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Obituary: Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ

We remember a Jesuit who was committed to hearing the cry of the poor.

Everyone at Church Action on Poverty was saddened to learn of the death in September 2023 of Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ.

During his time as provincial of the Jesuits in Britain, Campbell-Johnston was actively involved in Church Action on Poverty’s work. Most notably, he spoke at the launch of our declaration ‘Hearing the Cry of the Poor’, at Westminster Abbey in December 1989. 

That declaration committed Church Action on Poverty to “seek a new social order founded upon that vision and possibility of human wholeness which is contained in the Christian message and which speaks to all human experience”. Writing before the launch to Paul Goggins, Church Action on Poverty’s National Coordinator at the time, Fr Campbell-Johnston said:

“Six Jesuits in El Salvador died because they were working for justice and peace. Their death is a clear invitation to Christians in other countries to follow their example. When I too was working in El Salvador, the people would often say to me: ‘When you go back to your own country tell them that we here are poor and need help for food, clothes, educational equipment, etc. But more important, we would like the Christians in your country to know and understand why we are fighting for peace and justice. Most important of all, we would like to know that they themselves are committed to peace and justice in their own country. For then we would be truly brothers and sisters in Christ.’ This seems to me to be a clear invitation to become committed to justice issues in our own society here in the UK as an essential dimension of our service of the faith.”

Paul Goggins reported that at the launch, Fr Campbell-Johnston was challenged to admit that the declaration was effectively a Labour Party manifesto. “He replied that he would be delighted if the Labour party wanted to use it, equally he would be happy if Mrs Thatcher wanted to.”

Michael Campbell-Johnston (centre) at the launch of our declaration

Fr Campbell-Johnston also supported other Church Action on Poverty initiatives, for example playing a leading role in Christian opposition to the Poll Tax. He said, “I am concerned that this legislation does not reflect the principles of justice which should inform our society. I would urge members of all political parties to pay careful attention to the possible implications of this proposed legislation.”

Opposing the Poll Tax

Tackling UK poverty was just one of the ways Fr Cambell-Johnston stood up against poverty and oppression. Among may other things, he helped to found the Jesuit Refugee Service, and ran camps for displaced people during the civil war in El Salvador. Click here to read a full obituary.

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