Tag Archives: justice

31 March. Before the Cross XVI: Repenting of Sanctions

 

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Friar Chris writes to us from Zimbabwe, where he has been teaching. Thank you Chris, you have certainly had a fruitful time back in Africa! We are grateful for your sharing it with us and for inviting us to reflect on these issues. Agnellus’ Mirror is here for all manner of reflections!

When I was a teenager, I recall sanctions being imposed against the illegal continuation of a British colonial regime in Rhodesia. Struggles were taking place to replace that outdated structure and form a new nation, Zimbabwe, and by 1980 that had taken place. I also remember wondering how ordinary citizens can cope when many items which we consider to be essential are made unobtainable. When do sanctions become a big hammer used to crack a nut? How can anyone prevent them from becoming one more version of bullying?

This is a relevant question when the churches pass through a repeated catechetical exercise for newcomers to Christianity, which we call Lent. The danger is always the practice of frowning intensely about all the wrongdoings of the human race, but not seeing the changes of heart which need to be the true ‘penitence’ of a change of heart in ourselves. Letting go of our approval of strong arm tactics must often be an aspect of welcoming God’s peace and grace into our lives. Sanctions still exist in the southern African country of Zimbabwe, imposed not only by the United States, but also by the European Union. They seem to be a mode of coercion, not against a right-wing white-domination system, but against a mild version of socialism which happens to question the neo-conservative consumerist programmes favoured by the large market monopolies achieved by commercialist manufacturers. These are generally manufacturers who have done least to extricate the cultures of the world from environmentally-destructive practices.

I do not intend to compose an argument in favour of every governmental alliance built up technologically by the government of Zimbabwe. Geopolitics is an aspect of human circumstances which pervades news broadcasts but which mostly cannot be turned around by churches, even in their most valid calls for charity. Nevertheless, the current school student-led world-wide protests concerning the destruction of environments, which lament that we ignore paths that consider climate change, are genuine appeals for understanding grace and peace. Greater sensitivity to what makes sustainable community, not just sustainable industries, is a challenging and valid concern to introduce to our prayer lives.

In Zimbabwe at the beginning of 2019, a large increase in fuel prices was imposed, leading to rioting, six hundred arrests and a combination of woundings and deaths. With 90% unemployment, this added to an already existing awareness of shared vulnerability for great numbers of the country’s inhabitants. The effects of the sanctions only worsened the realities experienced by the most vulnerable. The cyclone which hit Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in the middle of March brought flooding, with hundreds made homeless and a possible two hundred deaths. Lack of fuel has its further impact on limits to emergency services. I think for English readers, one factor which might capture the character of the problem is this: when there are raids or beatings, a call made to the police is likely to be met with a question, ‘when can you drive to the police station and pick up the police and bring them to the scene?’ That is an effect of crudely introduced sanctions, which seem to be an illegal measure for the sake of Western domination.

There are areas which feel these effects most, and others, especially for those with some kind of job, where an unimpressive but vaguely ‘normal’ level of daily existence continues to operate. Good numbers of Catholics continue to get to their nearest churches and celebrate the Eucharist as a community gift of solidarity. The teaching and training of young men to help the celebrations to be vibrant, kind, and compassionate continues to be taken on by a seminary and by a college in Harare which is nurturing members of several religious congregations. It takes time to acquire the kinds of perceptive insight and concern which make a genuine pastoral charism deepen and become evident. I have been spending three months teaching this group of young men, at Holy Trinity College.

The parish of the Nazareth House sisters next to the college has a strong lay commitment to developing genuine community gifts and relationships. The students are also involved in running prayer services and giving talks at a number of parishes, forming a network of Christians with shared convictions and sympathies. I try to explore connections between church history and theological developments, especially Vatican II, with them. One student asked me what the reasons are for the well-known decline of European Christianity. I explained it in terms of a lack of real understanding of community bonding and its qualities of transforming awareness. I said that those single diocesan priests who do have a sense of community are moved around with no respect for the needs and wishes of a local congregation. At the same time, where religious orders have been able, with slightly larger numbers, to create a good presence as a communal empowerment focus, they may not be known by believers living twenty miles away, so helping their good charism to spread to other areas will often not take place at all easily.

I have been staying with one of these student groups, the Franciscans, who are present now in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe. This group struggles to win new members, and has increased its ties of Franciscan commitment across the region since the late 1950s. I lived with the friars in the Zimbabwe custody residence, half an hour’s walk from the College.

