We are all chosen to be something great

In his final blog as a CAFOD gapper, Chris Burkette reflects on his trip with CAFOD to Sierra Leone as part of its Step into the Gap programme.  For the last year, he’s been based in Walsingham House in the Brentwood Diocese, alongside volunteering for CAFOD.

Just over a third of a year has passed since I travelled overseas to Sierra Leone.  OverChristopher Burkette these months I have often considered how I fit into making a difference – from the wider world around me, then my local area and community, amongst my friends and family, all the way down to those met on retreat and even strangers I encounter.  At first it’s true. It can feel truly overwhelming to think how you have the responsibility to change those around you, but consider the following story I recently heard.

‘I shall change the world’

There was once a man with such a large heart who saw injustice in the world and saw how so many suffered in times of trial and hardship. He decided he wanted a change, to make a difference and it was him to make this difference.

He thought – ‘I shall change the world’, and so he travelled the world and with everyone he met he tried to change them.

He would talk to the rich and powerful and attempt persuading them to give more generously to those less fortunate with money but time passed by and he ultimately failed to change the world – those stubborn to believe simply chose not to believe and those with money chose not to give. So, realising he could not so simply change the face of the world he decided to start smaller, with his local community.

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Chris and the rest of the Gappers arrive in Sierra Leone

The same thing happened again and then, with just a small selection of his friends, he soon realised he was still unable to truly change how they behaved.

One day it dawned on the man that maybe if he wanted a change it was something that needed to start with him, for only he could change and influence others through how people saw he treated others rather than forcing people to change in the ways he told them to change.

The moral of the story is simple.  So often we try to make a huge change in the places we are, and that is not wrong, as the mistake the man made wasn’t by trying to transform the world – it was by forgetting to start with himself before others.

Something quite potent from a recent Gospel reading was to remove the plank out of your eye before the splinter in another’s.

Romero-cross-5The importance of stewardship

Over the last year, the word which has repeatedly come to mind is stewardship.

By being a CAFOD volunteer I am called to be a steward – an ambassador, in fact – for sharing the works of CAFOD.  Yet we are all called to be stewards of the Gospel equally, as we each have a call to be followers of Christ through discipleship.

For me, a call to discipleship is alike to a call to stewardship and is something important when considering how we as individuals look after the environment.

In one of Pope Francis’ most recent encyclicals, Laudato Si’, he goes further to call us all to be stewards of the earth – our common home.

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Chris and the Gappers in traditional dress with local CAFOD partners and community members in Kambia, Sierra Leone

So often we hear from the Gospels that we are called for a set purpose: A vocation, referred to as a special calling from God in which we can serve Him.

We hear that we are all made differently but in the image of God (Imago Dei) Genesis 1:27, and so this calling is tailormade for every individual to serve God in their own unique way. To do this we must follow the perfect example of this in Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Sierra Leone 1In St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 12:12-27, we are given an image of one body many parts, something I find in my own faith very important.

It truly creates the picture of how each of us has a role in the Church that only we can follow – how special each and every one of us is!

The Church is so much more than a physical building.   It is a collective community of people; a worldwide community of many parts, each with its own role.

We have all been called and chosen to be something great!

So, what does that mean for all of us – Christians, those of faith and non-religious?

It means that we all have been called and chosen to be something great. We are meant for growth and are born to change our world around us for the better!

It is true to say that people should not wholly know we are Catholics or people of Faith by what we dress or wear but how we treat one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

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A lush green Sierra Leonean vista

Spreading the word

I feel like the best way to show the true impact of my many encounters from the overseas trip to Sierra Leone is to show how it has impacted my outlook on life.  By spreading the testimonies of those I met, I educate people on the reality of the wider world.  It is by telling people how each encounter made me feel that I truly impart to others how important these people are, that they are equal like us and that we each hold the ability to make a change for the better.

I want to end this blog by asking you to think about how you can make a difference in how you treat others around you and how even a simple deed such as a smile or conversation alone holds the power to make someone’s day.

As always thank you for your prayers of the Gappers and continue to spread the Gospel.

Find out more about Step into the Gap

Refugee Week – an invitation to counter the globalisation of indifference

Louise Abraham is an International Development student at King’s College in London and a former student of the Brentwood Ursuline. Here she offers her thoughts on Refugee Week and how it is an opportunity to counter  negative attitudes towards refugees by reflecting on the church’s teaching to love our neighbours, and to gather in solidarity for those who have been displaced across the world.

As I drove through France this summer, I noted two perceptions concerning refugees. The first was of pity and compassion. Often phrases such as “Aw, how terrible that this poor Syrian family has to beg at the side of the road” was often accompanied by nods of agreement and words of pities. However, it was the non-verbal gestures that struck me: people locking the car door as they drove past refugees in standstill traffic and avoiding eye contact as they pleaded for help in the streets. The road that preceded Calais was refugee-children-play-whilst-waiting-at-the-border-credit-cafod-natalia-tsoukalaadorned with extensive barbed wire fences that stretched for miles.

Although not openly communicated, there is a resounding perception that refugees are a threat to society and public safety that has pervaded Europe. This perception is often exacerbated by media coverage of refugees committing terrorist attacks or perpetrating sexual assaults. More subtly, news articles often associate words such as “masses” to the movement of refugees into Europe; which is an overstatement as 80% of the world’s murtaza-his-wife-and-two-daughters-are-living-in-a-refugee-camp-in-athens-send-a-message-to-people-in-the-uk-credit-cafod-natalia-tsoukalarefugee population currently resides in Africa. But with those who decide to flee, their struggle begins with the decision of how to undertake the perilous journey that lies before them. Whether they make their journey through land or sea, they are often met with obstacles in a bid to better their lives.

