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Missionary Meditation May 2007: Faith and Social Justice

June 5th, 2007

In this monthly meditation, Fr. William Steckling, OMI – Superior General of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate – sees in calls for fair trade and debt relief, a reminder that faith has a connection with the world around us and that it cannot remain a private, personal matter.

“Trade conditions favourable to poor countries, including, above all, broad and unconditional access to markets, should be made available and guaranteed”.

“Provision must also be made for the rapid, total and unconditional cancellation of the external debt of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries and of the Least Developed Countries.”

Phrases like these sound typical for certain Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and action groups. We get used to such declarations and with time might perceive them as somehow exaggerated in order to get attention. What struck me recently was not the content of the above quotes but the fact of finding them in a letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the German Chancellor and current president of the European Union Angela Merkel in view of the June summit of the “big eight” (G8) economical powers. The Pope also urged her to keep Africa “high on the international political agenda”.

By making high level statements of this type is the church behaving like just another NGO? Is she unduly getting involved in politics and social activism? The Pope could even be seen as taking a stance with the left side of the political spectrum! It is not the first time that calls for action such as this have appeared, written by his hand or that of his predecessors. Where would one expect to find the following declaration?

“Less than half of the huge sums spent worldwide on armaments would be more than sufficient to liberate the immense masses of the poor from destitution. This challenges humanity’s conscience. To peoples living below the poverty line, more as a result of situations to do with international political, commercial and cultural relations than as a result of circumstances beyond anyone’s control, our common commitment to truth can and must give new hope.”

The origin of this quote can be found in the 2007 Postsynodal Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” on the Eucharist.

Once again we are reminded of the fact that faith has a connection with the world around us and that it cannot remain a private, personal matter. It could be argued that, prayer has an intimate, mystic dimension – and mysticism literally means “closing one’s eyes”. Eugene de Mazenod relates several such intimate experiences in his writings, especially at Eucharist or during liturgy, for example, when he mentions the tears he shed on a certain Good Friday about 200 years ago. But prayer and liturgy do not stay there; on the contrary, as a consequence they open widely the doors of our hearts, the doors of our houses and why not, of our markets. “Unconditional access to markets, should be made available and guaranteed”, see above.

Sacramentum Caritatis clearly defines the connection between Eucharist and the outside world when it says: “You yourselves, give them something to eat” (Mt 14:16). Each of us is truly called, together with Jesus, to be bread broken for the life of the world. “I therefore urge all the faithful to be true promoters of peace and justice: All who partake of the Eucharist must commit themselves to peacemaking in our world scarred by violence and war, and today in particular, by terrorism, economic corruption and sexual exploitation.”

Since in this monthly reflection I have already used many quotations, I conclude with another one, this time from Father Gabriel Nissim, O.P. who works at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg for Human Rights. I heard him speak at a recent conference in Rome and he gave us the following to reflect on:

“Today, we often hear people say that even though human rights are to be defended of course, and even though admittedly the concern for ‘justice and peace’ should not be neglected, in the end it remains that our specific mission as Christians is our responsibility to evangelise. This, in the sense in which we are speaking, would be a serious error of perspective. Evangelising, in fact, is not only ‘announcing’ Christ. It is just as much and above all ‘to follow’ Christ. It is to announce the good news as Christ himself did. In what and how does the service of human dignity form an integral part of following Christ, of the mission and of evangelisation? Would it only be in ‘announcing’ to men and women that they are children of God? Is it possible to make such an announcement without testifying in practical terms to what this quality of children of God involves in terms of the respect for the dignity of each and every one? … If it is really God’s purpose that the dignity of His creatures and His children be respected, defended and promoted in all ways, it is our task to announce it by our very attitude in their regard.”

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