The Catholic .Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has set up a number of commissions and advisory bodies. One of these is the Catholic Committee for Racial Justice, brought into being in October 1970 as a result of recommendations by a working-party drawn from members of the other commissions.
Its members include clergy, laypeople and immigrant representatives. Its chairman is Bishop Cleary, auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, resident in Wolverhampton. In April 1972, the committee appointed me as its fieldworker (I had previously worked in immigrant areas in Oxford, Birmingham and Coventry and returned from a year's stay in India in July 1971).
On my return from India, I was sent to join a small Jesuit community in Coventry and began work in Foleshill, the main immigrant area there. At about the same time Bishop Cleary asked me to help him bring together a diocesan community relations group. This we succeeded in doing: it includes clergy representatives from Wolverhampton, B irmingham and Coventry, sisters with experience of work among the Asian community and laypeople with links i5ith the different ethnic groups. This body has met regularly since October 1971 and is at present organising two conferences at the Catholic Chaplaincy in Birmingham for local Catholic schools on aspects of .the problems and demands of Justice and Peace at home and abroad.
At the second of these conferences this week a group of
young Third World poets and musicians called "The Black Voices" read some of their own poems and sang songs from their own lands (an anthology of their work was reviewed in the Catholic Herald on March 23rd 1973).
The first year of my 'fieldwork' has been spent in trying to find out what Catholics were already involved in race relations work and in attempting to encourage the formation of groups, such as the Birmingham one, in other dioceses.
Last December a first meeting was held at our house in Coventry of some of the Catholic clergy involved in work among Caribbean and Asian immigrants. 1 he Westminster, Southwark, Birmingham, 'Portsmouth, Leeds and Salford dioceses were alt represented at this meeting.
A second meeting was held in Coventry on March 21st, 1973, with a similar representation
and with the addition of a sister and two laypeople already involved in this kind of work. The questions for this meeting included: schools conferences on racial prejudice, other faiths, other cultures backed up by Diocesan schools commissions? Setting up committees of immigrants at parish level and at deanery level with a view of getting two immigrants on each parish council?
Miss Barbara Hughes, who has had experience of Voluntary Service Overseas work as a teacher in Uganda and of community work in Islington has recently been appointed as Education Fieldworker to the Catholic Committee for Racial Justice. Her main task will be to try end work through Catechetical Institutes, Catholic colleges of education and seminaries to change racial attitudes in education. An important dimension of her work will be to link the activities of the Catholic committee with the Community and Race Relations Unit of the British Council of Churches. To make this link easier and closer, she will be based in the office of this unit at 10 Eaton Gate, London S.W.I.
Miss Hughes and I attended an ecumenical conference in Bradford last month at which representatives from the Leeds Diocese were present. The conference discussed the Church's role in a multi-faith, multicultural, multi-racial Britain and tried to work out practical ways of breaking down barriers of ignorance and prejudice.
From there we went on to visit the Tyneside and Teesside areas. We met Bishop Cunningham of Flexham and Newcastle; the director of the Diocesan Catechetical Institute, Fr. Leo Pyle and members of staff of St. Mary's College of Education, Fenham.
There we discussed the possibility of including material on racial justice in the curriculum of the college and into the Religious Education syllabus. From Mr. Rocky Byron, a West Indian community worker appointed by the local Council of Churches (of which the Catholic Church is a member), we heard of his talks in schools and to parish organisations on the problems and difficulties faced by black people living in our society. He mentioned that he had been invited to speak in Catholic schools, among them the Sacred Heart Grammar School, Fenham. In Middlesbrough we heard from another community worker appointed by the British Council of Churches, Mr. Wilf Ashman, of the efforts of Catholic priests in the Teesside area to help resettle Ugandan Asians. He also had been invited to give talks in Catholic schools, among them a girls school in Stocktonon-Tees.
These few items will perhaps serve to give some indication of the kind of work being attempted by the Catholic Committee for Racial Justice and its fieldworkers and the contribution of the Catholic community towards promoting racial justice. Its long-term task must be to try and co-operate with others in creating the conditions in which the views, aspirations and experience of prejudice by black people in Britain can be put before the conscience of the Catholic community. After one year's 'fieldwork' I can see more clearly what the Catholic contribution is: some Catholics are already involved and concerned about racial justice: many more need to be involved.
Fr. Kevin Barry