What should be the contribution of the faith-based sector to the shaping of a more just and sustainable future for our society? This was the central question at the conference held today in the Skainos Centre, Belfast, a joint endeavour of the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs and the Community Faith Forum.
At a time of economic and social crisis, faith communities are offering a vital lifeline to those struggling to maintain an acceptable standard of living and provide for their families. The conference explored the challenges to our current social model, with participants arguing for the need for the faith sector to be more pro-active in supporting policy makers in the development of alternative solutions that would offer better protection to the most vulnerable members of our society.
Chairing the event, Bishop Noël Treanor stated: “As faith communities we may not have comprehensive technical solutions for the economic problems facing policy makers, but we bring to the table a deep understanding of social needs, and many years’ experience of responding to those needs in ways that promote hope and healing. We need to be more confident in asserting our experience and proximity to people as grounding our right to be part of the solution and articulating our vision for a better future.”
The event was opened by the Minister for Social Development, Mr Nelson McCausland MLA. Minister McCausland said: “It is clear to me that churches and faith based organisations play a significant and important role in meeting the needs of people in our society and in particular our most disadvantaged communities. Given their unique position at the heart of their communities, and the diversity of the issues they deal with, they have the potential to share best practice and to influence the work of government departments. That is why the work of the Community Faiths’ Forum is vital. Since its establishment in 2010, I have been pleased to see the work of the Forum develop to ensure that we bring a faith-based perspective in addressing a whole range of community and social issues across Northern Ireland. I believe working closely with churches and faith based groups provides a potential opportunity to reach those who may become vulnerable and to ensure they are accessing their full entitlement to government benefits and services.”
The keynote address was given by Professor Peadar Kirby, Professor Emeritus of International Politics and Public Policy in the University of Limerick. Professor Kirby stated: “Faith perspectives offer a solid values base for the urgent task of building an alternative to the failed social model that has landed us in the current crisis and which has robbed the young in particular of hope for a better future.”