All were welcomed to the 4th Meeting on Family. We recalled the content of the previous three meetings as context for this fourth in which to address Family Communication and Relationships with the Wider Society of marginalised families and Groups.
To spark off reflection and discussion our group was presented with an account of a Shantytown Basic Ecclesial Community’s prayer-reflection-action group meeting addressing the Brazilian Church’s theme of the year, ‘The Dignity of Work’.Towards the end of their meeting, newly arrived Névea finally picked up the courage to give voice to the suffering of her young family, one of the many more recently expelled by a Forestry Corporation from their lands and homes in the interior.The members of the little reflection group listened as the prematurely aged mother recounted her and her family’s plight. Her husband, like other men working six days-a-week in a Coffee Plantation earned only enough to feed his family for three days, while the Company gained enormous profits. For the rest of the week they went hungry.
The group’s response to Névea’s account was a momentary empathetic silence and then, the closing prayer.
After the meeting a few women, mothers of families who had been through a similar experience, began to engage with Névea in conversation. They invited her to join in their mini marketing project and jointly offered short-term means of survival to tide her family over.
Discussion – Response to Marginalization
Our own group engaged in an animated discussion, starting from a spate of questions for clarification and further information on the background to the unjust system that prevailed. This led to an analysis and requests for further information on the efforts in place to bring about change, ultimately merging with analysis of our own national system.
- We noted that the assembled local community group in their reflection on ‘the dignity of work’ was also enabling the previously silent Névea name the oppressive system that allows International Corporations exploit workers by paying ‘wages of misery’.
- In response to a question of one of our members, ‘What power could an individual or small community have to bring about systemic change’, we saw the potential of a local ecclesial community empowered by a supportive Brazilian Church network. Action in support of families subjected to expulsion was articulated at central and regional levels through ecumenical teams of ear-to-the-ground theologians and social workers supported by the on-the-spot voluntary services of lawyers.
- We noted the marginalized community’s effort to achieve a measure of independence of the oppressive system by engaging in petty trading.
- The educational potential of the Basic Ecclesial Community system in Brazil was evident in its ability to promote leadership. This brought about a change in the national system when President Lula de Sylva came to power and eventually introduced subsistence allowances for families so long as they kept their children in school.
- As we began to focus on the issue of Marginalization, one person talked of the practice in South Africa of locating Shanty Towns far from jobs and shops.
Referring back to the community’s response to Névea, we reflected momentarily on the verse from Psalm 91:
‘For to His angels He’s given a command,
To guard you in all of your ways,
Upon their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone’.
We recognised in ‘His angels’ the community coming to Névea’s rescue.
Marginalization in Ireland
We then began to identify the marginalised families and groups in our own society.
- The Traveller community was one of the groups mentioned. People spoke of the experience of Traveller children in school being isolated by other children; ‘nobody wanted to sit beside them’.
- The banking crisis was briefly addressed. Those in the lower echelons of employment paid the cost through increased taxation, reduced incomes, unemployment, and in many cases, family evictions. Meanwhile the rich-poor socio economic gap continues to expand.
- The wealthy drug traders’ illicit trading was mentioned, with the attending havoc it has wrought on the lives of individuals and families.
- The rapacity displayed by the Rehabilitation Corporation was mentioned as an example of using charitable funding to provide enormous salaries for senior and management staff.
Efforts in Place to bring about Change in Ireland
The focus then shifted to the challenge of how to bring about change. Through exploring questions and sharing on the current national situation, we sought light on the major issues we are facing in Ireland today.
We talked of individual and family outreach to the rapidly increasing number of voluntary groups working to provide both immediate assistance and long term rehabilitation. The groups mentioned included the Simon community of mainly young adults, the Samaritans, the McVerry and the Vincent de Paul groups.
The following points emerged:
- Many of these groups provide both immediate assistance and long term rehabilitation including, in some cases, detoxification for the approximately 80% drug addicts, and assistance in getting employment and housing.
- Not only people in need but also people who offer voluntary assistance stand to benefit. We talked of the concern of good parents when their young adult children go off the rails on drugs and/or alcohol under negative peer group influence, and of how an alternative peer group responding to challenge in Simon or other such community can be life giving.
- In terms of Third World outreach, we discussed the Fair Trade campaign which promotes the sale of Fair Trade products – coffee, tea, bananas etc. produced by Corporations that provide just conditions of work and living wages for family sustenance.
One newly arrived member’s pertinent question during the discussion was kept in mind, ‘The minutes of our previous three meetings indicate decision making; will this meeting lead to decision and action?’
We came up with the following:
Noting that the Synod of Celibate Bishops on Family requires participation of family representatives in these times, and that Francis’s inviting us to participate has been accepted by only some parishes, Ballinteer and Balally among them in Dublin, we plan to make our small local contribution to kick starting Family participation in the Synod:
We are publishing on the ACI Blog site (www.acireland.ie ) the Minutes of our four meetings on Family. We are being encouraged to do whatever we can to get the conversation going, possibly perhaps starting by responding to our own Minutes.
John Kelly agreed to draft the proposed letter from ACI Dublin South to the Synod of Bishops through ACI central, drawing on Minutes of our four meetings on Family.
We are taking seriously the ACI Conversations project whereby groups will be set up in regions across the country. The scope of these groups will not, however, be confined to the Synod preparation.
We agreed to the first Tuesday in September, September 2nd as the date of our next meeting. (To be confirmed- depending on availability of venue.)
Our Meeting concluded with the prayer ‘I have no hands but yours….’