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Five decades of mercy and love

As SCIAF celebrates its 50th year and St Margaret is declared the charity’s patron saint, we present an abridged version of the new Pastoral Letter from the BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE to mark the anniversary


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this year, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of SCIAF, our Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council and the beginning of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, declared by our Holy Father Pope Francis, which we await with anticipation.


The Year of Mercy

Sacred Scripture teaches that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason ‘each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’

Pope Francis underlines the Christian meaning of mercy, reminding us that in the Gospel, the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.

“Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in His preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as His disciples,” the Pope said. “Let us rediscover these corporal acts of mercy—to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently with those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.”

He asks that in our parishes, communities, associations and movements, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.


St Margaret of Scotland, merciful to the poor

To commemorate this 50th year of SCIAF, in the light of the forthcoming extraordinary year of mercy, the Bishops of Scotland have declared St Margaret of Scotland the patron saint of SCIAF and all those who serve the needy through our Catholic aid agency.

St Margaret is a clear example from our own history of how to live as a disciple of Christ. She came to Scotland as a refugee, married Malcolm, King of Scotland, and helped to shape Scotland into the modern country it became. She was an unusually educated woman, well-read and well versed in the politics of court life. She learned about her Faith and used this learning to challenge the Church—she called Church Councils and held bishops, priests and people to account to ensure the proper spreading of the Faith.

St Margaret worked to help the Christian culture grow deep roots in Scotland. She was loving and charitable, constantly showing small acts of mercy. She invited 300 poor people to dine with her and the king, serving them herself. She looked after a number of orphaned children and poor people personally for many years. She was a towering figure in our culture. She was driven by her Faith and her sense of mercy and justice.

Mercy—the motivation of SCIAF

This is the motivation today for SCIAF and its work on your behalf. It comes from a vision of faith in the human person, in doing what is right, in Christian love and how God sees us. Through SCIAF we wish to uphold the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God and re-created through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We have a moral obligation to show mercy, to seek the good of our neighbour and make sure their fundamental needs are met. It is such a serious moral obligation that it touches upon not just the kind of people we think we should be, but the kind of people Jesus Christ in the end judges us to have been: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me… in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”


Works of mercy today

Giving what we can to others, through SCIAF, brings us closer in solidarity with the poor. The work of SCIAF gives us eyes to see the terrible circumstances faced by the poorest people of the world. It gives us arms to bring consolation and dignity to many.

However, we know that we must do more to bring God’s mercy to the world of today.

St Margaret came to this country as a young refugee following the battle of Hastings in 1066. She was welcomed and given a great opportunity to shape the nation for the better. How do we treat refugees in our country today, or those who struggle to reach our shores? Do we show them the mercy and respect they deserve as God’s children?

How do we treat the most vulnerable people in our country today? What more can we do to ensure that every human being, here in Scotland and around the world, has good food, a decent education and a secure future? Do we leave this for others to do? Or are we active in our works of mercy, supporting the poor when they need us but also challenging the powerful so that all can live a dignified and full life?

We know that the materialistic society we live in today is impeding God’s call to compassion and mercy. It harms the rich as well as the poor, reinforcing inequality and damaging the bonds that create a flourishing community. During this year of mercy, let us try to live more simply, to turn our face away from greed and indifference, to care for the environment, to re-establish bonds of solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable people who have that special experience of God’s mercy.


Thanksgiving for SCIAF

A decade ago, the Bishops of Scotland called SCIAF ‘the jewel in the crown of our Scottish Catholic community.’ Today we give thanks for its continued growth and success. SCIAF is the heart of the Catholic Church in Scotland. It is how we show tender, loving and personal concern for those who suffer far away, seeing the person of Christ in each one of them.

Pope Francis expressed the mission of our Catholic agencies very clearly, in his Lenten message last year and again in his message of blessing for SCIAF’s 50th anniversary. He stresses that Catholic agencies must meet the whole needs of each poor person, seeing each person as Christ and working to transform their lives and our own societies.

As we look towards the year of mercy, and give thanks for the work of SCIAF over 50 years, let us treasure a sense of joy in our hearts.

On this anniversary, our thanks first go of course to Our Lord Himself who is the ultimate inspiration and strength of all we do. Our thanks go also to those who took the founding decision 50 years ago, to the lay people who have led SCIAF over these years, to the members of the Board and staff, and especially to the SCIAF volunteers and supporters, over these years and today. We thank parishes, schools, individuals, institutional funders and government departments for tens of millions of pounds given for the needy; we give thanks for crises alleviated, projects partnered, attitudes altered, poverty and misery solaced and dignity and self-esteem restored through your generosity.

As Pope Francis asks, as we seek to live out Christ’s call to mercy, let us allow God to surprise us. Let us share Christ’s mercy with cheerfulness. “Let us sing as we go,” The Holy Father said. “May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”

Yours in Christ, Joseph Toal, Bishop President of SCIAF on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.


To read to full text of the Pastoral Letter visit






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