Ballymun, the suburb where I live in north Dublin, has long suffered from a high rate of unemployment and a significant drug problem. Sadly, parts of the area are under control by drug lords; children are lured into the scene and their families are forced to pay their debts, which creates a threatening atmosphere of fear.
But despite these major issues, there is a strong and vibrant community of individuals and families in Ballymun who care deeply about their locality, addressing the drugs plight, anti-social behaviour, unemployment, etc. Over the years there have been many community programs which have brought local people together and strengthened the community spirit.
One such program is Ballymun Tidy Towns (BTT), which is part of a national network of volunteers, initially focused on making towns around the country tidy and attractive to visitors. Over time, the program has evolved to focus on environmental sustainability in keeping with the UN Sustainable goals and finding practical ways to live those goals locally. One example are the weekly clean-up groups who meet for litter picking, weeding, planting bee friendly flowers as part of biodiversity plan, separating recyclable materials from household waste, etc.…
Ballymun is also home to ‘retired’ Sisters: Columbans, Infant Jesus Sisters and LSAs, who live in Ballymun as neighbours/friends and are actively involved with Ballymun Tidy Towns. (BTT) In July 2020 BTT initiated a targeted recycling program for plastic bottles and aluminium drinks cans. Repak, a recycling company and sponsor of the program provided special large bags and paid €5 for each complete bag. On reflection the Sisters felt that this would be a practical way to help the Parish financially while responding to the call of Laudato Si. The Parish Priest was very pleased and the regular Mass-goers were excited about getting involved as it gave them a practical way to help the Church they loved. Among other things, the project has helped pay for the webcam, a crucial piece of equipment for keeping the parish connected during the pandemic. It has also brought those of us involved much closer together, and has given us a collective mission.
The program started in July 2020 and we hoped to celebrate the Season of Creation and St Francis of Assisi’s message of love for all creatures. However the COVID restrictions prevented any gatherings, and we were not able to give inputs at our Sunday Masses in September because the Churches were closed. So at one level, it was an individual project, but we intentionally kept in touch by phone and indeed it was a source of hope and connection for all involved. It was heartening to take small steps together in caring for our neighbourhood and to be of mindful of the fears and struggles of so many during the pandemic.
As Sisters and laity working together on Repak project we are learning so much, and are appreciating more and more the importance of friendship and relationship-building. As older Sisters it has given us a new ministry in the community, especially for those of us who have spent a lifetime on the mission and are now trying to adjust and find a new ministry where we can be neighbour and friend. We were inspired by the amazing amount of free information available online through Zoom, websites and group chats.
The project has been a lesson in the power of a collective group. Through inviting interested individuals to take responsibility for a specific area, we saw how much we could achieve together. We are learning the power of leading by example. Some of our neighbours and friends were inspired to ask questions and get involved when they witnessed ‘elderly Sisters’ with their masks, pickers and bags collecting cans and bottles. Another important lesson is the power of patience – not only is it a slow process to collect the bottles and cans, and make sure they are empty and clean, but we are also seeing that more broadly speaking, change takes a long time.
Part of this slow change relates to helping people, including our priests, to see the link between caring for the earth and their faith. Although our group of collectors are largely faith-based, many would not have connected the recycling project with their faith. Nor would they see bio-diversity or planting trees as part of their faith. It is certainly a slow process, but we are making strides and are grateful for this opportunity.
As the project continues we have hopes and goals for the future. We would like to invite migrants living in our neighbourhood to join us. And we have reached out to a nearby Church of Ireland to join us for conversations as members of eco-congregation. We would also like to set up a See Judge Act group to reflect on Laudato Si, acting locally and thinking globally.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis have shown how interrelated we are and how much we depend on each other and on the earth. Our challenge, individually and collectively, is to help people understand the depth of our connectedness and our interdependence; even our smallest, most ordinary actions are significant, not only in the here and now, but for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, and indeed for future generations.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis requested an ‘urgent dialogue about the future of our planet’, adding that this conversation must include everyone because ‘the challenge we are facing affects us all.’ We pray with Pope Francis that we can all recognize how profoundly united we are with the whole of creation and that we must never tire in our work for Justice, Love and Peace. I thank God for our mission in Ballymun and pray we will respond to Pope Francis request for ‘urgent dialogue’
Lena Deevy LSA