The image of a carving of the crucified Christ that accompanies this article is in the small chapel of the friars’ residence. It comes from a centre for sculptures at Driefontein, some way outside Harare. We don’t know the name of the carver. I like the restrained honesty of the image. It speaks to me of the gift of Christ’s understanding of human hardship, of the human need for better interactions and interdependency. This is a thoughtful Christ, one who has clearly spent his life perceiving the pains and heartfelt longing of those to whom he brought forgiveness and hope. Although it seemed as though the hope was rejected by those who wanted to see him killed, I see in the face a possible mind, one which looked in love beyond the knee-jerk rejections and sanctions, which grew up like a wall to prevent his message. In his death he was open to the empowerment of his divine Father, the living God of all human aspirations for peace. There is no barrier to risen reality in this face, and no barrier to our risen realities in the gifts which come to us from the God, who heard his prayers, and who brings our prayers too into their realisation.

Chris Dyczek, OFM

Harare, March 2019.

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12 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus VI: Healing Friendship Offered to All

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But wait, what’s going on? There is some restlessness in the crowd now. The people seem dismayed. The ones nearest Jesus’ group have sent the perplexing message around: Jesus has gone to stay at a sinner’s house! How shocking! It can’t be true! Now the crowd is straining to see what is happening. Zacchaeus is too short to be seen clearly, but it’s clear enough that Jesus is smiling, and some of his closest companions are looking happy. One is even wiping his eyes. They see them preparing to leave together, and yes, they see that Zacchaeus is the centre of attention. Naturally. But look – yes, Zacchaeus is actually being embraced by some of Jesus’ friends. They seem to be speaking to Zacchaeus with expressions of relief and gratitude. Relief? Gratitude?? Because of Zacchaeus?? And Jesus and his friends are all heading in the direction of Zacchaeus’s house. The atmosphere in the crowd quickly becomes more hostile, and angry people are beginning to surround Jesus and his newly enlarged group. They don’t understand. That villainous chief tax collector, whom they all despised and had relegated to the outermost edges of their lives, is suddenly in the inner circle of this holy man’s friends. What is this?

But now, Zacchaeus is ready. He hears the bewildered comments and knows that it is up to him to do something, to act, to explain. Jesus is now his friend, and he is Jesus’ friend, and Zacchaeus has already decided on the changes he will make in his life. He declares his promise to Jesus with conviction – and it feels so wonderful, so free to declaim the words, Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ The bystanders have fallen silent.

Zacchaeus pauses, panting a bit. He knows Jesus understands the full import of his declaration: it means that now I am a new man. I have a new identity; I am the friend of Jesus, because Jesus has befriended me. Jesus did this completely out of the blue, not as a reward for any good deeds of mine for I had no good deeds. He offered his friendship because he is friendship, he is love. Jesus saw through my facade, my fake bravado, saw beyond the unscrupulous tax collector, the cheat, the bully – he saw through all that, he saw the hurt, frightened child. And now he sees my human potential and his friendship has healed me. Jesus confirms this in his words:

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

These words of Jesus are directed to Zacchaeus, primarily, but they are also words for the angry bystanders. They, too, need healing from their wound of self-righteousness, from their various facades of self-sufficiency and bravado. Jesus is here re-teaching the crowd the message that he repeats so often during his minstry: he has not come for those who suppose themselves to be righteous, capable and therefore deserving of God’s blessings. He has come for the lost, the rejected; he has come for the wounded – physically and emotionally. That refers to Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus knows it. That also refers to the crowd standing around Jesus in Jericho – and they are a bit slower to grasp the point.

If we are honest, we know that this refers to us, also. We need to be needed by Jesus. And we are. Jesus longs to be in a relationship of deepest friendship with us. His relationship with Zacchaeus can give hope to all who realize that they are precisely in Zacchaeus’s position.

SJC

(MAfr African Pilgrimage, St Maurice)

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February 21. What is Theology Saying? XLVII: What if Jesus had not lived?

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Jesus was not just a good man who founded a great religion. He is the Son of God, sent on a mission to transform the world by changing individual lives. Imagine for a moment what your life would be like if this wonderful life hadn’t appeared.

For two thousand years, followers of the loving Christ have carried his compassion and care to peoples everywhere. Nations have been won through his love. The majority of hospitals and other ministries of compassion around the globe have been launched in his name. Where there has been devastation through natural disasters, wars, or famine, people filled with God’s love have run to alleviate human suffering via the Red Cross, World Vision, and thousands of other agencies. Where would our world be without the love of Christ as expressed through his people?