Pope Francis has called on Catholics worldwide to “to protect, to welcome, to promote and to integrate” our fellow citizens. Our attitude towards refugees must go beyond words of compassion. In a world that is consumed by social media there has been a “globalisation of indifference”, as Pope Francis so perfectly described on his visit to Lampedusa. We can become numb to the sufferings of others worldwide. Subsequently, Pope Francis inspired the Share the Journey campaign to promote the rights of all peoplePope+with+refugees+in+Rome+banner+credit in transit. This campaign aims to symbolically “share the journey” with refugees that have been forced to flee their homes. As the United Nations move closer to finalising two new compacts on refugees and migration towards the end of 2018, it becomes increasingly more important that we urge our world leaders to put the lives and dignity of refugees before their own political interests.

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Chelmsford parishioners sign action cards following a Share the Journey walk

CAFOD is doing great work all over the world to aid refugees. For example, in Lebanon CAFOD provides training for young refugees in order to increase their chances of employment. In Myanmar, CAFOD provides basic necessities such as shelter, food and clean water to those who have fled their homes. But this work will only have short-term effects if the global community is not unified. This is why CAFOD urges the UN compacts on refugees and migration to:

  1. Respect human dignity
  2. Protect the vulnerable
  3. Support host countries
  4. Keep families together
  5. Tackle the reasons for migration.

“Refugee Week is an opportunity for the Catholic community to go beyond words and prayers and turn them into action”

This week is Refugee Week, and it is a great reminder of the Churches’ teachings on how we should care for our neighbours. During this week, we should take time to reflect how each individual is made in the image of God, which means that everyone should be treated with the upmost respect. Unfortunately, many refugees report that this is not the case, as they are often beaten and harassed by border officials, or even other refugees. This ordeal is made even harder as many refugees are often separated from their loved ones, often not knowing when they will see them again.

“The Church work cannot alone in this matter, there needs to be a global collaboration on all fronts if we are to see less barbed wire and more open arms”

brothers-keep-warm-under-blankets-as-they-wait-at-the-border-credit-cafod-natalia-tsoukalaRefugee Week is an opportunity for the Catholic community to go beyond words and prayers and turn them into action by signing petitions, participating in the Share the Journey walk, or even volunteering at refugee centres. This week is a global recognition of all refugees who have been displaced by wars, persecution and natural disasters.

While Refugee Week will not solve all the problems faced by refugees worldwide, it is Zoe message resizedimportant for them to know that we stand in solidarity with them. In a world where news is constantly available, refugees are aware of the negative sentiment towards them. Hopefully, a physical stance of solidarity within our communities can create the wave of impact that is needed to push our world leaders to do more for refugees. Nevertheless, it is a step towards tearing down the “helpless” and “threatening” perceptions that many hold against refugees. It is the Church and CAFOD’s aim to ensure the treatment of all refugees as human beings; beings that are free to roam, work and live as they wish, with dignity and respect. But the Church cannot work alone in this matter, there needs to be a global collaboration on all fronts if we are to see less barbed wire and more open arms.

Gloria in the highest!

Gloria Turner joined our team of office volunteers in September 2017 after over 30 years as a science teacher, and says ‘I had been looking for voluntary work for a while when I saw the CAFOD advert in my parish newsletter.  It seemed like a good opportunity to find out more about CAFOD and make a contribution to an agency  based on my Catholic faith.  I applied for office work as I had always enjoyed doing admin tasks in my teaching career’.

A fine voice and great hand eye coordination

In her spare time Gloria a is committed choir member as well as a tennis coach, and had the distinction at one time of being nominated in the top 6 ‘best teachers’ across the country. She was pleased to be able to bring her knowledge, skills and experience to bear on the varied role of office volunteer ‘My teaching experience has helped me to be organised, flexible, willing to learn and persevere with unfamiliar tasks and be able to communicate in a variety of ways. I have needed to use basic IT skills including data handling to be able to learn a variety of new techniques since being with CAFOD’.

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Gloria (left) with fellow office volunteers Daphne (centre) and Pat (right) show their support for the eviction-threatened Maua community in Brazil during our campaign last year

Just after Christmas, Gloria turned up to the office with her arm in a sling. She had broken her wrist during a tennis match the same week. Despite my protestations that she should be resting, Gloria insisted that she was fine and managed to teach herself to do tasks one-handed. It was a true indication of her determination, perseverance and patient nature.

Since joining CAFOD as an office volunteer, Gloria’s versatility has led to her working on a range of tasks including  using social media including scheduling tweets and writing blogs, using Google maps to display a variety of information about schools and parishes,  contacting parish volunteers by phone and email at Lent and Harvest and preparing a report for the Bishop using sources from different locations.

Gloria is full of admiration for the work undertaken by our other volunteers: ‘As an office volunteer I have an overview of the inspiring work carried out by schools volunteers and the great fundraising work that parish volunteers do. I would encourage volunteering for CAFOD as it  is such a rewarding experience to be part of an organisation that makes such a big difference to the lives of people in many parts of the world’.

Gloria, we are full of admiration for you, and are so grateful for the contribution you have made to our work over the past year. Thank you!