Thursday 30 January 2014

Holocaust Memorial Day

The art installation at the Minster was a truly heart shattering experience. For the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration, artist Barrie West has created a gut wrenching piece of work, with a breeze block smashing a sheet of glass over a picture of a small girl.

The piece was a dramatic nod to the 'Kristallnacht', when in November 1938, in Germany and Austria, Jewish homes, shops and Synagogues were destroyed. 'The night of broken glass' was the orchestrated start of the annihilation of the Jewish people by the Nazi's. On that first night, at least 91 Jews were killed and 30,000 were rounded up for the concentration camps.

The Minster Yurt was full of shoes heaped in a pile, representing the 6 million who died in the camps. The shoes were surrounded by pictures of Auschwitz, Belsen and Dachau. It was harrowing but moving, particularly as music by Gorecki played gently in the background. I sat there with Tony, one of the few remaining Jews in Sunderland. He sat in silence, and outside revealed that one side of his family disappeared completely in the camps.

Some have argued that Holocaust events deflect attention and take away from the reality of how the Jewish authorities are dealing with the Palestinians. I disagree. Whenever horrors against humanity rear their ugly head, we need to expose them and remember them, in the attempt to make sure that they never reoccur. Exposing Hitler's genocide give us an opportunity to understand why Jewish people are so protective of what they see as their 'Homeland'. If we have no understanding of this, then we will never achieve the dialogue we need in the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Thank you to Barrie, and all who helped put this moving memorial service together, so that we can say together 'Never Again'

Sunday 26 January 2014

Homelessness Sunday

Homelessness Sunday was marked in Sunderland by a service at the local Methodist Church, followed by the usual Sunday night drop in for marginalised men and women who are living on the edge of society.

The local authority is fond of saying that there are no people actually living on the streets in the city, and for that reason, along with a lack of volunteers, our Winter Night Shelter decided to close down after the first weekend in January.

I went down to the Sunday night drop in to find out if it was true, and if most people were managing to find some appropriate shelter, so had no need for a church floor. Over coffee and soup, I met Marc, Roy and 'No'. They had all been sleeping rough over the last two to three weeks. They were looking after each other as they slept in the subway near St Peter's metro station.

Cold and in a state, the people at the drop in supplied these three men with sandwiches, sleeping bags and encouraged them to keep presenting themselves to the local housing office.

Marc told me how he was now considering shop lifting as, even if he got caught, life in a cell was much better than life on the streets. 

I will chase up the local authorities tomorrow to see if they actually offer help to these guys, and to find out why they fail to class them as rough sleepers.

In the meantime, perhaps we need to reopen our churches as the weather takes a serious turn for the worse. Homelessness Sunday is about making those without shelter visible in our churches and in our communities. Then, and only then, will we stand with the broken ones and ask why Roy, Marc and 'No' still sleep on the streets in 21st Century Britain.

Friday 3 January 2014

Celebrating 55 years of the Cuban Revolution

One of the criticisms I received about by otherwise non-controversial book (after which this blog is named) was my support of those 'nasty and repressive' communists in Cuba. How could a Priest support such an 'atheist' state?

I was ordained to the priesthood by Miguel Tamayo, a Cuban Bishop, and so I actually try to stay better informed about the country than simply reading 'The Mail' or listening to the BBC (which today, to mark the 55th anniversary of the revolution, did a facile feature on the cost of new cars in the country) For Christians, Cuba has a strong faith history and still provides inspiration for many theologians of liberation.

The Cuban revolution in January 1959 not only saw the end of US backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, but it heralded over half a century of effective resistance to global capitalism. It has meant that excellent education, good health and the economics of sharing has been a reality for the Cuban people and for hundreds of millions of people worldwide influenced by the ongoing revolution.

There is no perfect government, Cuba has it's flaws. As I read Fidel's autobiography, even he admits the errors made in the name of communism. These problems cannot be explained away by the left simply as fallout from the vicious US economic blockade of Cuba, or as an inevitable reaction to the terrorism dished out by anti-Castro forces. However, the economic and political errors of the Cuban government are dwarfed by its huge humanitarian achievements, it's international contribution to poverty alleviation, and it's profound critique of the horrors of global capitalism and US imperialism. For these reasons, I celebrate 55 years of struggle and hope, and raise a glass of Havana Club rum to the Cuban people.

In this coming year, let us try to be better educated about the successes of this small but determined island. Join the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. If you can afford it, visit Cuba. Drink Cuban rum (Havana Club) not right wing anti-Cuban terrorist supporters like Bacardi.

Above all, let us remember that the world around us is one that we have the power to recreate, we do not have to simply accept the solutions given to us by the political and economic elite. Cuba shows us that unbridled capitalism does not have to be the only path. Communists and Christians can unite behind the economics of sharing and the belief in a better future for all of humanity.