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MINISTER’S LETTER

page 7 Helen JulianDear Friends,

I had a first the other day: a family whose two daughters I was baptising asked whether one of the godparents, the girls’ uncle, could be included by Skype, as he lives in Australia. After checking with my incumbent, I agreed, and looked forward with interest and a little trepidation to the day. But no trepidation was necessary – the technology worked perfectly, and a distant member of the family was able to see and participate in an important family event.

It was a small and happy reminder of something that we’re more often reminded of by disasters and difficulties. This is one world, and we belong together. What happens in one part of the world has its effects elsewhere, and we can’t close our eyes just because it isn’t happening here, in our home country. Of course the most striking recent example of this has been the refugee crisis in Europe, with people pouring out of conflict zones and countries plagued by extreme poverty or oppression, seeking to save their lives and to create a future for themselves and their families. No longer just pictures on the TV, real men, women and children have flooded along the roads of many European countries, risked their lives on our seas, and huddled in makeshift camps at railway stations. Both governments and individuals have varied widely in their response, from welcome, through helping them to move on, to building fences to keep them out. But this is one world, and we will have to find ways of helping.

Other events on the international scene acknowledge the reality that this is one world, and we belong together. In September the UN ratified new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They cover poverty, hunger, inequality, and environmental destruction, among other issues of global concern, and apply to both rich and poor countries. Crucially for the first time they include the principle that ‘no one will be left behind’. This means that for a goal to be met it must be met for all groups in society. Those at the bottom of the heap – among them often women, and religious and ethnic minorities – cannot be ignored. The new goals come into effect on 1st January 2016, and run until 2030. The fact that the negotiations to agree them were difficult is paradoxically a hopeful sign, showing that governments take them seriously and expect to be held to account for them.

One of the key changes from the MDGs is a recognition that climate change affects poor people most severely, and that tackling it is crucial to meeting many other goals. This work was due, as I write, to be carried forward at the UN climate talks in Paris in December. Pope Francis’ June encyclical Laudato Si has been an important part of the run up to that meeting and continues to be an excellent resource. The subtitle – ‘on care for our common home’ – makes my point, and Francis references his namesake to support his contention that care for the planet and for the people on it go together. ‘He [Francis] shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.’ (preface para. 10)

The problems can seem too big to address, but the Pope assures us that this isn’t the case. ‘The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.’ (para.13) This is one world, and we belong together. What action can we take in 2016 to acknowledge this reality?

May the Lord give you Peace.

Helen Julian CSF