A new Catholic social justice and action agency has been formally launched in the Diocese of Shrewsbury in what was described as an “historic day” for the local Church.
Caritas Diocese of Shrewsbury was founded less than two years after the highly successful Caritas Roadshow of 2015 brought together 28 local Catholic social justice organisations and their supporters.
The new agency will incorporate the work of the Shrewsbury Catholic Children’s Society, a social work agency of the Diocese, while finding new solutions to problems presented, for instance, by domestic poverty and the influx of refugees and asylum seekers.
It will often work in partnership with other Catholic social action groups such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
The Rt Rev. Mark Davies, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, and Canon Philip Moor, a Vicar General of the Diocese, both described the establishment of the new agency as an “historic” event.
And Mary Kilcoyne, the chief executive of the agency, said that 2017 was a new “year zero” for the social work of the Diocese as it sought fresh approaches to emerging social problems in the light of the Gospel.
The event at Ellesmere Port Catholic High School drew almost 150 people from across the Diocese.
The agency, which is being funded by the Our Mission Together initiative, was established by a Mass celebrated at the gathering by Bishop Davies.
During his homily, the Bishop stressed that the foundation “of this work of charity and justice is in the Mass”.
Bishop Davies said: “If we ask what in a hundred years would we wish to be remembered of this gathering, of this foundation day, we surely want to leave this testimony to all who come after us – Caritas was founded in the Mass, in the light of the Eucharist.”
He said: “Today, when people experience ‘charity fatigue’, so overwhelmed can we feel at the flood of heart-rending images and stories brought to us daily.
“We will never grow weary in the work of Caritas if we recognise in the Eucharist this same Jesus and His tireless charity which will leads us, in those last words of the Letter to the Hebrews, to be ‘ready to do his will in any kind of good action’.”
Introducing the speakers, Bishop Davies had earlier noted that the Caritas agency was being founded 128 years after Bishop Edmund Knight, the second Bishop of Shrewsbury, oversaw launch of the diocesan children’s rescue society in answer to the needs of the poor.
Bishop Davies said: “We are gathering here to renew that mission and to extend the work of the Children’s Society to meet new forms of poverty and new needs around us as we work together as a Diocese.”
In her address, Miss Kilcoyne (pictured below) explained that the Caritas Roadshow, which had also been held at Ellesmere Port Catholic High School, had set in motion a train of events which had unlocked “new life, new energy, new possibilities and a new way of responding to the many challenges we find in our Diocese and our community”.
She predicted that the agency would help to meet the wish of Pope Francis for a “Church for the poor”.
“We are in year zero. It is a real invitation challenge to do things differently and to start doing other things,” she said.
“The CCS hasn’t disappeared, it has drawn into a bigger agency with a bigger profile of work,” she continued. “It’s the Catholic Children’s Society – plus, plus, plus.”
“We are building on our experiences and we are also making changes,” she said, adding that funding from Our Mission Together has allowed the agency to extend an existing project for children, families and schools to Tameside and Wythenshawe and to appoint a social worker for the Hattersley area of Manchester.
Miss Kilcoyne said that Caritas would also investigate ways to extend the social work of the Catholic Church into the towns and rural areas of Shropshire.
The agency, she said, was now looking for volunteers to help to deliver projects, as well as ambassadors to promote the work of Caritas throughout the churches and schools of the Diocese, and “enablers” to identify and strategically plan new projects.
“We are growing and that is good news,” said Miss Kilcoyne.
The launch was also addressed by Mike Kane, Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, who told the audience how he was already working with the agency in helping refugees in his constituency.
The work of the agency, he explained, gave Catholics the opportunity to perform “corporal works of mercy” among the poor.
“We need to show leadership and we need to take action,” said Mr Kane, pictured. “This isn’t just about glossy leaflets. This is about doing real action on the ground.
“Action is the oxygen of organisation – that’s what changes people and that’s what has improved the lives of about 30 asylum seekers in Wythenshawe this week.”
The gathering was also addressed by Dr Philip McCarthy, the chief executive of the Catholic Social Action Network.
He said that 18 of 22 dioceses of England and Wales were at present moving toward creating Caritas organisations.
Dr McCarthy said that Caritas Diocese of Shrewsbury would be a “voice for Catholic social action”, that it would offer “support for people working in social action” within the Diocese, that it would help to integrate the mission of the Church, and that it would also assist Bishop Davies “in his leadership of the Diocese”.
(Photos by Simon Caldwell)