Another Year, Another Chance


Universe Column

By David Alton

As we stagger across the touch line of another year, we look at our soiled kit and often wonder how managed to make it at all. Then we summon all our resolve to have another go.

At the turn of a year most of us look back on the highs and lows and reflect on the things we have learnt.

For me 2002 was a year in which I visited  four new countries: Azerbaijan and Georgia in the Southern Caucases, Southern Sudan and Northern Kenya.

I was left with indelible images of refugees in the camps on the Azeri-Iranian border, the sheer scale and the squalor of Kibera, the shanty town outside Nairobi, and the enormity of the killings in the Sudan.  Who could possibly remain unaffected?

But I also have an equally sharp  memory of some women in Nairobi.  I opened a factory where they had made jobs for over 100 female former offenders. I can see the bishop, Akio Johnson, who had survived nine attempts on his life in Sudan but remains joyful and full of hope. I can also still hear the students in Tibilisi and Baku enthusiastically outlining their aspirations for the future.

2002 was also the first time three of my children visited Rome. Who can stand in St.Peter’s Square, as the Pope leads people in prayer from all over the world,  and not be struck by the universality and solidarity of the church?  They certainly were.

2002 was a year in which the church has had to grapple with serious scandals but through the work I do with Jubilee Campaign I have seen places where it is the only hope and other places where the church suffers grievously for its beliefs.

In Parliament 2002 has provided the same mixture of hope and despair.

Tense preparation for another war, fear of terror, stalled peace processes, and a lurch back towards industrial instability have made it a sober and subdued time. The presence in Parliament of policemen on patrol with high powered guns  simply underlines the new conditions.

If old comforts have gone so have familiar faces. The deaths of Lord Longford and the Duke of Norfolk  marked the end of that generation’s amazing contribution to Catholic life.  But the emergence, as prospective candidates, of young Catholics like the human rights campaigner, James Mawdsley, and Peter Garrett, of Life, bodes well for the future.

It has been a year when the Government saw off attempts to emasculate church schools but incurred church-led opposition to policies aimed at asylum seekers. There was a general sigh of relief when they didn’t proceed with a Bill which could have led to euthanasia but disappointment when they pushed on with the cloning of human embryos. In October we commemorated 35 years of legal abortion: 6 million unborn aborted and nearly 1 million destroyed or experimented upon.

2002 was also a year when I organised some very memorable lectures on citizenship for Liverpool John Moores University. A highlight at each lecture were the young people who received awards for their individual acts of good citizenship: a scheme now operating in more than 800 schools in the north west. These young people and those I have seen at school prize givings throughout 2002 should fill us all with hope.

So pop the corks at midnight and remember that another year means another chance: the chance that Christ always gives us to start again.