40 years marrying faith with action

By  Bernard Daly, Catholic Register Special
  • October 26, 2007
{mosimage} The meaning of Vatican II is nowhere more evident than in the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, this year marking its 40th anniversary.

No other post-Council endeavour in Canada shows so clearly the opening of the church to serve the world, the role of laity in the church’s mission and how hierarchy and laity should collaborate.

Development and Peace began as just an idea early in 1966, less than three months after the Council closed on Dec. 8, 1965. In early March, letters from Cardinal Paul-Emile Leger in Montreal and Archbishop Philip Pocock in Toronto arrived almost simultaneously at the bishops’ national secretariat in Ottawa.

Independently, from both French and English sectors of the church, they had the same idea: a Canadian project to reflect what the newly promulgated Vatican II Constitution on the Church in the Modern World proclaimed about Catholic solidarity with “the grief and anguish of the men of today, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way.”

Words quickly became actions. On July 15, 1966, a bishop-appointed committee met in Ottawa “with a view to preparing some suggestions for the consideration of the hierarchy regarding the possible establishment of some kind of permanent foreign aid institution under the aegis of the Catholic Church in Canada.”

About the same time, a widely-based Toronto Laymen’s Committee on World Poverty met — and sent a July 28, 1966, letter to the bishops — to urge a Canada-wide conference to study world poverty “and search out the best means for setting up a Canadian Catholic group.”

Less than a year later, by June 1967, what is now Development and Peace was founded with its governing board of 19 lay members and two bishops.

Much is made of how the world changed after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The main results of those events are widespread institutionalized fear and massively increased reliance on armed force.

Completely different and vastly greater are the changes in the Catholic Church and in the world that flow from Vatican II, as exemplified by Development and Peace.

Some Catholics stress continuity of doctrine and discipline to try to minimize the idea that Vatican II changed the church. Development and Peace helps us to see that Vatican II does not call on us to make a sharp either/or choice between clear doctrine and firm discipline, on the one hand, and pastoral change and openness to the world on the other. Instead, by Vatican II as a whole, and directly in Canada by Development and Peace, we are called to a both/and marriage of faith and action to build a world of justice.

Development and Peace is mandated by the hierarchy and run by laity. It fully involves women as equals with men. It operates through the familiar structures of diocese and parish. It has a clear mission inside the church — to raise Canadian awareness about the causes of poverty and the needs of poor people in the global south, to fund overseas development projects that result in change, and to give aid to victims of disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Its role in the world is limited only by its resources, as it works with partners in other countries, churches and religions, and with non-governmental and governmental agencies.

There have been conflicts and setbacks, as when Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter was persuaded to fold Development and Peace into Toronto’s annual ShareLife charity appeal, limiting the organization’s awareness-building efforts in the archdiocese. Thus Development and Peace reflects both the security of its church foundation and the uncertainties and tensions of direct involvement in struggles for economic and political change.

The mission of the church, Vatican II says, “is not only to bring men the message and grace of Christ but also to permeate and improve the whole range of the temporal.” Development and Peace can look back on 40 years of striving to be what Vatican II envisages.

(Daly is publisher emeritus of The Catholic Register. He spent 35 years working for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

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