SCIAF celebrated its 50th Anniversary in style, back in St. Columbkille’s Rutherglen where it all started. The church was crowded with staff, former staff, volunteers, representatives of local schools, supporters and guests, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Labour leader in Scotland MP Jim Murphy. There was a wonderful festive atmosphere in the church.
Adding colour to the service were the beautiful national costumes of representatives of the Syro-Malabar community, the African choir and Luis Garcia in his wonderful sombrero which took a trick with the politicians who know a photo opportunity when they see one.
The service began with the bringing in of the flags of the countries in which SCIAF has worked with its partners. These were placed on the sanctuary, a visible reminder of the charity’s work. Then the celebrants processed in, led by Bishop Peter Moran, retiring President of SCIAF, and Bishop Joe Toal, the incoming President. Also present were Archbishop Leo Cushley, Bishop John Keenan, Archbishop Mario Conti and Bishop John Mone. As they came in, the congregation sang the hymn which seems so appropriate for SCIAF’s work that it is often sung at SCIAF services – Bernadette Farrell’s Christ Be Our Light.
Parish Priest Fr. Patrick Hennessy took clear delight in welcoming everyone to the Mass, telling them that, as a young priest, he had been a curate at St. Columbkille’s in SCIAF’s early days. The Mass proceeded with the 1st and 2nd readings proclaimed by former staff members Mary Cullen and Duncan McLaren, the psalm sung beautifully by Trinity High student Leigh Syme, and the Intercessions presented by students from Trinity High and Holyrood Secondary and SCIAF supporters. The highlight of this part of the Mass however was probably the singing of the children of the Syro-Malabar community who sang the Alleluia, accompanied by traditional Indian musical instruments.
Bishop Moran gave the homily and started by suggesting that the readings, from Isaiah, St. Paul and Matthew could stand as a mission statement for SCIAF. SCIAF’s beginnings were small, set up by three people, Canon John Rooney (Parish Priest of St. Columbkille’s), Mr. John McKee (Headmaster of Holyrood High School) and Bishop Michael Foylan of Aberdeen who had acted as Treasurer for the charity.
SCIAF, he said, has grown enormously and not just financially. Its work now covers emergencies/disasters, long term projects and campaigning. It has committed and knowledgeable staff and wider sources of funding including governments. It is however careful not to grow away from its source, the Catholics of Scotland. It has over 200 volunteers working in its offices, in parishes and in schools.
While this was a day of thanksgiving, it was not, he suggested, a time to rest on its laurels but to re-appraise its mission in the light of the Word of God and give thanks to the Lord for his inspiration, and to move on. This should be the springboard for the next 50 years, facing the new challenges such climate change, globalisation and the fragmentation of countries, as well as recognising the opportunities presented by new methods of communication. The new initiative, Just Faith, which SCIAF is part of, is a reminder that “the Church is you and me”, he said, and we are called in the Gospel to be salt and light for the world.
A moving part of the Mass was the Prayer of Recommitment to the work of SCIAF which took place at this point, when all present were invited to renew their commitment “for an end to poverty and oppression, …a generous heart to share with those who have nothing …..and the perseverance to work unceasingly for a world in which all people …can live life and live it to the full.”
The celebratory mood was brought to the forefront again with the African choir who sang and danced their way up the aisle to the sanctuary with gifts, in addition to the usual bread and wine, which reflected SCIAF’s work – seeds, watering cans and hoes. The words of their song were so appropriate:
We thank Thee, Lord
Many are the gifts you give to us
Great are the joys you give to us
For the rain you give to us
For the sunshine you give to us
During Communion, Luis Garcia and his family sang in its original Spanish a hymn which has become very popular in Scotland and which is almost another mission statement for SCIAF. “Lord, you have come to the seashore”.
Before the end of the Mass, Alistair Dutton, Director of SCIAF, spoke briefly. He reminded those present that “together we are SCIAF”. His wish was that 50 years after its foundation, SCIAF would no longer be needed but that was not the case with so many still going to bed each night hungry, but he thanked everyone for all they did for SCIAF.
The Mass ended with the joyful music of “City of God” . Then it was time to go into the church hall and have a cup of tea or coffee and a nibble, admire the lovely SCIAF jubilee cake, made by one of the staff, look at the exhibition and get talked into buying an anniversary cookery book or a tea towel, or signing a campaign postcard or filling out a questionnaire. SCIAF staff never miss an opportunity!