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The Romero Project

Caroline Parker & Margaret Hey present the Archbishop of York with a memento of his visit to the Romero Project

Tuesday 7th June 2011

The Archbishop of York on a recent tour of the Wakefield Diocese travelled to Athersley, one of the most deprived areas of the diocese to meet with clergy and staff who run the Romero Centre – a one stop advice shop for local people to find help with alcohol problems and debt. Fr Paul Cartwright writes about this visit and the Romero Project in a recent article which follows….

“Good morning, Romero Project, How can we help?”

This is the response that can sometimes be heard to the psalms during Morning Prayer in the Parish of St Helen, Athersley, as the Priests and the people join together to say the Office and workers from the Romero Project begin the morning’s work.

The Romero Project was founded in October 2004, and caters for local residents in an area of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, within the Wakefield Diocese.  Like so many other parishes it has experienced a great deal of social and urban deprivation particularly since the demise of the coal mining industry, and as a result of this the project was born following a feasibility study by an independent consultancy company which identified a need for such social action within the Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council Ward of St Helen.

One of the great things about the Catholic movement both in England and throughout the world is its concern with living the Social Gospel.  Throughout history Catholic Priests and parishioners have often found themselves working in areas which were historically called slums, and which today we would recognise as experiencing on going social inequality; areas where there are high unemployment rates, low job opportunities, poor health and education, and an overall feeling of worthlessness amongst the people who live there, and this was no different for the Parish of S. Helen.  It was a well-recognised fact that people in the area were falling through the Social Safety Net and as a result of the vision of its Parish Priest, Canon Rodney Marshall, and the existing Roundhouse Community Partnership the Romero Project was born. 

The baptistery in the 1954 built Church became a kitchen; a building project took place at the rear of the Church to form a narthex where people could meet and an office was made where people could receive private consultation.  This was the beginning of a project, which was opened and blessed by Bishop Tony Pontefract, and which was to become a recognised beacon of good practice by the Wakefield Diocese.  The projects work has been recognised by international visitors during their own visits to the diocese as an example of the Church living the Gospel and outpouring Christ’s love for humanity upon society; working for those who do not have a voice and providing help and assistance to improve the lives of all those who use the service. The project was also pleased to be recognised in a recent visit by the Archbishop of York when he toured the diocese, and it was great to see him wearing his Romero Pectoral Cross!

When it came down to naming the Project there was only one name that would encompass everything that the project hoped to achieve.  The project was named after Archbishop Oscar Romero who was the Archbishop of San Salvador during El Salvador’s terrible civil war.  The Archbishop will be remembered for his tremendous work in fighting for equality and challenging those in power on behalf of the poor, as well as encouraging all Christians to work for justice.  This care for the poor led to Archbishop Romero paying the ultimate price when he was shot dead whilst saying mass in the chapel of the Cancer Hospital in 1980, but one quote from the Archbishop which sums up the philosophy of the Project is "Don't aspire to have more, but to be more".  The Project seeks to help people be more by removing some of the many barriers which prevent them from being the kind of people God created them to be and enjoying the fullness of life which Christ came to bring.

It has been said that the Romero Project has achieved so much with so little resources.   It employs two members of staff Caroline Parker and Margaret Hey,one of whom is also a qualified counsellor who provides counselling services when required, as well as having the support of a faithful band of volunteers (some of whom are members of the Church congregation).  The project also co-ordinates several community services to ensure that where people need help they get it.  Partnership agencies include:

•          Alcoholic Anonymous

•          Drug counselling

•          Debt management advice

•          The Citizens Advice Bureau

•          Credit Union

•          Dietician

•          Writers Group

•          Counselling

•          Options Team

•          Connexions

•          Drama Group

•          Local Newspaper Group

•          Local Social Enterprise Group

•          Age Concern

•          Welfare Rights Advice

•          Employment advice 

The Romero Project has seen its work in the community continue to increase over recent times due to the current time of austerity, and it has provided assistance to those from outside the Parish area who had no one else to turn to.

The Staff are dedicated to providing a service to alland will never turn people away, but funding has been dramatically cut and it is anticipated that the project will end later this year unless further funding can be found.  The people in the community who access the services are not asked to pay for the help, but occasionally some will return with a packet of biscuits or jar of coffee to say thank you, having appreciated receiving the same during their visit and support.

So if you are a Fairy Godmother reading this article and are able to provide support to a much needed service in one of the most deprived areas in the Wakefield Diocese, you know where we are – if not, please commit the Romero project and the work that it does to your prayers!

 The words of this prayer are attributed to Archbishop Romero although they were never spoken by him.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,

it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction

of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying

that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

It may be incomplete,

but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference

between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted,

knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation

in realizing that. This enables us to do something,

and to do it very well.


Paul Cartwright's article on The Romero Project was first published ion page 15 in New Directions June 2011.  

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