What is our relationship with our world – with government, foreign policy, political parties..? Christianity is concerned not only with religion but with all human relationships between persons and groups – large or small. It is as much concerned with war, peace, poverty and race issues as it is with holy living [preacher stick to your pulpit]. It is concerned because these are the relationships that shape our lives; our way of living together and accepting our common destiny.

In Apostolic times the writers believed that history had more or less come to an end with Christ, and the Second Coming was imminent. This was no time to worry about politics and economics. They were to preach about the world that was on its way. They knew that Jesus had resisted all attempts to align him with the Zealots, who wanted to establish God’s kingdom through war and aggression. Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force.

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20 February. What is Theology saying, XLVI: Renounce or change the world?

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Good Pope John XXIII called the Council

Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris1 emphasized that relationships between nations must be based on the same values that guide those of communities and individuals: truth, justice, active solidarity and freedom. Catholic social teaching stresses that peace is not simply the absence of war, but is based on the dignity of the person, thus requiring a political order based on justice and charity. The right of conscientious objection is affirmed when civil authorities mandate actions which are contrary to the fundamental rights of the person and the teachings of the Gospel.

But Vatican II also emphasized the crucial role of the laity in the Church, and these past fifty years have seen a growth and flourishing of lay leadership all around the world. Many Catholics are eager to learn more about their faith, but not all parishes offer opportunities to do so. Therefore, lay Catholics need to evangelize their priests and parishes in social justice terms as well as the other way around. Catholics don’t need to wait for the go-ahead from their pastors to engage in works of peace and social justice. That way, the Church’s social teachings won’t be a secret any more.

To the majority of people in the world, Jesus is an honoured historical figure who was the founder of Christianity—but that is about as far as it goes. Many have no idea that his most wonderful life had an unsurpassed effect on the history of humankind. In fact, without the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, life on planet earth would be incomprehensibly different from what it is today.

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19 February. What is Theology saying, XLV: moral law draws believers into relationship

Other than in instances of dogmatically defined doctrine, the individual conscience holds sway.

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Like all Christians, Catholics see the Ten Commandments found in the Hebrew Scriptures as the basic groundwork for moral action, which together with the life of Jesus provide a deep and abiding understanding for how to act with love and justice in the world. The Gospel of Matthew relates that upon being asked which commandment was most important, Jesus replied that all of the law is contained in the commandments to love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40).

Catholics see this as going beyond the injunctions of moral law by drawing believers into a relationship with others as well as with God, and it is the foundation of the Church’s teaching on issues of social justice.

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Leo XIII

From the earliest days of the Church, Catholics have performed works of mercy to help those who most need it, but the Church’s current involvement in social justice issues really took form in 1891 with the promulgation of the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum. In it, Pope Leo XIII called for workers to be treated with dignity and respect, protected by the state from exploitation, and allowed to form unions.

It touched off a flowering of social encyclicals that have become central to the Church’s work in the world. Catholic social teaching focuses on the dignity of the person as the linchpin for all discussions of ethics, politics, and justice. It is central to Catholic calls for the fair treatment of workers, for political systems that recognize individual rights, for responsible scientific research, for an end to attacks on human life in the form of abortion and the death penalty, and many other teachings as well.

AMcC

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25 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 8: The Lord is my light and my salvation

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The Lord is my light and my salvation (Psalm 27:1)

  • Psalm 27:1-4

  • John 8:12-20

Starting point

Over the past eight days the churches of Indonesia have helped us consider difficult situations facing the world. Many of these have raised questions of justice. The Church has been complicit in many instances of injustice and, through that complicity, we have damaged our unity and diminished the effectiveness of our witness to the world. Christians gather for common prayer, professing common faith and to listen for God’s voice. Although the many injustices wound us, we do not lose hope, but are called to action. The Lord is our light and salvation, the stronghold of our lives. We do not fear.

Reflection

Hope

Forgive us how we’ve devalued you:

‘We live in hope’ and yet don’t hope to live,

‘Hope so’, when we have none in our hearts.

Show us who you really are:

disturb the deathly ease of our despair

and give us the courage to embrace your pain:

impudent in the face of hate,

unrelenting under oppression,

daring to resist the entropy of division.

Goad us to take up that felon’s cross

whose agony

laid empty the grave.

Prayer

God our hope,

we praise you for your loving kindness.

Uphold us when we are about to give up,

show us your light when all around seems dark.

Transform our lives that we may bring hope to others.

Help us to live united in our diversity as a witness to your communion,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

one God now and forever. Amen.

Questions

  • How has Jesus empowered you to witness to what is right?

