Three momentous events occurred during this week.
First, on Tuesday Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Beunos Aires, was officially installed as Pope Francis I, becoming the 266th leader of the Catholic Church.
During his inauguration Mass in Rome, Pope Francis called on us to be “Protectors of each other, of the natural world, of the poor and vulnerable." The new Pope, who has lived in such proximity to the poor, spoke with an engaging simplicity of the need to, “be the custodians of creation,” and that we must also, “…protect humanity, especially the poorest.”
He sounds like the ‘Progressio Pope’ already!
The second big moment this week came the following day when the Chancellor, George Osborne, announced his Budget. The UK became the first G8 country to implement the historic pledge to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid – showing true global leadership.
The inclusion of the 0.7% target is also a clear acknowledgement of the incredible work done by so many British NGOs to alleviate poverty and bring about justice for the world’s most poor and marginalised people. It’s also a great win for campaigners who pushed hard for 43 years.
Thirdly, on Thursday Africa brought its vibrancy into the midst of the thrilling solemnity of the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury in two breath-taking bursts of drumming and dancing.
Progressio was honoured to be among a handful of international development charities represented at this important occasion in the Anglican Church.
It was my privilege to represent Progressio and I was there because of extraordinary people who have come before me and whom I am so fortunate to currently work alongside; from the UK and overseas staff and supporters to the teams of Development Workers, ICS volunteers, the partner organisations we work with and especially the amazing people who are battling to overcome poverty and injustice in the 11 countries where we work.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby Archbishop of Canterbury emphasised in his inaugural sermon that "The present challenges of environment and economy, of human development and global poverty, can only be faced with extraordinary Christ-liberated courage.”
Meanwhile the Archbishop’s words and the second burst of African vibrancy after the sermon brought Progressio's roots and realities bubbling up in my mind again, reminding me of the energy, vitality and sheer joy in the singing of the small-holder farmers of Salima district in Malawi I met in January.
These farmers were so full of life and an infectious enthusiasm whilst battling the harsh realities of globally-triggered climate change and local deforestation which are exaggerating droughts and floods that damage crops and lead to poor yields and hunger.
I recalled the Chairman of Chembe Village Forest Club’s words to me in my recent visit, “After we noticed the issue of climate change and deforestation in the area, we started planting trees ourselves. We had planted 2,800 trees two years ago then 3,600 trees last year. With Progressio and Environment Africa we walk hand in hand to protect our climate.”
These Christian and Muslim Malawian communities living peacefully side by side and these young trees for their children’s future are part of Progressio’s new roots that took me into the Cathedral.
Progressio’s older Catholic roots were part of the reason for being in the Cathedral too. Roots that stretch back to 1940 when a group of Catholics set up Progressio as a response to the rise of fascism in Europe; Catholics who committed themselves to working across faiths for social justice and peace in Europe. Our roots in Catholic social teaching and our commitment to inter-faith working continued over the years as we changed focus to parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. This ethos continues in our work to support poor and marginalised people to empower themselves today in Malawi and 10 other countries from Yemen to Haiti.
And with continued support Progressio Development Workers will carry on sharing skills with such courageous life-loving people like those in Chembe village. We will strive to bring their realities to the minds of leaders and decision-makers in government and churches and to the minds of ordinary people. Our challenge to world leaders, to ourselves, and to everyone in fact - is to give priority to those with least power and least wealth.
Photo: Mark plants a tree at Chembe village Forest Club, Malawi.