Why a Group?
The injustice and violence in the world may seem just too big for one person, but we can all do something.
People bring different skills and knowledge to a group, benefiting its operation. All ought to be convinced that work for JPIC is a vital part of their personal Christian commitment. God gives us the capacity to relate to one another and work together so that a good and effective group has more potential than an individual.
People value the experience and benefits of working with others and want to know more about what their neighbours are doing – both successes and cautionary tales. They can receive support and encouragement from their neighbours, gaining fresh energy and insights to carry them forward. In particular, there may be special concerns over certain issues in regions/deaneries/boroughs, which will benefit from concerted study, prayer and action.
Needless to say, consistent good communication with other church structures is essential, including that to and from local clergy, diocesan areas, the diocesan commission and other bodies. If all overtures are blocked, then remember that according to Populorum Progressio, “The laity must act, using their initiative, not waiting for instructions.” However, it is usually valuable to have one or more local people within the structural church who can be looked upon as “champions” of the group (even if, actually, they merely give silent assent to what is going on).
The Christian ethos of JPIC work indicates that HOW a group operates is just as important as WHAT its concerns are.
When taking action, you need to:
+ Survey the institutions and individuals who play a key role in provoking or preventing change.
+ Examine the role of each institution and of the people within it.
+ Find out who is sympathetic and who is resistant to the proposed changes.
+ Establish relationships of trust with those you want to work with, be they politicians, trade-unionists, educationalists, community groups, NGOs …
+ Be clear and realistic about the exact nature of the change that is being proposed.
+ Work out who will affected by your activity or upset by it, and who ought to be consulted.
Once you have identified a generic problem you can tease out a specific and manageable issue from it and divide that into sub-issues upon which a group can reflect and plan and mount well-researched and well-prepared actions.
Starting a Group
A NEW Group Develops
The best way to get started is probably to get together with two or three others and talk things over. Find out what each of you would like to get out of a group and what you think it should do – and not do. Devise some specific “launch” event, open to all, be it a time of prayer, social, video, talk by an expert, etc., and plan it with care. (Including a time, place and outline format for a follow-up meeting, formal or informal, as suits those involved; also, make sure that the less able and those with dietary needs do not feel excluded.) Make individual invitations to as many potentially interested people as possible and find out if they may be willing to consider joining a group and/or supporting what it does. Also, get them to invite their friends. Soon afterwards, set up a regular meeting time and place for an initial period – perhaps every week for a liturgical season or monthly for six months or so – and evaluate success at then end of this time, as well as on an ongoing basis. (And do not forget to involve members of religious orders who may live locally.)
There is an initial tentative period, characterised by politeness and co-operation, while people get to know one another.
Next, a potentially difficult and frustrating period, in which members have come to know each better and start to explore their differences and challenge what should be done.
After this, members accept one another and settle down to their common work, having recognised their differences and worked out what they can all do together.
Finally, the group gets on with their job and settle down to get work done, no longer wasting time on “going over old ground”.
As a consequence they become aware of the reality of injustice, suffering and violence in our world and can seek to understand the structures and attitudes that create and perpetuate situations of injustice, conflict and environmental destruction. Action results after reflecting on this in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s teachings.
Many parish JPIC groups are small, and many individuals work without local group support. Other parish activities face similar challenges. Often, JPIC concerns are taken on by other parish organisations, perhaps without achieving real awareness that justice issues and Catholic Social Teaching are involved and can help them to be effective in their action and prayer.
Generally, people are open to extend work beyond the geographical and faith boundaries of a single parish, school or other church community, standing alongside others of good will. Small groups can find the challenges of Catholic Social Teaching and injustices in our modern world overwhelming, and need help to decide how to start to become involved and what priorities to consider. After study and reflection on the bible and upon church teaching, a time for action will arrive. Otherwise there will be frustration!
It is not necessarily an easy task to start and sustain a group, but it can be done. Each group will develop in its own way, but there are some essential characteristics: a serious commitment and a willingness to be thoughtful and thorough in whatever is undertaken. It is always important to think carefully about the Christian principles that underlie issues.
You may choose to concentrate on a single project or to undertake a varied programme. Both choices have their merits, as does the decision to concentrate on issues based either at home or abroad. There is no single right or wrong way to operate!
It takes time to establish a presence in an area, and much thought and tact need to be employed. In particular, it is worth taking some trouble to get a good relationship with local clergy, taking care to pass on information and to avoid creating needless problems – such as clashes with events that are being arranged by others. Prayer Services to mark special Days of Prayer can be an effective way of gathering people together and may be followed by social mingling and invitations both to take action and to be told about future events – and these need not all be “serious”. It is useful to seek out and quote statements by your bishop and his fellows that support and encourage prayer and action for the concerns that you have taken up.
It can be useful to produce regular periodical reports on activity, and send them out. Skills in communication and publicity are important, both with mass-goers, and with local and regional media and the church press.
We love our brothers and sisters, whether nearby or far away, responding to God‘s love for us. In this way we can working for justice, peace and the care of creation on our doorsteps and overseas and live out our faith and promote action for justice and peace.
Unlike single focus organisations justice and peace covers the whole spectrum, helping us see how these issues are closely connected.
Good Luck! God Bless.
“An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it. We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters” (The Joy of the Gospel,§183)
There are some essential characteristics needed to be a good member of a Justice and Peace group. These do not include a wide and detailed knowledge of national and international issues or even of Catholic social teaching. You can learn what you need to know as you go along, provided you are prepared to take the trouble. But they do include a serious commitment to justice and to peace and a willingness to be thoughtful and thorough in whatever you undertake. You may often have to limit your involvement – because of family responsibilities or a heavy load in your employment. But whatever you do, you should try to do as well as you possibly can. Anything less is an insult to the people you are trying to serve, people who are already suffering from disadvantage and injustice.
This Handbook for Groups contains much useful material.
Some relevant quotations from Scripture are linked via this Button.
Please note that the JPIC Office is not responsible for the content of external websites. The views expressed in them must not be taken to represent our views and policies Organisations that are outside the Roman Catholic Church, may not always fully agree to Catholic Social Teaching. However, we do work with them when we find common ground and aims.