May 07, 2012

Soup and Substance: Series Reflection

This year the Mercy International Association’s Luncheon series focussed on Mercy Global Action’s two major themes, Opposing Human Trafficking and Eco Justice.In this article Catherine Gibbons rsm, MGA Intern, reflects on the 2012 Lenten Series of Soup and Substance.

Human Trafficking

Soup and Substance 2012 began with the Human Trafficking Focus. Sheila Crowley from Ruhama, Dublin, gave an informative and thought-provoking input on What is Human Trafficking? and on the work of Ruhama, the main agency that deals with trafficked women in Ireland. Trafficking in human beings is “a gross violation of human rights, a modern form of slavery and an extremely profitable business for organised crime”.This was followed by a reflective presentation, called Liliana’s Story, by Mary Ryan rsm on the life of a trafficked woman, evolving through the presentation of the Stations of the Cross.

To me, these two sessions gave a strong answer to the question “But what can I do about Trafficking?” We can support active people who deal with trafficked women, and those who are involved with raising awareness of the issue; we can pray for the victims of trafficking and the perpetrators of this awful crime against the dignity of the human being; and we, too, can raise awareness with our families and friends.

The third Trafficking input, also the final in the series, was given by Mick Quinn from the Irish Department of Justice & Equality, Anti-Human Trafficking Unit on Working with others to combat Trafficking. Mick outlined in detail the work of his unit since the passing of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act in 2008. One can understand that this new Anti-Trafficking Unit was on a steep learning curve. It was established to co-ordinate the work of all agencies, both governmental and civil society, who are working on the issue of trafficking. The Unit continue to develop and expand its work in conjunction with other active groups.

It was encouraging to hear Mick speak of the regular Round Table Forum meetings of representatives of various government departments and of other agencies, where frank discussions are held and decisions are taken in the best interest of trafficked persons. Mick’s input re-affirmed for me that the world is just a ‘global village’, where, in ‘trafficking’ terms, some countries are ‘origin’, others ‘transit’ and others ‘destination’, with few exceptions. Trafficking is a global lucrative business and is found in towns, villages and cities throughout the world.

A Challenge
One challenge is to be alert to the signs: Are people living in groups in unsuitable places and working very long hours. Are people depending on their employer for a number of services, including work, transportation and accommodation?Is the internet being used for advertising ‘services’ in your local area? Become more informed about this issue where you live.


The theme Cosmology/Eco-Justice was introduced by Tanya Jones from Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network (FFAN). Tanya addressed the question: Hydrofracking-should we be concerned? Acknowledging that “we stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.”(Earth Charter 2000), Tanya explained the process of Hydraulic Fracturing, known as ‘fracking’. FFAN grew out of concern for the local environment in Fermanagh, its sustainable industries and tourism. Part of Fermanagh land which is, reportedly very rich in shale gas at a depth of two or more kilometres, is earmarked for hydrofracking. Tanya went on to highlight why we should be concerned.

Underneath the rosy picture painted by the one company is the devastation and destruction likely to be caused by the process of hydraulic fracturing itself. The onus is on us to speak out for future generations and the legacy we wish to leave them. Our environment is finite and cannot be replaced. This current and local topic linked us with the abuses of the global extractive industries in other countries where Mercy sisters work and the on-going campaign by Mercy Sisters internationally.

Kathleen Glennon and Carmel Bracken, both Mercy sisters, addressed the topic ‘Awakening to Interconnectedness’. The present crises in many institutions, and the prolonged difficulty in ‘patching them up’ expose the urgent need for another way of interacting and being in the world. “We have a new story of the Universe. Science has given us a new revelatory experience. It is now giving us a new intimacy with the earth.” wrote Thomas Berry. In addressing their topic Kathleen and Carmel were leading us to ‘expand the base of our tent’ (Ezekial) and to open ourselves to an awareness of seeking to see a larger God. In exposing us, through visual and auditory means, they nudged us along to appreciate the interconnectedness of all things. Through opening our awareness to the bigger picture of the Universe, they led us to the edge of grasping the magnitude of the ‘picture’ and to the realisation that all is interconnected and all is one.

Eamon Ryan, Irish Green Party member and present leader, spoke on the ‘Challenge of Sustainable Living’. In clarifying ‘sustainability’ he referred to the Stockholm Convention and the boundaries that are already breach by the use of persistent organic pollutants. ..These included biodiversity, diversity,... Acknowledging that it will take a giant mind-shift to bring carbon emissions down, Eamon called us to put recovery systems in place and emphasised the need to design systems that last longer.

We can sharpen what we do in ‘Reduce, Re-use and Re-cycle’. Simple facts like “Three spoonfuls of oil is equivalent to 8 hours of labour and took a million years to form.” cause one to stop and think. There were opportunities for change in how we feed ourselves, aiming to being carbon neutral in Food. The weather also may give opportunities to change our way of being in the world. In speaking about Renewable Energy and Efficiency he said “You will never fight a war to catch the wind”. Today we can take action on how we manage waste, travel and eat.

Asking “How do we get people thinking to a future 50 years hence? Eamon said “Hold a one year old child, look into their eyes and take inter-generational responsibility. Let us value family unity, our love of home, community and sense of place.” He encouraged us to change our mentality towards the environment, not change nature to suit us, but insert ourselves into nature.

Our call to eco-justice is rooted in the human vocation of tilling and keeping the garden. (Genesis 2:15) With regards to sustainable living we are called to walk the talk, day by day and take active concern for our environment, our land and its landscapes.

With the new understandings of the Universe and the blossoming of humankind’s self-reflective capabilities, we can take decisive action for the good of the whole Give ourselves space to wonder: Hearing that the horse-tail plant, prevelant in Ireland, is 425 million years old, caused me to look differently on the last horse-tail plant I saw.

The wonder and awe experienced by our expanding knowledge of life and all that is, opens us to a new depth of contemplation. The challenge is for all of us to become mystics and to look at the earth and the stars with new eyes as we seek the larger God.

Where do we contribute to the destruction of the environment? What do we contribute to changing nature to suit us, instead of inserting ourselves into nature? Are we contributing to the threat of structural greed in society?

The Soup and Substance Lenten Series was powerful.
We are grateful to all the speakers, none of us can know where echoes of their voices will sow fruitful seeds; We are grateful to the participants who attended one, two or all of the sessions.

I was struck by the reminder given by Isabelle Smith MMM at the close of the final session: “The hungry man begging for money for food on Baggot Street could communicate to passers by that he was hungry and what he needed. But a trafficked women cannot reach us like that, probably is not free to occupy a space on a street and reach the passers by, probably does not have enough English to express her plight, may not even know what country she is in... so the onus is on us to be watchful, to look out for apartment buildings which had been quiet or 'to let' and one day people begin to move in and out, people of different nationalities, perhaps, menfolk frequenting it, maybe a woman looking out the window...” And we are called to Action.

Note: While an average of 20 people attended each session in the Catherine McAuley Centre, Herbert St. Dublin, 1,363 visited the series at
Messages to: Catherine Gibbons rsm - MGA Intern

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