Noddfa, a centre run by the sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary in Penmaenmawr, on the North Wales coast, was a perfect venue for the Wrexham Diocese LiveSimply Day on 16 February. Noddfa is a Welsh word meaning ‘place of welcome and peace’ and as people gathered for a day organised by the Llandudno Junction, Conwy and Llanfairfechan Justice and Peace Group, the hospitality of the sisters and the surrounding beauty of the hills and sea were recalled in an opening prayer giving thanks for God’s gifts.
A welcome was extended by both the sisters and Maria Pizzoni, the Wrexham Justice and Peace worker, as an enthusiastic group of around 30 participants from around the diocese reflected on the imperative to live simply. Maria pointed out that the LiveSimply initiative, involving more than 60 Catholic organisations, grew out of a CAFOD project to mark the 40th anniversary of Populorum Progressio in 2007.
“We are called to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor”, she said. In these times of economic downturn, she suggested, the focus on always having more and on constant acquisition regardless of the social and environmental impact is being seriously challenged. “We are called to read the signs of our times” she continued, and in a world of greed, selfishness and consumerism “we are called to be good news for the poor, and being engaged in social justice work is an essential part of our faith”.
In her presentation, Ellen Teague of the Columban JPIC pointed to international problems, particularly climate change and global poverty, which challenge our affluent consumer society. ‘The Story of Stuff’, an animated documentary about the lifecycle of material goods, had earlier stimulated group discussion about excessive consumerism and the necessity of promoting sustainability and reducing carbon emissions. She pointed to Scripture, particularly the life and teaching of Jesus, and Catholic Social Teaching, particularly the option for the poor and care of creation, as inspirations for living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with our sisters and brothers throughout the world, millions of whom live in crushing poverty. Extreme weather events like the devastating floods in Australia and Brazil in 2011 and Pakistan in 2010 are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change. In other areas, persistent droughts are becoming the norm, and it is predicted that by 2025 3.4 billion people will live in water-scarce countries. “Yet” she said, “there is much we can do in terms of reducing our own carbon footprints, advocacy work with political and economic powers, and raising awareness with the wider community”.
“Wales was the first fairtrade country in the world”, pointed out Katya Jewell of CAFOD North Wales, “and Wrexham is a fair-trade diocese”. As well as promoting fairtrade and CAFOD’s new ‘Thirst for Justice’ campaign on Water, she runs an annual ‘Potato Day’, after learning to appreciate potatoes during a trip to Bolivia, and has recently completed a course in bee-keeping. Katja explained the LiveSimply award scheme, which is being promoted by CAFOD. It is a national prize for Catholic parishes putting their faith into action, recognising ways in which churches make a difference in their communities and in the world. Parishes are encouraged to make a plan incorporating three significant actions and at least six supporting ones they will take over a given time to move the parish in the direction of living simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor. Actions already taken by a parish can be included. The Franciscan Friary at Pantasaph was one of those parishes where a lay group is currently preparing to make a start on the award programme.
It was clear that a great deal is already underway in North Wales regarding living simply and this was affirmed and celebrated. Participants in the day visited the Victorian walled garden at Noddfa which the sisters have given to the local community for allotments. Twelve plots are farmed organically and tools in a common shed are shared. The sisters themselves promote home grown produce and use eggs from their own chickens. Initiatives in the region which are supported by the Welsh government include community allotments, garden and car share schemes, and programmes for energy-saving in homes. A project at Bangor University is prompting students to live more sustainably. Children attending the day – which was timed during Half Term week – explored the theme of Livesimply through crafts and activities which were clearly enjoyable as well as educational. Families took away a flier on simple daily suggestions for Lent, produced by Shrewsbury Diocese Justice and Peace.
Awareness of God’s love for the poor and for Creation ran through the day. After a delicious home-made lunch of local produce, some explored the Cosmic Walk in the grounds which raises awareness of the Universe Story, going billions of years further back than human history and helping to nurture a sensitivity to our interdependence and communion with Planet Earth and with all living things. The day concluded late afternoon with a simple Circle Dance based on Mary’s Magnificat.