Early History of Caritas East Anglia

Fairly soon after his installation in July 2013 as the fourth Bishop of East Anglia, Bishop Alan Hopes asked Michael McMahon of the Sheringham Parish, as the new Director of the then Social Care Commission, to visit the deaneries encouraging social outreach initiatives.

At that time parishes were also asked to share details of the charitable projects in which they were involved locally.

In 2016, following the launch of Alive in Faith, Michael McMahon together with Fr David Bagstaff, Val Clark and Fr John Warrington, devised the protocols for the allocation of the Alive in Faith Social Action fund for both crisis response and longer-term initiatives leaving the St Edmund’s Fund, with its annual collection, for making small grants for individual needs.

On 15 October 2016, the Social Care Commission was recast as Caritas East Anglia with a membership from the SVP, Justice and Peace, KSc, Catenians, CWL, UCM and those involved in projects like foodbanks.

Caritas East Anglia had a major boost in 2019 with the appointment of Jacinta Welch, from St George’s parish in Norwich, as its Development Worker funded for two years jointly by the diocese and a grant from Gubay Foundation via CSAN. The diocese was able from its own resources to continue the post for a third year and then decided that the Diocese cannot support the role going forward.

One of Jacinta’s achievements was raising awareness, via articles for the diocesan newspaper, of the Catholic Social Teaching which underpins the work of Caritas. Particularly that it goes well beyond acts of charity to include an injunction to accompany the poor and marginalised and to empower them to voice their lived experiences.

Accordingly, when Caritas East Anglia was launched on the World Day of the Poor, in November 2019, the homeless of Norwich were welcomed to the party. Also, unique to this diocese, were the two online synodal meetings which she organised and widely publicised via personal contacts, interviews on local radio stations – to invite all those who could not cross the threshold to join a parish event.

About these, Jacinta said: “These were particularly satisfying parts of my work. It gave me great joy to welcome participants to these events, which were appreciated by those who felt forgotten. There is so much more that can be done to welcome these people and walk with them.”

Fr John Warrington, chair of Caritas East Anglia, said: “Another important thing that Jacinta did, and which the Commission will continue, was to identify the varied and diverse ways in which at the local level the work of Caritas is being undertaken throughout the diocese on the initiative of individuals.

Some of those initiatives are now catalogued, as 150 Caritas News stories on the diocesan website, not so much to celebrate the achievements but more to encourage awareness of local needs and to demonstrate that launching small new parochial initiatives leads to important benefits in the lives of others.”

Pictured top are some of the Caritas East Anglia team.