CAFOD’s Director, Christine Allen, looks back on a year that has challenged us all. Thanks to the overwhelming and humbling support shown by the Catholic community, remarkable achievements have been made in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the midst of getting through another national lockdown, most of us are wondering what kind of Christmas we will be having this year. We hope and pray that we will be able to see family and friends, and that the churches will be open, and we welcome and celebrate the arrival of the Christ-child, light in the darkness of the challenges we face this year.
My family all live in Liverpool. We will see them if we can, but everyone has to work with the rules that will be in force at that time.
Regaining a sense of global community
News of vaccines against coronavirus makes me hopeful for 2021. My most important hope is that we learn lessons from this year, that we don’t just go “back to normal” but use this opportunity to redefine what normality can be. We don’t want to lose that sense of community and charity that the pandemic has engendered, whether locally or internationally.
The coronavirus has dominated our lives for the last nine months. It has affected every person, every society and every organisation on the planet, and CAFOD is no exception. I was immensely grateful that I had almost a year as Director before the pandemic struck – getting to know my colleagues face-to-face in the London office, Romero House, and throughout the staff team – internationally as well as elsewhere in England and Wales.
My heart goes out to new staff who have had to work remotely from day one, and I thank them and all our staff and volunteers for their patience, and their tireless work to support CAFOD’s programme. I have been truly inspired by the commitment and fast pace. We have achieved remarkable things, launching a Coronavirus and Harvest appeal from our homes – from our desks, dining tables, living rooms and kitchens.
Hearing the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth
No sooner had we launched our new strategy, named Our Common Home – after the subtitle of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ – than the coronavirus tested it, and us, to the limit.
I’ve seen lots of photos and film of the aid workers we support on the frontline of this crisis – giving out food and hygiene supplies while dressed in full PPE.
The phrase that sums up Laudato Si’ is that we must hear “the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth”, and Covid-19 has made that even more pressing.
The foundation of how we work is to be able to listen to our Church and other partner staff, putting their voices front and centre, witnesses to the challenges and the hopes of their communities. Laudato Si’ strengthens our resolve to seek transformation for a more just and equitable world.
Our aim, as part of Our Common Home, is to recognize, strengthen and direct more resources to local leadership in the countries where we work, tackling the causes of poverty and not just the symptoms.
Finding new ways to connect with each other
We all had to get used to video-conferencing as a daily way of work life and engagement with teams here and overseas – learning the new etiquette of virtual meetings. This has had a positive effect; we have had many more interactions all over the world. We have discovered that Zoom is quite a leveller – it brings more people in.
Many of the changes we have made will be permanent. Some of our spending on air fares, for example, has gone instead to fund improvements in technology for local organisations, such as getting laptops and boosting bandwidth.
The way we communicate with our supporters across England and Wales has had to change as well. With churches and schools closed for much of the year, we have gone online as much as possible, with webinars, video content and initiatives such as the very popular children’s liturgy.
No one beyond reach
Like many charities, we have seen our income from schools and parishes plummet because of the pandemic. However, the Catholic community continues to put their faith into action, with prayers and generosity, reflecting God’s concern to all peoples, especially the most vulnerable. The concern has been overwhelming, and humbling. That unstinting support for our Coronavirus Appeal online has allowed us to reach more than 200 projects around the world.
We believe that no one should be beyond reach of the love and care they need to flourish. Through your support, the Catholic community continues to turn this dream into a reality.
Best, wishes for a peaceful and safe Christmas.