The cry of the earth is the cry of the poor!’ Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’: Care for Our Common Home, makes it clear that the forces which are wrecking our natural environment are the same ones that are undermining human communities.

Aspects of our social and economic structures, driven by profit-making, con-sumerism and other wasteful features of contemporary neoliberal capitalism, are deeply faulty and sinful. They are generating poverty and inequality region-ally, nationally and globally, as well as driving us towards the cliff edge of irre-versible climate breakdown. Research shows that nearly 40% of children in the North East of England are growing up in poverty – meanwhile Shell have de-clared £40 billion of profits which can be distributed to shareholders, the larg-est corporate profits in history.

Pope Francis says very clearly that a just solution for the climate crisis involves tackling inequalities of wealth and power and taking the ‘option for the poor’, the ‘crucified of today’. The encyclical is a call to awareness and action on behalf of those who suffer and are oppressed, including the whole community of living things on earth.

Inspired by this connection between social justice and environmental justice, we are running a spiritual and artistic project called The Passion for Change. We invite people to connect the suffering in our world to the suffering of Christ, and to work for change in the world, through the creation of artworks and texts relating to Christ’s Passion.

How does the project work?

There are several strands to the project. They include:

  • Making a series of sculptures and texts in the Passionist spirit of radical solidarity with the ‘the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth’.
  • Running programmes in secondary schools which empower pupils to creatively express the messages in Laudato Si’, and connect with their local parishes.
  • Producing a book and other promotional material.
  • Staging exhibitions, running workshops and developing an online pres-ence to promote the aims of the project.

So what’s been done so far? A number of Passion for Change workshops and programmes have been run in the last six months. We’ve worked with members of Citizens UK, members of the Passionist Community, and participants in a spiritual direction course. These workshops have raised awareness and produced a number of artworks and texts expressing the key themes of the project.

Work with young people

Perhaps the most exciting element of the project has been the work in schools. We approached a local Catholic secondary school, Cardinal Hume school in Gateshead, to offer a workshop, thinking that maybe 8 or 10 older pupils would be interested. When the day came, with the help of the school chaplain we prepared the room, opened the doors – and 43 pupils filed in! We ended up running sessions for them every Thursday afternoon for 6 weeks.

We asked them to choose a word relating to Christ’s Passion, such as ‘betrayal’ (by Judas) or ‘empty’ (the empty tomb) and think creatively about how it related to ‘the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’. Then, to make artworks and write texts which creatively expressed their thoughts and feelings.

The pupils have been marvellous. They quickly grasped what the project was about, and over the six weeks they have made a series of brilliant artworks, some of which are illustrated here. They also produced texts to accompany the artworks and are currently planning a video and booklet about the project. This will then be presented along with an exhibition of the artworks to a meeting during Lent at St. Peter’s, Gateshead, of representatives from all the local parishes.

We are also running a similar series of workshops at another local secondary school, St. Robert of Newminster. This time, we came prepared for the volume of interested pupils! We’re working with around 32 pupils aged between 11 and 15, on a similar programme of creative artworks and texts. This will culminate during Lent with an exhibition which will travel round the 5 local churches.

Exhibiting the artworks and texts

Finally, we are planning exhibitions to the public. We are currently making artworks and texts ourselves on the themes of the project, and a number of potential venues have expressed interest, including Shieldfield Arts Centre in Newcastle, Ushaw College in Durham, and Hexham Abbey in Northumberland. We may also offer exhibitions to other places at later dates, and to some parish churches.

We have enjoyed delivering the project and must acknowledge the help we’ve had – from the Passionist Community, from parishioners at St. Peter’s in Gateshead, from staff at the exhibition venues and from the school chaplains. But most of all we’d like to give thanks and praise for the work done by around 80 school pupils, young women and men who have enthusiastically engaged with the project and made it come alive. They have truly shown a passion for change.

Mick Quille and Lya Vollering, February 2023

Note: If you’re interested in finding out more about this project, we will be running an exhibition of artworks and texts at Hexham Abbey in the last two weeks of Lent.

Click here to download the project statement.