Still with us

By 
  • January 16, 2007

Each year the Pope delivers a wide-ranging speech to the 175 or so ambassadors assigned by their countries to the Holy See. It is an occasion for the leader of the world's largest church to turn a spotlight on some of those global issues that are too easily forgotten in the fickleness and superficiality of the daily news grind.

On Jan. 8, Pope Benedict XVI offered his own survey of humanity's most serious problems. In doing so, he urged the gathered representatives of the global community to not forget the voiceless and the powerless. Chief among these issues is poverty, with the hunger, thirst and sickness that accompany it.

"The worsening scandal of hunger is unacceptable in a world which has the resources, the knowledge, and the means available to bring it to an end," he observed. "It impels us to change our way of life, it reminds us of the urgent need to eliminate the structural causes of global economic dysfunction and to correct models of growth that seem incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment and for integral human development, both now and in the future."

Benedict noted that there are no simplistic answers to global poverty. There is no shortage of blame to go around; a trade regime that rewards the powerful, rampant corruption in many undeveloped nations, stinginess in the foreign aid budgets of rich countries, and ongoing military conflicts all take their toll. But among his various admonitions, he once again urged the world's developed countries to strive harder to achieve the United Nations goal of targetting 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic production to overseas development aid.

This has been a longstanding goal honoured more in the breach than in practice. Only the northern European countries of Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg and the Netherlands consistently achieve this level of generosity. By contrast, Canada has dropped over the last decade to a paltry 0.27 per cent (in 2004, the last year statistics were available). Though foreign aid has begun a welcome upswing in the last two years, the world still has a long way to go.

In this speech, the Pope is speaking not to the faithful but to the world of nations, most of which are secular. Though his motivation can be found in the Gospels, notably Matthew 25 ("Whatsoever you do to the least of these . . ."), he used a vocabulary that sought common ground among people of many religions, or of no faith at all. It was a language of invitation to which we pray the world will respond.

"In her commitment to serve humanity and to build peace, the church stands alongside all people of good will and she offers impartial co-operation," he said. "Together, each in his place and with his respective gifts, let us work to build an integral humanism which alone can guarantee a world of peace, justice and solidarity."

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