Augustinian Justice and Peace conference. Philadelphia, USA, July 18-22, 2011
Over forty participants, consisting of friars and laity, gathered at the Law School of Villanova University for the Order’s Justice and Peace conference from 18 – 22 July 2011. The event, backed by the Order’s Justice and Peace Secretariat, was organised by a local team led by Jack Deegan O.S.A. with his assistants, Andrew Slike, Anne Murphy and Ellen DeCarlo.
After the theory came an example of practical application by Shaun Ferris, on behalf of the Catholic Relief Services. Shaun explained how the CRS works in association with the local, national and international structures of the Church to help the poor and vulnerable overseas. Shaun said that advocacy work is vital and that national organisations can lobby national groups while international organisations, like the Augustinians, can lobby international groups.
On Tuesday the participants went into Philadelphia and, after a trip to the old state penitentiary – a model that became standard for prisons around the world - enjoyed lunch outside the Art Museum. This was followed by a reminder of the human right to freedom with an educational trip to see the Liberty Bell. The summer heat wave then influenced the next move - to buy ice cream! Michael DiGregorio OSA then took the group to the Augustinian National Shrine of St. Rita, a centre of reconciliation and a peaceful refuge from a busy and, at times, violent city. Next there came a visit to Saint Augustine’s Church with two presentations: one by religious sisters working at Dawn’s Place, a house for woman victims of human trafficking; and another by Jack Deegan and Andrew Slike for ADROP (Augstinians Defending the Rights Of the Poor). After a Philly feast, generously provided by the parish, the group to a clinic sponsored by ADROP that sees medical students from Villanova University help immigrants with poor or no health insurance. ADROP’s role is to match needs with volunteers appropriately skilled to respond.
On Wednesday and Thursday morning Francisco O’Connaire OFM presented the spirituality of a Justice and Peace promoter with useful advice as to how to integrate the work into everyday life. An article was read about best practice and the essential components needed for this ministry. After lunch a teacher and a group of students from Saint Augustine’s Prep school from the Villanova Province showed the inspiring work they are doing to create awareness of human trafficking and to help its victims. Responding to the Justice and Peace Secretariat’s invitation to the Order to focus on this issue the school set up a task force to work in collaboration with other agencies fighting what is now the fastest growing crime in the world. This demonstrated to the Justice and Peace promoters that they do not have to be overwhelmed by problems they face, rather they are in a position to empower many others to act. Robert Deweke OSA and Jean Soto then gave a powerful presentation on the sad reality of the towns of El Paso, Texas and Juarez in Mexico, divided by national borders and killings connected, in part, to drug trafficking.
On the final morning the first draft of the Justice and Peace secretariat’s manual commissioned by the 2007 General Chapter was studied in language groups and input was given as to how to develop the text. The secretariat will take the suggestions into consideration as they work towards the final text.
After Eucharist and lunch Emeka Obiezu OSA explained his new position as full time representative for the Order at the UN in New York. Emeka asked people to inform him of any work that circumscriptions or groups are doing in Justice and Peace ministry. He is working to carry out the Secretariat’s desire to gain ECOSOC status so that the Order’s NGO can influence policy agenda. Peter Emoit OSA then presented his work in Ishiara Kenya, where he, together with parishioners, is developing various farming and water sanitation projects. The conference concluded with Paul Morrissey OSA and his lay team presenting the Adeodatus Prison ministry project. A former prisoner gave a moving talk on how this project helped him change his life.
Each day was lived within a framework of daily prayer and Eucharist. Friday night ended with a party and a meal, giving a chance to celebrate all that had been lived over the past days; the ideas, insights, experiences and new relationships lived here are bound to bear much fruit.
Gianni Notarianni OSA