taken and not shared Your gift,has lived as owner of the Earth, not guest.  And so, the ice is cracked, the rivers dry, the valleys flooded and the snow caps melt. God Our Father, show us how to step lightly, how to live simply, with respect and love for all that you have made. Amen.

Thank you, David, Sarah and CAFOD for this inspirational day in such a beautiful place – especially as it was FREE!

Mary-Rose Stokoe. CAFOD Volunteer, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Market Weighton.

Share The Journey Advent Service

The final Share the Journey event for 2018 was the Hull Advent Service organised by our CAFOD parish volunteers from across Hull and North Humberside. It was a truly multi-cultural event.
We gathered with our bishop, Rt. Rev Terence Patrick Drainey, the Rt. Rev Alison White, Anglican Bishop of Hull and Emma Hardy MP for Hull West, plus a good

share the journey

Arafa and her daughters

number of people of different faiths and cultures for a very moving and memorable service. The Rev James Benfield welcomed everyone to St Charles Borromeo Church which was thankfully warm. After the introduction and scripture reading, we heard from four members of the Dirar family, refugees who had fled from war in Sudan and lived in different refugee camps for twenty years. 

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Life in Refugee Camp

Arafa, the mother, greeted us with a blessing of peace in her native tongue and her daughter translated it. She was full of gratitude to God and to everyone for being invited to speak to us. Then her son, Waieel, shared a poem he’d written, rap-like, capturing his own reflections on all he’d lived through from leaving his childhood home to arriving in Hull.

Bishop Alison gave the homily, reflecting on sharing journey’s and the African Drummers and United Voices choir and musicians made up of people from many countries further enriched the service, under the expert conducting of Gabrielle Awre.

As we had arrived in the church, our eyes were drawn upwards to four paintings hanging above the benches, they were of different scenes but I kept returning to one of a woman, facing away, sitting on a rock in a barren land, it was of Arafa. There were others along the altar rails capturing other memories of various stages of the long journey they had undertaken.

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Painted image of a woman facing away

Speaking with them after the service, I learned the family had painted the pictures themselves in a room in their home and they had been displayed at the Freedom Festival. They are haunting. The family had travelled from Sudan and lived in refugee camps in Libya and Cairo before coming to England. For people who had endured such suffering they were amazingly happy and truly grateful for all they now have.

The twin girls, Mays and Gaida, told me they hadn’t been to school for more than four years in the refugee camp and were now studying in college, one, art and the other, chemistry and physics, while Waieel is studying computer technology. It’s wonderful that they now have opportunities to flourish. I’m sure they will enrich the lives of many people with their talents.

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Refugees collecting water

The words of Pope Francis rang true: “The future is made of you, it is made of encounters. the future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people, who recognise the other as you, and themselves as part of ‘us’. We all need each other.”

The service ended with a word of thanks from Bishop Terry and a joint blessing with Bishop Alison. Grateful thanks to all concerned with helping to organise such a wonderful event!

Carol Cross, Community Participation Coordinator, CAFOD Middlesbrough.

 

A Refugee Journey in verse

At the Hull Advent Service last weekend we met the amazingly talented Dirar family who fled from war in Sudan. They brought with them amazing artwork depicting their journey through different refugee camps and gave thanks for the freedom and safety they now enjoy. Waieel bravely shared his journey in verse:

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“i was in my home

living a good life

you’d never see me alone

cause got a big family and the happiness rife

just picture a normal livin

and children playing outside

parents love is gavin’

and everything is alright

now pictures a gun risen

and the war rose

as the blood spillin’

and the life froze

i can see the pieces move

the cracks on the wall

that was the proof

that i have lost it all

i am not living under a roof

the cracks on the wall

my mind in disprove

I can’t recall

standing on the streets

and watching my home crumble

sad heartbeats

as it is turning to jumble

i am turning my back

so i can survive

i get on the track

on the long journey drive

i am refugee, searching

lost  all over  place

stress, you can see it emerging

just looking at my face

collecting memories

of the good old days

feels like centuries

and a lot of weights

too much pressure

everything hurts

it’s hard  to feel pleasure

can’t hear birds

talking about the life i miss

i am on different planet

never asked for a life like this

i really never want it

i am in different land

everything is strange

it’s not new stand

but everything changed

i am settled now

i gotta start from scratches

still sat down

world is moving fast

got to catch it

far from the place i hatched

looking for people i can match

i reset my life

i haven’t rested

i stay awake at night

cause the flashbacks never ended

i finally found a ground

so i can land

a second home

another chance”.

Waieel ‘Wael’ XVII Dirar.