  • Where in the life of your church or group of churches do you most need the gift of hope?

  • What is your best hope for your community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Generate hope by sharing your actions and prayers for justice on the CTBI prayer wall using the #wpcuwall hashtag on Twitter and visit http://www.weekofprayer.org to see the actions others have taken.

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22 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Day 5: Good news to the poor.

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To bring good news to the poor (Luke 4:18)

  • Amos 8:4-8

  • Luke 4:16-21

Starting point

The prophet Amos criticized traders who practiced deceit and exploited the poor. God, who sides with the victims of injustice, will not forget such wrongdoing. In a globalized world, such marginalization, exploitation and injustice is rampant. The gap between rich and poor is becoming wider. Economic demands become the deciding factor in our relationships and the demands of justice are more and more pushed to the side-lines. Christians are called to challenge the prevailing attitudes and to work for justice.

Reflection

I’ll believe it when I see it!

I’ve heard it all before!

‘Things can only get better’

‘Audacity of hope’

Promises of something new!

Good news?

They are just bus-slogans when the poor remain poor,

the vulnerable abused and no-one speaks out!

Do you think I can jump up and dance

when my hands and feet are made heavy with the anger from broken promises?

And so I stare at you, because to stare is all I can do.

But

if ‘good news’ means

rising up against power,

overturning the tables down the road in the big city,

walking, talking and eating with people like us,

going the whole way with us,

not departing when things get too tough,

even when the suffering becomes too great to endure,

this would truly be something new.

It would be good news fulfilled.

Then I could be tempted to trust one more time.

Prayer

God, the bringer of good news,

forgive our lust for power

and free us from the temptation to oppress others.

Instil in us the determination

to see your good news made real in us and those around us,

as we share in the mission of your Son Jesus

to fulfil your promise of freedom from poverty and oppression.

We pray in his name. Amen.

Questions

  • Where do you see deceit and false promises?

  • Who are the poor and the powerful in your community?

  • What can we do to bring the good news of the gospel to both the powerful and the poor?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

The World Economic Forum meets from 22nd – 25th January 2019 in Davos, coinciding with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This moment highlights the extreme disunity and inequality across the world. 42 people own the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent (Oxfam 2018).

Take time this week to work together for a world where there is unity not just between Christians but where we as human beings can flourish together. Renew your commitment to trade that is fair and ethical and to continue to campaign for taxes to be paid. Visit Go and Do for more information.

(Unlike those Amos condemned, these Victorian scales are accurate and still in use today.) MMB.

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21 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 4: Be content with what you have

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Be content with what you have (Hebrews 13:5)

  • Hebrews 13:1-5

  • Matthew 6:25-34

Starting point

God’s goodness has provided ample food and fresh water to sustain life for all and yet many people lack these necessities. Human greed frequently leads to corruption, injustice, poverty and hunger. Jesus teaches us not to be concerned about accumulating more material things than we need. We should, rather, be concerned with proclaiming the Kingdom of equity and announcing God’s reign of justice. Christians are called to live lives which enable the waters of justice to flow.

Reflection

I scrape together

the crumbs of my excess,

perhaps enough to feed the sparrows?

I soak up

the spilling over of my cup,

perhaps enough to drown my sorrows?

I ask myself,

when is enough

ever going to be enough?

You ask me

if I can spare any change

and I worry

that I do not have enough

enough good reason

enough good will

enough compassion

enough empathy

enough humanity

enough energy

enough desire

enough courage

to make the change that is sorely needed.

Prayer

God of the seasons,

whether in bountiful harvest,

or when there is no yield for what we have sown;

let us be content,

that your grace is sufficient.

Help us to have the generosity of spirit,

to share what we have

with those who have not.

May we all be blessed

with love, grace, compassion and mercy,

as we seek to walk humbly

and do justly,

for your name’s sake. Amen.

Questions

  • Share a story of a time when you did not have enough – how did you feel?

  • What do you find the most difficult thing to share?

  • What do you find the most difficult thing to receive?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Pay attention to the advertising messages you receive, on buses, billboards, TV, newspapers, online. Reflect on the messages that we are absorbing everyday about what we supposedly need.

Reflect on your identity as a consumer and consider the steps we can take as individuals and as a community of churches to live simply so others can simply live?

Plan a Lent journey between the churches in your area that involves a fast from buying and how we might count and share our blessings instead. Visit Go and do to find out more.

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20 January, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Day 3: The Lord is gracious and merciful to all.

