Apologies to those who have been sending messages asking me what’s happened to the Blog. Now that the University Semester has ended I think I have the time and energy to pull it out of the deep freeze….. This year happens to be a special anniversary for the Jesuits, it is 200 years since the universal restoration of the Society. Somehow I found myself agreeing to design a website and a blog to commemorate this – at the request of the General Curia in Rome. By Feb I realised that I didn’t have the time / energy to keep the two blogs running so I focused on the Restoration Blog.
Pombal expelling the Jesuit from Portugal
Cutting a long story short, in the 18th Century, the Jesuits found themselves inside a perfect storm – as the world moved out of the medieval world, with the authority of church and king being challenged, Tradition and faith were often portrayed as being opposed to reason, individual enquiry and the scientific method, The old order was being challenged – some monarchs tried to respond by creating a political system ‘enlightened absolutism’ or ‘enlightened despots’ which seems to be a bit of an oxymoron. In religious terms, many thinkers, sick of the wars between Catholics and Protestantism that had torn Europe apart, There was a backlash against the political influence of organised religion, and new ideas were suddenly debated including deism and atheism.
In this climate, the Jesuits were under serious pressure, Their influence was seen as to great, their thriving missions were too successful and often a thorn in the side of Colonialists, and an emerging trading class who were making a lot of money. So starting with Portugal they were expelled from a succession of European Countries and their colonies. This political expulsion was followed by a canonical suppression, as Pope Clement XIV universally suppressed the Society of Jesus in 1773. The Empress of Russia refused to promulgate the papal bull – so the Society of Jesus was left in limbo until their universal restoration in 1814, hence the anniversary this year. If you want to read more, the blog is at www.sj2014.net
There has been a very interesting development with our Foodbank the last couple of weeks. We are suddenly receiving a lot of referrals from the Probation Service. As they attempt to reintegrate former prisoners back in to civilian life, it is famously hard for those used to an institutional life to cope on their own again. We know that the recidivism rate is a source of concern (the rate of ex-prisoners re-offending on release), and that there are many strategies attempting to reduce this. So it is great if the Foodbank can assist in anyway. Our ‘front of house’ students are trained to be non-judgmental of anyone who is referred to the Foodbank. It is the job of our referral agencies to decide who is in genuine need, not our job. We just assist in giving out the food and offering advice about where else to go. Usually people are incredibly grateful for the help they get, and the students do a great job at welcoming them, making them feel relaxed, helping to ‘signpost’ them on to other support.
However last week there was interesting development. One guy, referred by the probation service, came in and was very angry at being given a bag of Tesco-value tea-bags. ‘I’m not an animal’ he said angrily to the students. Another guy came in and rejected half of the food that was given to him. The emergency food provision – is carefully measured out, nutritionally balanced, under guidelines given by the Trussell Trust. So having half of it thrown back in their faces, because the guy didn’t like tomato sauce or couldn’t be bothered to carry cans was a bit galling. However they all kept their cool, and today we all got together and had a brief reflection on the experience. It was interesting to consider the issue facing ex-prisoners as they attempt to reintegrate, maybe they are a bit institutionalized after years locked up, used to the same menu. Another possibility is perhaps a ‘chip on their shoulder’ about being locked up – and how they feel civvies view them. Also with the first chance to exercise choice in a long time it maybe that their reactions are a bit exaggerated.
It also more evidence that as the state rolls back it support, and there is no strong family unit in place to takes is place – more and more pressure is being put on voluntary groups, often faith-based ones to fill in the gap.
Two important things happened yesterday in Manchester which offer a contrast that maybe worth reflecting on. The Prime Minister gave his speech about his vision of ‘ a land of opportunity for all’, whilst just down the road (to be precise Oxford Rd) we are opening the first student-run foodbank in the country (link to BBC website). All around Manchester you can see the Conservative Party banners – with their conference slogan proclaiming ‘For Hard Working People‘. The implication is that we are not the party of scroungers, lazy welfare dependent – ‘feckless’ poor. The embarrassing truth is that according to foodbank usage statistics (collated by the excellent Trussell Trust), the crisis food provision is increasingly being used by the ‘working poor‘. The sad fact is that many hard working people seem to be getting poorer, especially those not protected by proper contracts.
The Conservative Party seem to have a schizophrenic relationship with Foodbanks, on one hand they are held up as being a great example of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ on the other hand there is considerable embarrassment about the incredible growth of the foodbank network. This is embarrassing for the government as it makes visible what was hidden before, food poverty. Food Poverty is something that teachers have noticed as alarming levels of students arrive at school with empty stomachs, here in Central Manchester we have the highest indices of child poverty in the country. It was sad to see a meeting between MP’s and foodbank managers was cancelled this week here in Manchester for lack of interest by the Conservative MP’s. We also had the same problem attracting Catholic Mp’s to speak to the students – none were interested in coming. Last year at the Labour conference a few Mp’s came – including the impressive Jim Murphy, who still came and talked to the students even though he had lost his voice.
Even if the government wasn’t interested – the media were – this report went out nationwide on ITV yesterday