Caritas Bolton Shop and Community Drop-in volunteers

A large gathering of volunteers and beneficiaries of social action charities in the Diocese of Salford met at Guardian Angles Parish, Bury on Saturday 10th November to celebrate the World Day of the Poor. Pope Francis has set aside this special time each year to invite us to act in solidarity and combat the indifference to the suffering and marginalisation of those most in need. Pope Francis reminds us that “The poor evangelize us and help us each day to discover the beauty of the Gospel”

Opening prayers, led by Fr Paul Cannon grounded us all in the in the psalmists lament,”This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and from his distress he saved him.” Sean Ryan, national coordinator of the very successful refugee Community Sponsorship scheme, sang ‘My Lighthouse’ with its powerful message “your great love will see me through” followed by an introduction from Mark Wiggin, Director of Caritas who reflected upon the importance of volunteering as an act of service and an expression of faith.

Linking the commemoration to the celebration to the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I,  he told the story of the Catholic Needlework Guild that knitted strong socks for men in the trenches but today was renamed Catholic Family Care and supported families on low incomes by buying and subsidising the cost of  school uniforms.  ‘Change’, he said, is important to embrace if we are to remain relevant in this rapidly changing world’. Mark thanked everyone for their service, especially the groups and organisations present, that included the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Caritas Anti-Trafficking and Rainbows bereavement services all part of DiSAN, the Salford Diocese Social Action Network of over thirty member organisations.

At the centre of the celebration was the voice of the poor – spoken by volunteers, many of whom had personal experience of poverty whether through homelessness or destitution or as an asylum seeker or a parent struggling to put food on the family table. We heard from

  • a volunteer at the Food Bank in Radcliffe since March this year also volunteering with Porch & Bury Hospice
  • a beneficiary turned volunteer for the Caritas Family Project in north Manchester whose family had benefitted from a parenting course run by Caritas staff
  • the volunteer couple developing parish-based Anti-Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery awareness programme in the diocese
  • a refugee turned volunteer helped by Cornerstone Day Centre who has benefited from the Refugee Education Centre run by staff and volunteers
  • an asylum seeker finding a home and a family through the welcome and support of volunteers
  • a young woman who after years of voluntary help in the Caritas Shop and Community Drop In at Bolton has now secured the job she has been working towards.

Their powerful personal testimonies gave real meaning to the words of Pope Francis “On this day, may all of us feel that we are in debt to the poor” who “strengthen our faith, inspire our charity and enable our hope.”

Bishop John then shared his own hopes for the growth of faith in these challenging times, inviting each one of us to discern the personal purpose that has been given to us. The theme of each one of us as a missionary disciple was developed with reference to his experiences as an ambassador for Cafod where he visited parishes nearly the size of our diocese but served by a single priest. The message was not lost on us that we are all called to service and our parishes need us to take far more responsibility to develop them as places that look outward to the needs of the community as well as refreshing our inner personal faith.

The connectivity that Pope Francis talks so clearly about in his letters to us also reinforces the message that faith and social action cannot be separated and is intrinsically connected. Developing further the theme of missionary discipleship, Bishop John recalled how In South America the bishops and faithful walk with the people even when they are walking away from the Church.  Bishop John said, “We must not be inward looking, looking after ourselves, but outward looking so we can serve our communities….this is what Pope Francis is preparing us for in his wonderful messages in the encyclicals to us such as Evangelii Guadium and Laudato Si.”

Bishop John ended on a note of hope recalling how the first disciples hadn’t understood their mission fully until after their experiences on the road to Emmaus and at Pentecost.  It was only then did they see their purpose and go out as missionary disciples.  Bishop John concluded saying that we all have the gifts and talents and the diocesan programme ‘Hope in the Future’ will help to bring these out.

The World Day of the Poor brought us together to listen to the evangelising voices of our volunteers and to the message of Bishop John. Both voices spoke the same message of Pope Francis that we are all called to serve. We left feeling refreshed and inspired by these unique stories of hope.

The Second World Day of the Poor this year falls on 18th November which is the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time. It is an opportunity to act in solidarity with all those experiencing poverty and marginalisation both locally and globally. The Work Day of the Poor has been adopted by Caritas Social Action Network and its members as an opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon the social action work of the Church in England and Wales.