Courage, hope and humour were recurring themes at last night’s gathering to celebrate Progressio's work and thank Christine Allen, departing Executive Director, for 11 years of dedicated leadership.
Gathered at Cathedral Hall Westminster on 29 May 2012 supporters, campaigners, representatives from Progressio's international partners, church leaders, colleagues in the field of international development, and Progressio staff and board members expressed their gratitude for Christine’s generosity of spirit and boundless energy in leading the organisation in its mission to empower people to overcome poverty.
Martin McEnery, Chair of the Board, congratulated Christine Allen, who leaves Progressio to take up a new position at Christian Aid, on having steered the organisation with transparency, honesty and courage.
He spoke of how the work of Progressio continually "astonishes and impresses" him and highlighted what he believes to be the three key ingredients Progressio's power: "One is the real dedication to enabling the poor and marginalised of the world to mobilise their own lives to focus on the issues of poverty and injustice that they suffer.
"There's our dedication to changing public thinking, particularly in the UK and in other countries… enabling us to really combat poverty, fight injustice and fight for a sustainable planet.
"And thirdly, underlying the dedication, what fuels us and energises us is our faith dimension, our strong roots in Catholic social teaching and a faith that gives us hope in our world and reminds us that we are in a process of transfiguration… We work across faith, denominational and no-faith boundaries in achieving that goal."
Guleid Abdikarim, representing TALOWADAG, a Progressio partner working with people living with HIV in Somaliland, highlighted one practical example of how Progressio works across faith boundaries to confront injustice in the world: "As a result of the support we are getting from Progressio development workers we have been able to perfect social services that are enabling people living with HIV to be part of the community…. We are able to approach other religious leaders and traditional healers, who are the influential people… we can talk and say 'you have to support people living with HIV so that communities will accept them'."
Echoing sentiments about the hope that can be found in Progressio's work, Bishop William Kenny thanked Progressio for the hope Christine's letters have brought to him over the years, describing how they breathed "the social philosophy of the church, particularly solidarity, subsidiarity and the dignity of the human being."
Helena Molyneux, former Chair of the Board, praised Christine for her ability to combine common-sense and a commitment with strategic thinking. She thanked Christine for bringing the organisation through a phase of renewal and leaving Progressio in a good position for the future - relevant, and prepared to diversify, innovate and embrace the challenges ahead.
Bishop John Arnold, Chair of CAFOD, looked forward to continuing collaboration between CAFOD and Progressio and reminded those gathered of the shared inspiration drawn from Populorum Progressio saying: "I commend Progressio for all they have achieved… It is the wonderful partnerships that charities now have together that makes the future look so possible in confronting and solving so many huge problems." Thanking those gathered for their personal contributions to confronting the problems facing the world he added: "We do it in faith and will succeed."
In a heartfelt and at times humorous address to those gathered Christine Allen described feeling "humbled and utterly privileged to lead Progressio", an organisation that she has been involved with since she was a student.
Christine said: "At the heart of everthing Progressio does is the voice of the people themselves. We don't speak for, we amplify the voices of people like Guleid. It's an amazing organisation to be part of. We have walked a very difficult path over the last eleven years, but now we're strong, we're agile, we're valued, we're effective."
Looking back at the history of the organisation Christine reminded those gathered of the organisation's founders' desire to make the church use its might and power for good and its relevancy 70 years later: "It's that that is the core of what Progressio is about. It's that passion. It's Gospel values, it's 'Love one another', it's life in all its fullness for everybody. No questions asked. And we call it People Powered Development. Respect, solidarity, passion, boldness. Those are our values, that’s what we are about. And we have an impact because we don’t just tackle the symptoms, we tackle the political issues and have never shied away from speaking truth to power."
Acting Executive Director, James Collins, promised supporters that Progressio will continue to build on a position of preparedness and will remain true to its values saying: "I see this as a celebration of the strong position that Christine leaves the organisation in. I will make sure and I’m sure all the staff will ensure that we work rigorously and tirelessly… and keep looking ahead to the future."