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The Lord is gracious and merciful to all (Psalm 145:8)

  • Psalm 145:8-13

  • Matthew 1:1-17

Starting point

Christians in Indonesia live within a context of great diversity. Indonesia is a nation of over 17000 islands and 1340 ethnic groups. The churches are often separated along ethnic lines, and some may wound the unity of the Church by regarding themselves as sole guardians of the truth. There are those who are excluded and pushed to the margins. The scripture passages for today remind us that the love of God transcends the boundaries of ethnicity, culture, race, and religion. God is broken with those who are broken. God stands outside with those who are excluded. God includes everyone in the plan of salvation and none are left out.

Reflection

Born

Endangered

Love – withheld misdirected misused hidden from me

Broken

Untended

Self – withheld misdirected misused hidden from me

Rejected

Cast away

Place – withheld misdirected misused hidden from me

Found

Harboured

Love – offered whole healthy including me?

Broken

Tended

Self – offered whole healthy including me

Accepted

Welcomed

Place – offered whole healthy including me

Pain

Acknowledged

Love – chosen given accepted returned

Healing

Started

Self – chosen given accepted returned

Wholeness

Sometimes

Place – chosen given accepted returned

God

born

broken

rejected

Life – restored remade including me

Prayer

God of all humanity

your Son was born into a line of men and women,

ordinary and extraordinary.

Some of them were remembered for their great deeds,

others more for their sins.

Give us an open heart to share your unbounded love,

and to embrace all who experience discrimination.

Help us to grow in love beyond prejudice and injustice.

Grant us the grace to respect the uniqueness of each person,

so that in our diversity we may experience unity.

This prayer we make in your holy name. Amen

Questions

  • Where do you see God’s grace and mercy in action?

  • Who are those on the margins of your communities?

  • What can you/we do to engage those who feel beyond God’s reach?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

God stands with those who are most marginalized. Consider how your churches might join with those who are most marginalized in our societies. Contact local organizations working to support destitute asylum seekers and find out how you can help best. Visit Go and Do to find out more.

Take action to ensure those who are displaced but excluded from the UN resolutions on rights of refugees are included and given the support they need. Visit Go and Do to find out more.

Lampedusa Cross

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January 19: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Day 2: Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’.

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Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’ (Matthew 5:37)

  • Ephesians 4:22-25

  • Matthew 5:33-37

Starting point

The letter to the Ephesians presents a call for Christians to be honest and accountable to each other, so that we may grow in community. There is no place for deceitfulness, for it serves only to impair our relationships and so destroy that community. We are called to live an authentic life of faith and stand up for the truth. Our yes must mean ‘yes’ and our no must mean ‘no’ – with no equivocal language or dishonest behaviour. Dishonesty disrupts the unity of the Church for which we are called to pray and work.

Reflection

If I am to speak truth to power,

whose truth do I speak?

Whose justice do I seek

in the space between my right-ness

and that of the ‘other’?

If I say ‘yes’ to justice,

does that make it all mine?

What of the grey between the emphatics?

‘Let me declare boldly,

sure-footedly

that my yes is

a “yes-yes”, and my

no is “no”.’ Says Jesus.

‘Let me draw clarity

in the sand that

defines and refines

knowledge, truth and tales

in such a way

that all are sure.

‘Let me dwell deep

in the place within

where, regardless of the outward form

you know beyond doubt’s shadow,

that truth and justice,

peace and righteousness lie.

‘And let me,

in my boldness

turn widdershins

the hypocrisy of

those who confuse integrity with fake-ness,

who obscure truth with falsehood

and call it news.

‘Let me boldly be good news.’

Prayer

God of justice,

grant me the wisdom to see right from wrong.

Let my heart be guided by honesty and my lips speak truth.

In times of doubt, cloak me in courage the colour of trust.

Birth in me the passion for unity and peace

so that I may be a good news bearer for all.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Questions

  • What does it feel like to have your words distorted?

  • Look at on-line or paper copies of current news items. Can you distinguish spin, or ‘fake news’ – what are the markers of such items?

  • How, in our churches, do we tell, or re-tell our own stories in order to set ourselves in a good light?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Not everything we read or see in the news is true. ‘Fake news’ has become a catch-all term for stories that are deliberately made up and also those that have some truth to them but are not reported accurately.

Hold a newspaper reading breakfast for the churches in your area and take time to discuss the headlines and equip yourselves with the skills to discern what is true in this ‘post-truth’ age. Visit Go and Do to find out some steps for identifying fake news that you can discuss over breakfast.

Visit Go and Do to find out about and join the campaigns challenging the negative and scaremongering reporting in the media.

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