The wealth of touch in faith

In the second of his articles on life and faith as a deafblind priest, Cyril Axelrod explains how he

Many years before I became totally blind, I used to love going for a long walk in the countryside and watching the wonders of nature – evergreen plants and trees, the wild world full of different colours, the placid lake with ducks swimming on it, the birds flying in the blue sky and so forth. I could not hear the sounds or songs, but I experienced that my sight was God's touch which vibrated throughout my body and spirit.

After becoming totally blind a few years ago, it was an explicit change of my experience in God's touch. Naturally, blindness can be an experience of abandonment or loneliness. But, in fact, the power of God never left me. It transmitted into a different way of seeing God through my senses of smell and touch.

A great amazement came to me when I went for a walk in a lovely garden with many different types of blooming flowers and fresh herbs. The fragrances filled my lungs with a sense of God's power of love. The different shapes of the flower petals and leaves gave me the mystery of God's touch.

At times, the blindness is my lifetime struggle and it leads me to feel down. But through my faith I pursue to walk in the garden as it is always uplifting for me because God never abandons us in times when life is changing, like when I lost my sight or hearing.

Sometimes when I cannot go out on account of the weather, I spend time inside holding the holy host – the Body of Christ. I place my hands on it and it signifies my touch on God within my darkness. It is like a stone turning over, turning my inner conflict to inner peace though faith. This gives my imagination an idea of how Jesus touched deafness and blindness. The wealth of touch stays in a human life no matter what comes into our lives. Faith always has an importance to a human being because it knots the bond of trust and faithfulness between God and us.

Faith cannot be seen with a human eye or heard with a human ear, it is simply the wealth of touch of God without expressing a single word but connecting with Him with a meaningful spirit.

Cyril Axelrod is a Redemptorist priest who was born deaf and was diagnosed with progressive blindness in his forties. He was one of the first deaf persons in the world to train to become a Catholic priest. He has travelled the world empowering deaf people and speaks many languages using sign. He also spent extensive time working deaf people in apartheid in South Africa. He currently lives in London and helps the deaf population in the Camden Town area.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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