10 December 2019, The Tablet

How to love your poorest neighbours, those under the radar of prosperity

by Gerard Mitchell

How to love your poorest neighbours, those under the radar of prosperity

Bishop of London Sarah Mullally joins Ealing Citizens and local schoolchildren at an Advent ceremony raising awareness of the need for affordable housing in the borough.
West London Citizens

Love your neighbour as yourself is the great teaching – but how do we get our teeth into it? 

Jesus tells us in the gospel that we shall be judged by what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters – for the homeless, the sick, those in prison, the stranger.

He calls us to “hunger and thirst for justice”, to be “peacemakers” and to show by our deeds of love and justice that the Gospel we proclaim at Sunday Mass is fulfilled in our actions.

So how do we ordinary Catholics represent the values of Jesus and the Church in the world about us? How do we put this teaching into practice in everyday life in the communities in which we live?

West London Citizens offers a very good and practical way of doing that. Saint Anselm’s Parish in Southall is a founding member of West London Citizens and has been actively involved with citizens for over 15 years. It is a people’s organisation. It is about communities working together for the common good.

Many of our parishioners are low paid workers at Heathrow Airport struggling for survival, to make ends meet and to pay very high rents. Recently after a long Citizens UK campaign and with the strong support of our neighbours, particularly friends from the Anglican parish of Christ the Saviour on Ealing Broadway, we managed to persuade the airport authorities to become a Living Wage employer. As a result at least 3,200 workers at the airport will be receiving a pay rise of almost £3 an hour. This makes a huge difference to those workers and their families.

It was, therefore, very good last Sunday to visit Christ the Saviour and lend our support to the Ealing Citizens campaign for affordable housing in central Ealing and particularly the establishment of 50 Community Land Trust (CLT) homes, which will ensure that the price of these homes is permanently connected to local incomes, rather than the market.

Like people in our wider parish, many of the congregation of Christ the Saviour experience significant difficulties with housing.

These are some of the difficulties that people describe:

"My landlord wants to raise my rent to a level I can't afford on an NHS salary. My son and I face being evicted from our home.”

“There’s been a rise in rough sleeping around the church. During the recent cold weather, it was extremely difficult for those living on Ealing's streets."

“We've seen parishioners in inadequate and unsafe housing with young children. How can children feel secure when their housing situation is precarious?”

“Though I’m a Londoner born and bred, I know I'll never be able to own my flat. How can I save for a large deposit when the cost of living in London is so high?”

These stories are why we assembled with other member communities in the new Christ the Saviour’s community hub and challenged Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidates to sign our Housing Pledge to work with Ealing Citizens to build 50 CLT homes. I am delighted to say we got backing from all three political parties.

From the hub we went in candlelit procession to St Barnabas Church of England where we were greeted at the church the door by Bishop Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, who received the Pledge. There then followed an Advent Procession with Carols during which Helen Willely, a member of the St Barnabas parish, gave a reflection on her experience of homelessness and precarious housing.

The service spoke to us of Advent as a season in which we joyfully wait for the birth of Jesus even as we recognise the brokenness of our humanity and the suffering of the world into which the Messiah comes as a fragile baby. Our deep longing for the love of God made human in Christ and sent to heal, restore and save us, was expressed in the readings, carols and choral music.

“Drop down ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.”

Fr Gerard Mitchell SJ is parish priest of St Anselm's in Southall, west London and a member of London Citizens

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Comment by: Dcn Peter Collins
Posted: 10/12/2019 12:02:11
Wonderful to hear how the parish that raised me as a child is working to make God's kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven. With love to all of you. Peter
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