Molly McCaffrey recently spoke at a CAFOD reception at Parliament
When CAFOD invited me to speak at their parliamentary reception, I panicked. I’m a
student at Durham University, in the midst of end-of-term essay-writing. How was I going to plan a speech that was worth listening to, in between revising?
I decided to use my speech to reflect on the journey and experiences that CAFOD have facilitated for me; the people who have inspired me; and the conversations that have taught me to think and question.
My CAFOD journey started at 16, attending workshops run for Catholic secondary schools in the Hallam Diocese to become a young leader. My stand-out moments include rallying at the IF campaign event in Hyde Park and handing in the 60,000 calls for action we collected at 10 Downing Street.
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Suddenly two years passed. At 18, you think about who you are and who you want to be. You become conscious that adulthood is fast approaching, that decisions you make now will be important. That’s kind of scary!
At that time, the word ‘conscious’ first struck me and has stuck with me since. I don’t quite mean ‘conscious’ in the sense of being alive or awake, but in the sense of being aware. Acting consciously.
In particular, I became conscious that I had a platform from which I could strive for change, influenced by my faith and recognition of social justice. I also became conscious that I missed that feeling which I’d always had after a CAFOD event: the feeling that fuelled hope and ambition, an energy for change.
So I got back in contact with CAFOD, and helped run the workshops I had attended, encouraging young people to become campaigners and young leaders. I used social media to campaign and to stay connected with CAFOD’s climate change campaign. I volunteered to be an MP correspondent, writing regularly to my MP.
I was also privileged to be selected as one of the CAFOD volunteers in a delegation to Paris
around the 2015 climate change talks. The trip was far from uneventful. We met fellow campaigners from around the world, listened to incredibly moving poetry and accounts from people who had been personally affected by climate change.
During the evenings, I had doubts that perhaps COP21 wouldn’t be a success. I felt it was too little, too late, that we were striving for the impossible, and that nothing I did could make a difference.
But two things happened that made me change my mind. The first seems daft and simple: at a workshop we were encouraged to send a postcard, telling the recipient something we had learned. This came after a session where we were reminded how small changes can make a massive difference, such as reducing meat consumption, not driving, recycling and so on.
The choices that we all make can be altered, if we become slightly more conscious of the consequences of our actions.
In my university house we are guilty of seriously over-using the washing machine and leaving the heating on too long, so I sent my postcard to my housemates in Durham, with one message: You can make a change.
Then at the end of the trip we, as the CAFOD group (which by this point felt more like a family), joined hands with thousands of others at the Eiffel Tower. We made links that couldn’t be broken – moving and chanting together – as one powerful entity.
Paris reinstated something that I already knew, deep down, but had let drift: I can make a change.
As MP Correspondents, as MPs, as people living our everyday lives, we can make huge changes. We don’t need to travel to COP21 in Paris, we don’t need to be nominated as a ‘Big Name on Campus’ at university – that was just my, really fun, journey. What we need to do is be conscious.
We need to think consciously when making everyday decisions: being environmentally conscious, cost conscious, morally conscious.
We need to be conscious of how our actions influence others around us: family, friends, children, housemates, that Facebook friend who you haven’t seen for years.
My CAFOD journey is short so far and my knowledge of social, political and economic systems limited, but it is a journey through which I hope to learn so much more, to develop as a person and to continue to make change, from the smallest to the biggest of actions.