As white clouds of smoke above St Peter’s signal the election of Pope Francis I, and we await a new Bishop for our diocese, we have one other new arrival to announce.
We welcome Stephen Matthews as our new CAFOD diocesan manager for East Anglia. Taking over from John Malley who has retired after seven years, Stephen looks forward to meeting volunteers, clergy and supporters in parishes and schools across our diocese.
On taking up his position, Stephen said:
“Working for CAFOD and serving the people of East Anglia is a real honour and privilege. My first priority is to the children, parents, priests and parishioners of East Anglia. As Catholics, we are committed to fighting injustice and standing in solidarity with poor communities across the world.
I look forward to meeting you, seeing the work that God is doing through your hands, to stand with you as you stand alongside our brothers and sisters across the world, sharing their concerns, and doing everything possible to create lasting change.
I will do my best to listen and represent your interests in CAFOD’s work across the diocese. If you have any issues or comments please get in touch.”
I have just arrived from the poorer quarters of east London where I have spent the last year with a small but award-winning charity that works for a just world where people put people first. Working for Quaker Social Action is just one part of the ecumenical journey that has brought me to CAFOD and to work again for the Church.
I grew up as a Catholic, born into a catholic family. At primary school the head teacher taught us the catechism and at sixth form I organised some of the assemblies. I also spent time as head altar server, Eucharistic Minister and helped with the youth group. As the Church’s charity, CAFOD was an important part of my upbringing. It, and the Church’s teaching, has shaped my awareness of the world and my passion for social justice.
When I went to study Theology at Birmingham University, I paused to consider if I to be a priest. The often small quiet voice of God called me, but to the sacrament of marriage, and I am now married to a priest.
Ten years ago I lived in Cambridge after my wife and I married. Now we have returned. My wife is parish priest – vicar as they say in the Church of England – of St Bene’t’s in the centre of Cambridge, and when I’m not there on Sunday I am in the pew at OLEM.
I have served on government committees and arranged for people with direct experience of poverty and social exclusion to speak directly to politicians about the decisions that are affecting their lives, before then helping to set up a new Parliamentary Select Committee that is trying to quietly change the way MPs are able to represent their constituents by leading cross-cutting debates and championing e-petitions.
I am passionate about helping people fulfil their potential and be as brilliant as they can. My favourite verse, guiding me through life is John 10.10: “I have come so that they may have life and live it to the full.”
Wherever poverty, injustice and inequality get in the way, I will get stuck in, dealing with the messiness of the church, politics and human life, listening to those who have more experience and seeking to discern the voice of God, so we can together turn the world upside down and if needs be, ‘send the rich away empty’.
I spent two years running a parliamentary committee on poverty, and a further four years running another committee on young people. To both these groups, when we met with government minsters and politicians, I invited the real experts: those with experience of poverty and young people. These sessions were some of the liveliest in Parliament and politicians of all colours quickly found they had to actually answer the questions, and those who did so benefited from a real dialogue.
It was often the quietest people who had the most amazing stories. Some of my favourite moments come from helping young people who were not the most polished speakers, explain themselves in a way that could be easily understood. For my part, I gave them the skills and confidence to speak to powerful people in imposing places. Then I watched as they interrogated senior politicians, for instance about taxation, citizenship and social justice.
‘IF’ is the name of the new campaign for CAFOD and other development agencies across this year. Everyone in the world could have enough food IF we make it happen. It is part of the broader Hungry for Change campaign. I’m hungry for change and an end to poverty and inequality. Let me know if you are hungry for change too.
For more information about Stephen have a look at: uk.linkedin.com/in/stephencafod/