I suppose you have to stretch your imagination to the utmost limits to picture the scene as you stand today outside the Cardiff International Area (CIA), just to imagine a little of the rough and tumble of what went on in that area at the time when Cardiff docks were being built. Perhaps you have just come out of a concert or have visited one of the many exhibitions which are now held at that superb venue. You may be still reflecting on buying some of the goods and services those exhibitions often are trying to sell.
What price your concert ticket, or your latest gadget, or indeed your enjoyment, would have been to the inhabitants of that small patch of the world all those years ago?
The area was covered with small houses, historians tell me that there were many people sleeping to a single room, there were drinking houses also,
probably the only form of entertainment to release the tensions of the day available, certainly the only one they could afford. Most of the men worked hard, shedding their sweat to build the economic structure of the City of Cardiff as we know it today. Women worried endlessly about where and how they could improve their family conditions and where their future lay.
Dreadful sanitary conditions, lack of hygiene, illnesses, the people of that community, despite all their efforts, were often despised by others around them, suffered prejudices in their daily lives – yes it’s really difficult to imagine it now! Yet the pain of all that really existed, it was felt very practically by everyone in that community. The sins of poverty and prejudice were there for everyone to see. Thanks be to God- such extreme conditions do not exist in that little corner of the world any more.
Thoughts of poverty and pain do not enter our minds as we sit or even stand listening and celebrating with our favourite artists or buying our favourite piece of equipment.
For me these historical conditions are very reminiscent of so many places I have visited and seen in today's world. I so often ask myself, why, oh why cannot we recognize the sins of poverty in today's world when they occur? Why are we so sceptical? There are the familiar small houses, there are the familiar foul smells of poverty, bad or non-existent sanitary conditions, mothers worrying and crying, because they are only too aware they cannot give all of their motherhood they would like, for they are aware they cannot make ends meet. Others trade on their misfortune, to make a better life for themselves. Illnesses take their toll, because there is no care and no monies for the simplest of medicines. Diarrhoea becomes a vicious killer, yet can be cured with a cheap sachet costing a few pence and some clean water. Others can simply be cured with adequate nourishment.
More than twenty years ago now, I started working as a determined campaigner to release the world of all its poverty. Along the way I hope I have contributed, along with many others, to some tremendous successes. Great inroads have been made in many places with cleaner water supplies, better sanitary conditions, agricultural developments, skills training, better health education, services and facilities. On the whole there has been major improvements in the quality of life for many people.
This has all been completed with the expressions of love and care of so many people from all walks of life, meeting the hopes and aspirations of those who have suffered the pains of poverty. When this mixture is released there is a powerful boost of energy and of development, not just for the good of just one individual or another, but for development with sustainability, involving members of the whole community. A concrete foundation is laid from which new futures, the making of new hopes, which are turned into practical realities with some tremendous results. Miracles do happen and are happening continually.
We do need however more miracles, we need people who can empathise with those in need, be generous through caring, who can listen act as a voice for the poor, and who are willing to campaign on their behalf. In 2001 we have some one and half billion people in this world who live on less than $1 a day- less than a packet of crisps for all their essential needs, housing, clothing, health and food.
CAFOD is committed to the challenge of improving their lives, whoever they are, our partners in poverty deserve no less from us. As an official agency of the Catholic Church we feel its our Christian duty to do so. Whatever we are, we must be seen as a beacon of light that brings hope. We owe it also, to all those who have come before us, who suffered the pain of poverty, who fled from famine, who were themselves the victims of famine, who also worked desperately hard, sometimes sacrificially, to make the lives of their families and ours bearable. They gave us the future, we are their children, from their experiences and pain we received so much. Without their efforts, we would not, I am sure, be able to afford those tickets for those concerts at the CIA. Lets not forget them.
This is a text version of a meditation at the Great Famine Memorial, Cardiff, on St. Patrick’s Day, 2001 by Elfed Jones who was, until early 2002, the National Organiser of CAFOD-Wales (The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development). To find out more about CAFOD's work please contact Sue Scanlon, director, CAFOD-Wales, National Office, 11, Richmond Road, Cardiff. CF24 3AQ. Tel: (029) 2045 3360.