A passion for social justice
Discussing issues and identifying solutions — that is the goal of the Peace and Social Justice Ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton. The group will next tackle poverty in Bermuda and its chairwoman, Joanne Wohlmuth, is hoping people from across the island turn out to help.
How did you get started with the Peace and Social Justice Ministry?
For many years I worked at the Human Rights Commission, which dealt with a lot of issues around social justice and human rights, so when the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton decided to start this ministry 12 years ago, he invited me to be the chairperson.
We are a small committee of eight people and work with the whole church community in Bermuda to host events that spark discussion around various issues.
Our aim is to spur people into action. We believe the church has an important part to play in ensuring that these issues are discussed in a safe and honest environment so we facilitate that process and invite people inside and outside the church to join us.
What led to your focus on poverty?
Each year we hold an educational forum, focusing on a different issue affecting the community. We know that Bermuda has one of the highest costs of living in the world and people sometimes have to work two jobs just to make ends meet.
What will the night involve?
We will watch part of Dale Butler’s film on homelessness in Bermuda, Out Among The Ins. Following that, Mr Butler will share a short commentary on the film and then we’ll break out into small groups to discuss the topic in more detail. The plan is to look at a host of issues like education and poverty; social exclusion and poverty; technological advances and poverty; race, culture and poverty; cashless society and poverty implications as well as social impacts and poverty.
We want to draw attention to the issues, including the growing poverty gap, and start generating ideas for how we can take action.
What has the ministry focused on in the past?
Last year, our committee held an antiracism conference with international speakers invited to facilitate the discussion. In 2016, we focused on ageing and health in Bermuda, with local experts participating in about five different sub-forums.
We have also focused on social justice and the environment and recently developed a green plan for the Catholic Church of Bermuda which will go into effect in January.
Each year, we also select an honouree as our Peace and Social Justice Award recipient. Our 2019 recipient was Stuart Hayward [the former head of the environmental charity, BEST].
Did you grow up in a Catholic household? How were you introduced to the church?
I’m not a cradle Catholic — that’s what they call someone who was born and baptised in the Catholic church. I was actually baptised and raised as a Presbyterian at Christ Church in Warwick.
I started attending St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church with my husband when I got married, but did not officially become a member of the congregation until 22 years later. For many years, my husband and I were actually a dual spiritual family.
However, after attending many Catholic events and learning more about the faith through study and spiritual influence, I opted to make the change.
What role does your faith in God play in your passion for human rights and social justice?
My life has always centred around the ideal of peace and creating wholeness. I am also a yoga teacher and have operated a yoga centre for many years.
A few years ago, I attended a two-year training programme with Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation known as The Living School.
He’s a Catholic Franciscan monk and prolific spiritual writer who has various programmes and online resources that help people to dig deeper into God’s word. With the Living School, I attended conferences for two years at the Centre for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and studied directly under Fr Richard, James Finley (a direct student of Thomas Merton) and Priestess Cynthia Bourgeault.
I studied with people from all around the globe about the Christian mystical contemplative tradition. We learnt how to use contemplation or meditation to become a more positive influence in the world. The programme helps you to identify actionable steps you can take in order to minimise the suffering of others and was very inspiring to me.
What do you hope people gain by turning out on Friday night?
I hope people would gain greater insight into other issues facing Bermuda and the understanding that although we are all just one person, together we can make a positive contribution in the lives of others.
We hope that people will leave with a greater understanding of the issues affecting our community. We also hope they leave feeling inspired and encouraged to want to do something about the problems we discuss.
• The Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton’s forum on poverty in Bermuda takes place on Friday, at St Theresa’s Cathedral hall on Laffan Street, from 7.30pm until 10pm. Admission is free. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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